This post comes to us from Will Ryan:

We have a penchant for wanting to mark the good times in life, to plant a flag there and say, “Yes, this is something I want to remember forever,” to relive a moment of glory forever and ever. It’s why people pay thousands of dollars for their weddings to be photographed and filmed — they hope that the feelings of joy and awe will return whenever they look at them. It’s why I have the Nebraska Open trophy (my family’s yearly golf tournament in October) set in a prominent location — I want to relive that feeling of accomplishment and jubilation when the trophy catches my eye. It’s why there are sign-in sheets at the tops of mountains — people want others to know and acknowledge they made the arduous climb.

Whenever times get tough, or the world outside is howling, or the house of cards we built comes crashing down, we can turn to those photos, those trophies, those markers and say, “Remember when …?”

It’s a trope thrown around Hollywood: that jock who peaked in high school and can’t ever outgrow or move beyond obsessing over his glory days. We like to chuckle at those people, but we’re no better. We all have those days we reminisce about, pining for some nostalgic past that most assuredly wasn’t as grand as we make it out to be. We do it as individuals and we do it as institutions, including the Church.

We sand off all the rough edges, remove those unsightly warts, and conveniently forget all that was unsightly, looking back with rose-colored glasses to a time when we basked in the light of majesty. “Remember when things were great, or at least weren’t so bad?” We exert control over our current suffering and death by trying our best to live continually in marvelous moments. “Control is a drug, and we are all hooked.”[1]

This temptation isn’t new; we see it in the Transfiguration, when Jesus’ glory was revealed on a mountain top, if only for a moment, to his inner-circle of disciples — Peter, James, and John. Surrounded by Moses and Elijah, somehow raised from the dead, Jesus sparkles with the newness of the resurrection. Peter then has the terrible idea to build tents to keep the party going.

Why would Peter say such a thing? He’s confused. Six days earlier, Jesus had a difficult conversation with his disciples. After Peter correctly identifies Jesus as the promised Messiah, things take a sideways turn. Jesus begins to tell them about his crucifixion, and Peter — the gall! — rebukes Jesus. Suffering and death aren’t supposed to be on the menu for Messiahs. Glory, success, and freedom are their promised outcomes. But Jesus will have nothing of it, indicating Peter is tempting him just as Satan did in the wilderness. Instead, he calls a larger crowd around him and gives his would-be followers just as much of a challenge: “If any want to become my followers, let them take up their cross and follow me” (Mk 8:34).

So for six days, his disciples are left to stew on this and more. For six days they have to contemplate that following Jesus doesn’t mean success, fame, and fortune (as if they didn’t already know). For six days they have to think about how a cross enters into the picture for a Messiah. That’s a long time to chew on something you’d rather not have in your mouth. By the time Jesus invites his inner-circle on what probably appears to them as at best a team-building exercise on the side of a mountain, they may be having some adverse thoughts, second-guessing how quickly they’ve left their fishing enterprises.

Having just been told about Jesus’ suffering and death, seeing a shining, angelic Jesus throws Peter for a loop. Not knowing what else to do, and speaking on behalf of all disciples both then and now (read: you and me), Peter goes back to the tried-and-true response to a good thing: mark it, plant that flag, have that shiny trophy made. “Simon Peter, who had interrupted Jesus at prayer to call him back on stage before an applauding crowd (Mk 1:35-38),” and who tried to take Jesus to task for even suggesting suffering and death might be something the Son of Man has to go through “now wants to perpetuate this marvelous moment. Here is real glory, without suffering, without death.”[2]

Peter hasn’t learned his lesson. The six days haven’t been enough (they never are), and he’s back to thinking that this glory should be where they all hang out. Like I said, though, he’s certainly not alone. But that doesn’t stop God from entering into the scene fully and offering His two cents: “Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him!'” (Mk 9:7).

God is once again telling Peter that he doesn’t know everything, that despite his attempts at controlling the situation, someone else is running the show, that what he thought, stewed, and fretted over for six days is true. “Listen to Jesus,” God says, “because His words are My Word.” Peter doesn’t know what to do, so he falls back into the predictable pattern we all do: Control the situation by trying our damndest to hang around glory as long as possible. He looks for an escape hatch out of the suffering and death Christ promised. But this mountain isn’t the final revelation of God’s glory in Christ. The story doesn’t end here. Jesus said he still has another hill to climb.

Like Peter, we want life without death. We want to hold onto the glory of the good times, with none of the suffering. Control is a drug, and we are all hooked.

But God’s command to listen to Jesus reminds us that neither He (nor we) can avoid carrying the cross and climbing Calvary. It is on the other side of the Cross, of Jesus’ death and resurrection, that we make sense of this fundamental truth: “that we must go through death to receive the gift of new life.”[3] It was true for Jesus, and it’s true for us too.

[1] Kate Bowler, Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved (New York: Random House, 2018) p. 84.

[2] Fred Craddock, Preaching Through the Christian Year – B, p. 127.

[3] Gerhard Forde, The Essential Forde (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2019), p. 107.