Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen.
Will no-one stay awake with me?
Peter? John? James?
Will none of you wait with me?
Peter? John? James?
I only want to say
If there is a way
Take this cup away from me
For I don't want to taste its poison
Feel it burn me,
I have changed I'm not as sure
As when we started
Then I was inspired
Now I'm sad and tired
Listen surely I've exceeded
Tried for three years
Seems like thirty
Could you ask as much
From any other man?
n Tim Rice, 1970
It seems like the guys Jesus selected as his “inner circle” had a real problem with sleep. They kept dozing off at the most important moments. But isn’t that what we do? Just when God could make the greatest impression on us we kind of nod off.
I don’t know about you, but I find it to be a truth that, just when Jesus has great truth to show me or a great lesson for life available to me, I am the least available. And the worst of it is that I know it. And in those moments I choose to be unavailable. It isn’t that I lack the discipline to “stay awake and watch with him,” but I simply lack the desire.
Jama and I are taking care of Tim and Alice’s chubby-needy sausage dog this summer while they are in San Francisco. Choochie is a very affectionate 40 pounds or so of fluff and love. But she has a motivation problem. She’ll come along side of you while you’re sitting in a chair and demand that you stroke her head, but if you invite her up on the chair or couch with you she suddenly doesn’t have the energy to accomplish the task.
That’s me. I spend a lot of time nuzzling Jesus’ hand in hope that I’ll get strokes from the Master. But expend energy to go out and really be there for a great moment with him? Not so much. Stay awake when he is in pain and watch and weep with him over Jerusalem? I need my beauty sleep, after all.
The sadness of The Transfiguration is that the same power was released on that hillside as was present when Moses encountered God face to face. From that day onward, Moses had to wear a veil over his face so the shining of the glory of God wouldn’t be too much for all who encountered him. But Peter, John, and James wore no veil after The Transfiguration. The reason is plain: they were “there” for the event, but they were not fully present. If they had been, Peter would never have suggested such a preposterous, half-sleep measure like making booths for Jesus and the other two prophets. He would have instead reveled in the depth of the moment, turned his face toward the incomprehensible light of the scene before him, and come home with a far greater understanding, and a far greater glow on his face than he did.
In the end, the text tells us that Peter, John, and James told no one anything about what had happened. Had they been fully awake for the event, their faces alone would have told the tale.
The sadness of Jesus’ last moments with his disciples in Gethsemane is that again, the disciples dozed off at the critical moment. Would Peter have denied ever knowing Jesus if he had seen the blood dripping from his brow as he wept over his people? Would John and James have remained silent during the trial that followed? Instead of sharing in his sufferings, the disciples settled for the much smaller blessing of standing at a distance while the whole drama played out.
In the end, Peter went off somewhere alone and wept bitterly, rather than be there to witness the horrible glory of the Crucifixion. John stood at a distance from the cross, to be sure. And Jesus was perhaps comforted in knowing that his mother would be taken care of by John. But had he stayed awake in The Garden, wouldn’t John have offered his own body up, and perhaps carried Jesus’ cross? As it was they had to compel a man from Cyrene to do that. Had he been alert at the moment of Jesus’ greatest compassion, he might have been more present for the moment of Jesus’ greatest need. And James? We don’t even know where he went. The Shepherd was struck and the sheep were scattered.
God, forgive me for lounging about when you are manifesting your glory. Forgive me for being half-asleep when you want to teach me great things. Forgive me for taking my rest when there is work to be done. Forgive me for not weeping with you over the people. Forgive me for not standing with you in trial. Forgive me for not dying with you when the time comes.
Should I not also be able to say, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)