The Lenten season is about moving along a path. It is about Jesus moving out of obscurity and toward his ministry, about his own trek out of the smaller towns and villages near his home and into the big city of Jerusalem… about the road to the cross.
Typically during Lent, I read the Gospel stories and think about the main character in them: Jesus. Of course, it’s Jesus. The stories, the messages, the insights… all come from what he said, what he did, what he experienced, what the taught. We are the students and so we do well to pay attention in his class. There is so much to learn.
Even so, and though we are just twelve days in this year, I have found myself thinking more about those who accompanied Jesus.
First, though, there is a view of the disciples as those who bought in fully right from the start. Jesus captivated them so much with his message of hope and healing, of salvation… that they became card carrying members of whatever he was selling from the get go. I myself don’t subscribe to this view. No… I think they had their doubts. They were uncertain, probably even afraid on occasion. I think the scriptural evidence is clear that there were times when they did not understand what they were observing, comprehend what they were hearing. I envision Peter and Andrew whispering to each other at some point: “Hey, do you think there’s any chance we can get our old boat back?”
In today’s Gospel, Jesus took his inner circle to the top of a mountain. This included Peter, James and John. There, they experienced the transfiguration of Christ. You heard the description in today’s Gospel. This was out of the ordinary and in a big, big way. What a boost to them this must have been. It should have quelled their fears, shattered their doubts, dismissed any notions of trying to buy back the boat. Truly, this was the Son of God… and surely, their pursuit of him was wise. This was a mountain top experience to top all mountain top experiences. The truth and greatness of Jesus fully revealed!
But in our Lenten voyage, just 33 days from today, many of us will sit in this very church and hear the story of Peter in a courtyard, outside of the place of one of Jesus’ trials. What a turn of events. Peter, member of the inner circle… perhaps the leader of that inner circle… telling strangers that he did not even know the man. This was the denial of Peter.
From a mountain top to this courtyard. 33 days later.
Lent is life. This truly is our journey. And it is the story of our faith. Have you experienced a mountain top in your faith life? I have. Have you experienced a courtyard? I have.
Peter experienced this himself. But he was also an observer. He observed the transfiguration, the miracles, and the welcoming of Jesus into Jerusalem. He also observed the capture, the trials, the torture, and the crucifixion.
I have been thinking that we sometimes are the observers too… of the people in our own lives who are on top of mountains, who are in valleys, who are experiencing courtyards and trials themselves. We are called to care about people who are suffering… and so by extension, we suffer too. Parents feel this way about their own children. Children feel this way about their own parents. Sometimes we are called upon to accompany, sometimes we are called upon to sacrifice, to help carry a cross… thus taking that cross as our own. Many of us have experienced this.
Faith compels us to look beyond the cross, though. To what follows… to what comes after Lent. But sometimes, even though we know this, we understand this, and we believe it… it can still be hard.
As Jesus departed his disciples at the very, very end of the story… he said: “Know that I will be with you to the end of time.” (Matthew 28:20) This is to say that Jesus, who was accompanied by these followers, made a final promise to accompany them.
We experience mountain tops and courtyards, and we observe those we love doing the same. This Lent, let’s recall that we fall under his ever watchful, loving gaze. This is grace, this is his promise – an enduring promise that we are accompanied.
In our pain, we are always accompanied.