As we enter the season of Lent, people of Christian faith all over the world begin the relentless journey to the cross. On the edge of his ordeal, Jesus takes his closest friends, his inner circle, his cronies, the guys with whom he went fishing – Peter, James and John – to the summit of the range, where they looked out on the enormous, dangerous plain of suffering and death into which they would descend.
Luke records: “While he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothing became dazzling white.” (Luke 9: 29) Jesus was transfigured by the glory of God.
I have been searching for weeks for just the right way to describe that kind of glory. What does it look like in your own experience? I had planned to use the movie, “Glory,” and I still commend it to you. If you can watch that movie, with its haunting music by the Harlem Boy’s Choir and not have a lump in your throat, I’m not sure you have any red blood in your veins.
A few years ago I was invited to lead what proved to me to be a memorable men’s retreat. To get one of the sessions started, I invited the men to share a fact about themselves that had nothing to do with their career. I expected it to be a rather simple, get-acquainted sort of exercise which would take a few minutes and then we’d get on to the Bible study I had planned. But I underestimated both the movement of the Spirit and the freedom and openness of this particular group of men.
One shared a physical condition which has changed the way he lives. One described his continual feelings of insecurity and self-doubt. In contrast, another talked about his self-confidence and about how it gets in the way of real friendships. One shared his struggle as a parent.
One was obviously the group comic who always used humor to deflect attention away from himself. He used his humor pretty effectively, but finally I called him by name and said, “Is there something you’d like to share with us?” For the first time, he told them about how his father had died when he was three, how he had grown up being strong and independent, and how hard it is for him to open himself to other people.
The common thing among us was that they were all burdens we were carrying. But as we shared them, the countenance of their faces began to change. It was as if the whole room was full of light. The problems won’t go away; we will have to deal with all of them, but we will deal with them differently than we would have dealt with them before. Something of the transfiguring presence of God’s glory was taking the very thing which weighted us down to lift us up; the heaviness which burdened our souls was the place where God’s strength could reach. It was the weight of glory.
It was good. And it would have been nice to stay. And that’s what Peter wanted to do. “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Elijah, one for Moses.”
Well, if there was anything irrelevant at the time, it was suggesting a building program. Luke said that Peter didn’t know what he was saying. But as soon as Peter said that, the clouds closed in around the mountain. A voice came from the cloud saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen, listen to him.” As if to say, “Don’t listen to Peter, but listen to the One who comes down off the mountain and makes his way through the enormous, dangerous plain which leads to the cross.”
The way of Jesus is God’s chosen way to glory. The weight of glory is the burden of self-giving love. The only path to glory is the way of the cross.
I have good news for someone reading these words, someone who is bearing a huge weight, someone who is struggling with a heavy burden, someone who, like Paul, feels loaded down with the sheer weight of your affliction. The very place where you feel most crushed, is probably the place where God’s glory can happen for you.
Luke says that the vision faded, and they were left with Jesus. And that was enough. And it was! And it is!
Dr. Fred Andrea is the pastor of Aiken’s First Baptist Church.