It was a whisper that woke them, a summons as dusky and fleeting as the blue dawn wind. “Come,” said the Christ, and Peter woke first to follow. Stumbled to his feet and nudged his closest friends. “The Master has something to show us,” he mumbled, clapping a wakeful hand onto John’s shoulder. James rose too and the three of them shivered in the cool, dim light, and stumbled after their Lord as he, without further ceremony, beckoned them to follow. Down through the sleep dim streets, their feet slapping the cobbled stones until their way led up the waiting mountain.
Not a word did Jesus say as he led them, not a glance to betray the goal of their climb. Only a smile, and the old call to follow, again, with no hint of their journey’s end. And they followed, with feet, and even with hearts, for he walked within the reach of their stumbling, always waiting for them when they lagged even a small way behind.
John, pensive as always, and James in his usual stolidity, walked with heads down in thought. But Peter walked with face turned upward, with eyes fixed just ahead on the form of his master. And in his mind the thought was stirring that perhaps, just perhaps, Jesus was taking them to show them something really glorious. After all, it had been he, Peter, who just a few days before had so steadfastly proclaimed his faith that Jesus was indeed the son of God. Peter felt rather gratified by this memory. He felt that he had proven the strength of his faith.
And so he walked eagerly, up, up into the limpid light of the new morning as it fell on the quiet mountain. With their steady climbing, they reached the top quickly, and Jesus stopped. He stood and closed his eyes to feel the rush of the dawn wind blowing up from the valleys below them. The three men beside him gulped in the fresh air and tried hard to enjoy the moment, but it was with eagerness that they met the opening of their lord’s eyes. Jesus stepped toward them.
“I have come to show you something, and yes Peter,” he turned and looked him full in the face, “you will see a bit of glory”.
Jesus smiled, and Peter leaned barely forward with a sudden puzzlement. For once again, he had caught that look in Jesus’ eyes, that knowing compassion, as if Peter were unaware of what was awaiting him. Peter did not particularly like that look. He did not want pity, and besides, what grief could there be in a vision of glory? He cast his doubt aside as, without a word more, Jesus stepped back.
And then there was light.
As sudden and blinding as new creation, the brightness swirled around them and they could no longer see the mountain, or even Jesus, for in an incomprehensible blaze of glory, God stood before them. Of course, they had always known Jesus to be the son of God, but it was different now. Heaven was right in front of them, the whirling beauty of the invisible world suddenly present to their flesh and blood sight. Song there was, and a constant quiver of movement for the air was alive with lyrical voices and the rush of a living light that touched every fiber of their being. In that instant, they saw the truth of all that Jesus had spoken in the long past months, for he became all He said He was before their eyes. Moses and Elijah appeared on his left and right, as heavenly witnesses to this unheard of revelation.
Peter especially was in ecstasy, his heart pounding with the thrill of his surety, his joy in seeing the truth of what he had chosen to follow. Surging with his usual zeal, he stepped bravely forward and spoke to the magnificent figure he knew to be his lord, offering to build a tabernacle for him. But even as his eager voice disturbed the faint music, there was a sudden crack as of lightning fire, and he was stopped mid-sentence. There was a quickening rush, and the advent of a new glory as brooding and fearsome as a mighty storm. It came like the untamed wind, thrumming through the air round him, challenging his desire to build walls around the beauty before him.
This glory was fearful, a blue and crimson magnificence that sent Peter to his knees. Peter forgot about building as the presence of the Holy One of Israel surrounded him. The voice of God the Father cracked down in a thunder of holiness and the earth trembled before Him. The light became brighter, the voices and music not louder but deeper and the men felt as if new dimensions of sound were opened to them, throbbing through regions within them that had never before been touched.
God, the Father, present in His awful goodness, spoke through the whirl of the storm and His words were simple:
“This is my Son with whom I am well-pleased. Listen to him!”
The majesty was so great, the sense of holiness so overwhelming, the three men could no longer bear to look. They cried out and covered their faces, bowing down, huddled against the friendly earth. But Peter wept. For the glory he had so desired to see was a devastating glory, an impossible beauty that filled him with an unexpected dread. He had presumed to understand God, supposed himself wise because of his bravado of faith. But in that moment, he was suddenly terrified, as the dark faces of his many sins crowded suddenly round him.
The delightful beauty of Christ had thrilled him, the terrible beauty of the Father convinced him that he would surely die. And he knew with a final knowing, that no work of his, no proclamation of belief, no offer of honor would ever assuage the depth of his unworthiness. He crouched lower, his fingers dug into the earth and simply wept.
But in that instant, at the very inception of those fearing thoughts, a hand was laid on his shoulders. A still voice, a quiet voice said, “don’t be afraid”. Peter fought the anguish in his breast, wanting to grovel, unwilling to lift his face. But the words of the Holy One still echoed in his ears, “listen”. And he did. Summoning all the grit he possessed, he pushed away the fear and obeyed. He lifted his eyes and saw…only Jesus.
Only the earthy, flesh and blood face of his lord, suffused with the the rising sun. The earth shattering glory was gone. Jesus, man again, stood alone and reached down with a sun browned hand that gripped Peter’s shoulder with a pounding strength. Peter and his companions reached out with grateful tears to be lifted to their feet by this human, touchable God. And he took them to his heart like the little children they really were. Held them as they ached with the glory and the truth of what they had seen.
They had been given their desire. They had seen the reality of heaven behind Jesus’ words. They could never doubt now. But as they trudged back down the mountain that day, they realized that beyond even the divine glory they had desired, they had been given a glimpse of a great mystery; the glory of God as man, holding them, comforting them. For the vision had ended, not in a blast of trumpets or a crash of lightning. Their once in a lifetime glimpse of heaven’s most magnificent reality had not finished with choirs of angels or the crash of God’s splendor. It had ended with the face of Jesus; human before them, the heavenly glory compacted into a single man with a beating heart.
The miracle was not the splendor, it was the man who had left the splendor behind for the sake of the children he loved.
As Peter walked, he felt a love that he had never known surging through his spirit. It was nothing like his previous love; that had been a love more like an admiration combined with a healthy dose of pride in his own choice. This was pure adoration, of the God who clothed his glory in flesh and lifted his children up from the dust.
Every time he prayed for the rest of his life, Peter remembered the glory, so different from what he had expected. For with each whispered prayer he approached the throne of glory where light and justice blazed and trembled. But when he reached the foot, it was always Jesus who met him, Jesus who emerged from the crashing beauty to take him by his shaking, human hands and give him the strength to carry on.
As he does to all who love Him.
Sarah Clarkson lives in Monument, Colorado and is quite simply, a lover of words and the God who made them. This love expresses itself in her writing and her hope to study English Literature at a yet-undecided university this fall. She muses on life, books and beauty at her blog Take Joy.