By Nathan Decker
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.
As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. Mark 9:2-9
If you want romance, you’ve got to create comfortable, expected surprises. That’s what Valentine’s Day is all about. Because we are in a relationship with someone, there is an expectation that something special will happen on Feb. 14 every year. Most of us want it to be a surprise, but a comfortable one. Chocolates, flowers, teddy bears, maybe some jewelry from Billy Smith’s store downtown, those are all comfortable. Don’t be like my grandpa, who came home one Valentine’s Day and said to my grandmother, “Margaret, start packing. I’ve bought us a house on the other side of town. You’re going to love it. Happy Valentine’s Day!” Don’t be the guy who wanted to show how long he was committed to the relationship so he planned her funeral service. Don’t be the gal who wanted to show how close she wanted them to be so she bought a “sweet-heart sweatshirt for two!” Romance is just the right amount of expected, comfortable surprise.
Except when it isn’t. There are moments that sweep us off our feet. By their very nature they are uncomfortable … when we feel like our feet are no longer touching the ground! And they don’t come planned. A part of the magic is they seem to just “happen” by some cosmic fate or predestined star-crossed plan. Our culture glorifies these in novels, movies and music.
George Strait crooned out “The Chair” in 1985 about this. It’s a love ballad about a man coming up and saying, “Excuse me, but I think you’ve got my chair … .” They are both there to meet a blind date. He sits with the woman, buys her a drink, talks about the music, invites her to dance. They hit it off. It seems like it is just a perfect blind date until the song ends and the magic makes us all fall in love, “Oh, I like you too and to tell you the truth … that wasn’t my chair after all.” Surprise, wonder, unexpected and totally amazing romantic love.
In our Scriptures today, God’s surprising, wonderful, unexpected and totally amazing love sweeps us off our feet if we allow Jesus to sit in the chair with us. Jesus is taking Peter, James and John on a prayer retreat. They’ve had a busy time. They’ve been arguing with Pharisees. They’ve been bickering with each other about who was the most powerful, the closest to Jesus, and who would be his No. 1 and No. 2. In the previous chapter, they’d been discussing amongst themselves and with Jesus who Jesus was. Was he a prophet? Was he the Christ, the Messiah? What should they expect in Christ? A warrior? A king?
Now they’re climbing a high mountain. Peter’s bragging about some giant fish he caught in the Sea of Galilee back before Jesus called him. John and James are being brothers, which means they are both trying to out-climb the other one leading to both of them being out of breath. For them, this was just like all the other times Jesus took them out to pray in some wilderness, far from civilization. But this was no ordinary prayer retreat.
Before their eyes, Jesus is transfigured. Everything becomes bright light. His sweaty and dirty clothing become brilliantly clean and shining. These very simple, hard-working fishermen watch as God showers glory in their presence. It’s that moment when flowers come from behind the back. It’s that gasp as you watch him take a knee and he’s holding a little box with a ring inside. It’s our hearts going bonkers within our chest as we realize the power and holy nature of the love that is surrounding us! But there’s more.
They see Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus. Moses — the first prophet of YHWH, the one who spoke to God on the mountain! Elijah — the second most important prophet of YHWH, the one who did not die but was carried up in a chariot of fire! The text doesn’t tell us how they recognize these prophets, but they did. I picture Moses holding the Ten Commandments. And maybe Elijah is pointing to heaven where a flame comes down just as it did on the day he called fire down from heaven in the face-off with the prophets of Baal.
James, John and Peter are blown away. And still Peter speaks. Peter was never short on words, especially when he got nervous. I picture Peter being a chatty Cathy anytime he was uncomfortable. And believe you me, he was terrified at this moment. “Jesus, let’s build houses for the three of you here.” He didn’t know what he was saying. They’re on a mountaintop. Probably not a tree in sight for lumber. They didn’t bring tools, not that they knew how to use them, these were fishermen, not carpenters, not masons. The strong adult man suddenly became the nervous teenager at the prom tripping over his own words as he asked for a dance.
Peter, James and John were simply blown away by what was happening in front of them, and still, there was more. The voice of God tells them plainly the same thing he told Jesus when he was baptized. God answers all questions, beyond a doubt, about who Jesus is. “This is my beloved Son! Listen to him!”
And then it was just Jesus. The clouds go away. The light show ends. Moses and Elijah disappear. Just three guys and their teacher on the mountain are left.
For all the romance, expectation and surprise that Valentine’s Day offers, Valentine’s Day isn’t the make-or-break day in our relationships. The most important day in any relationship is today, whatever date today may be. I’m fond of telling couples when they are getting married, “You don’t just say ‘I do’ in front of your friends and family and then be done. We have to wake up every morning saying ‘I do’ again and again.” Love is meant to be more than cards, teddy bears, chocolates and diamonds. Love is a choice. Love is asking someone to take a reserved chair in your life. Love is asking Jesus to sit down and stay with you for the rest of your life.
At the transfiguration, God sweeps us off our feet unexpectedly wowing us on a blind date. God invites himself into our lives with his prevenient grace. “Excuse me, but I think you’re got my chair… .” If we allow him to sit down, we are in for a good time. In the end we are left with all that we need: just Jesus. Jesus is the beloved Son of God. Jesus walks the Earth to teach us to be God’s children, human beings! Jesus willingly dies violently to prove his compassion has no limits. Jesus is all we need. Christ is the expression of God’s deep love for all humanity. “O I like you too and to tell you the truth … that wasn’t my chair after all.” The chair was ours to receive God’s love or not. The question today, no matter what day today may be, is will we ask God to join us. Amen.
NATHAN DECKER is the pastor of High Street United Methodist Church. Contact him at 757-562-3367.