There are times when I need to draw close to God and stay there. There are moments that define us, and sometimes they are seasons of despair when prayer is the only thing to do. I have been through those hard seasons many times and found a way to reach out to God. I wanted to stay there, near to God’s heart of compassion, near to God’s glory, safe under God’s sheltering wings.
Peter, James and John found themselves on a high mountain with Jesus. Glory filled the place and the story tells us that Jesus became “as bright as a flash of lightening.” They wanted to stay there. Wouldn’t you? Peter, James and John were in the glow of the glory of Jesus. Peter spoke up and said, “We need to stay here, Master. Let us put up three shelters for you, Moses and Elijah. Let’s just stay here on this holy mountain.”
The story begins with Jesus praying in private with his disciples. He asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?”
They replied by telling Jesus that some people were saying he was John the Baptist; others were saying he was Elijah. Others were saying that Jesus was one of the prophets of long ago who had come back to life. But Jesus wanted them to answer the question, “Who do you say I am?”
As he often did, Peter answered for the group. “God’s Messiah.”
Then Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone, predicting his imminent death and telling them that they would suffer as well. But then we get to the redeeming part of this story, the part that looks past the suffering and reveals the glory. Here is the Transfiguration text from the Gospel of Luke:
About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
– Luke 9:28-33 New International Version (NIV)
Without a doubt, the disciples of Jesus were about to enter one of those difficult life seasons. They would be tested to their limits, and would find themselves longing to draw close to Jesus once again and rest in that place of safety.
Mary Austin relates a story told by pastor and theologian Jennifer Bailey. (https://revgalblogpals.org/2017/02/21/narrative-lectionary-glory-then-guts-luke-928-45/). In a time of deep distress, Jennifer recalls the depth of her pain. This is how she describes her experience:
I folded into myself: my arms wrapped tightly around my knees and found their rest on my heaving chest . . . As I opened my mouth to cry out to God, as I often do in moments of hopelessness, no sound emerged…Rocking back and forth on the cool linoleum floor, I finally uttered the only words that I could find, “I don’t feel safe. I don’t feel safe.”
Like a gust of wind, I could suddenly feel the soulful presence of my ancestors surround me, holding me and bearing witness to my pain. Then I heard my mama’s spirit whisper gently, gently in my ear, “Baby, we ain’t never been safe”.
Jesus proclaimed the hard truth that there is no safety for those who follow him. Yet we live on, knowing that sometimes seasons of pain will engulf us. But also knowing that we are safe in God’s care, that God is faithful and present with us always.
Yes, sometimes I need to draw close to God and stay there. I hope I’ll have the wisdom and the will to stay there long enough.