SERMON FOR 15 FEBRUARY 2015
From today’s Gospel: “Peter did not know what to say.”
Peter was dumb-struck at what was happening on that mountain. This is not surprising, if you imagine that an astonishing and dazzling white light was streaming from Peter’s friend Jesus.
Theologians down the centuries have been faced with the same predicament. When they have tried to describe the Being of the Lord of all that exists; they discovered the human mind does not have the capacity to explain God. Mostly we have resorted to terms of what God is NOT.
A while ago, I was invited, at a conference, to draw my understanding of God. After some time, I submitted a blank sheet of paper.
Our ancestors in the faith tell us that to know the nature of God fully is impossible simply through our thinking, our reason. They report to us that the heart only is able to commune, through love, with the Divine mystery. Today science has begun to discover that “Who we are and who we become depend on whom we love”.
As Peter experienced the light of God, radiating from his friend Jesus, he began the long journey - let us say pilgrimage - of love in order to understand who Jesus was. So, Peter and the apostles wake up from a deep sleep (echoes of Gethsemane) to the dazzling divine LIGHT which was radiating from Jesus. This man they thought they knew was – something else!!
In a mixture of awe and sheer terror they are frightened. In icons of this mystery we see James knocked over and shielding his eyes to prevent him seeing any more. John also covers his face with his hands.
Only Peter peers through his sleepy eyes and holds out his hands to speak. When he begins - the Gospel says he did not know what to say! - he struggles to control things by babbling on about putting Jesus, Moses and Elijah into three tents. This he imagines would normalise this traumatic event and would make of it something safe and comprehensible.
Peter’s journey of reaching a love for Jesus, which will help him understand, begins now. It is this Jesus who remains after the light and the cloud have departed.
In this pilgrimage of love we see Peter pass through many contradictions. Affirmation of Jesus as Messiah and yet further incomprehension. He rebukes Jesus for talking about his coming passion and death - he shies away from a Jesus who speaks of affliction and suffering.
We might see in this journey of Peter as something of our own. We advance in love and then retreat; we are certain and then full of doubt. We might sometimes feel like walking on water, when we suddenly slip into the deep.
Here, in the Community and College we, on the one hand, study about God, we discuss about God – and preach about God. On the other hand, here in this place we are learning how to love the Lord with our hearts and not our reason. However, we too, like Peter, can want to avoid too much affliction and pain. On the journey we would prefer a steady peaceful way of loving. Peter not only did not want to hear about the passion and death of Jesus, in the garden (asleep again) he wakes up and eventually escapes - to follow Jesus at a distance.
This avoidance can possibly happen to us. During the coming Holy Week we are meant to enter into the agony and fears of Jesus - not just focussed on whether the ceremonies are conducted correctly, for instance.
The fulfilment of Peter’s journey of love ought to fill us with hope and promise: in St John’s Gospel he tells us that Jesus prays to his Father “The glory that you have given to me, I have given to my disciples” . St Paul also writes of our transformation into the same image of Jesus “from glory to glory”.
The wonder and glory of Jesus on that mountain is eventually to be ours too!
We are called to hope that, like Peter, we will discover that Jesus risen from the dead ignores Peter’s frailty - so he will ignore ours too. He wants our love.
To Peter he asks "Do you love me?"
Let us hope we may be able to say the same words as Peter:
“Lord, you know that I love you”.
Simon Holden CR