From the lows to the highs. From the desert to the top of a holy mountain where our Lord is transfigured.
I doubt that if Peter were pushed out into the desert in last week’s Gospel along with Jesus that the lead Apostle would have repeated the words he spoke on the holy mountain, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here! Let us make three tents.” I think instead it would have been something along the lines of, “Rabbi, why did you bring us out here? Why are we out here in the desert? Let us make three tents to shield us from the heat of day and cold of night.”
Naturally, we only say “It is good that we are here” when we find ourselves in a positive, joyful setting. Such as on the mountain of transfiguration. Or, at the Super Bowl when your team wins on a last moment interception. When Jesus got arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter didn’t say “Lord, it is good that we are here.” After chopping off the ear of the servant, Peter and the rest of them couldn’t get out of there fast enough!
God knows that we are blessed. Despite a crazy winter, leaky roofs, and snow piles higher than the tallest player in the NBA, we are very blessed. God has extended to us countless possibilities where, if we were completely honest, we could say, “Lord, it is good that we are here.” It is good we are here with our family. It is good we are with our friends. It is good we have our Christian faith, for where would we be without it? It is good I have a saint that you produced Lord, whom I can imitate in ways of holiness and dedication to you Lord. If you don’t have one, then Lent is the perfect opportunity to find one. It is good to carry within us the words of St. Paul; “If God is for us, who can be against us?” For in Christ, we have all that we will ever need. Will we totally embrace that truth? Why is it so hard to do so? Why do so many good people allow themselves to be distracted by a passing world to the point where we may lose the spiritual insight that Christ is all we will ever need?
This is the reason for Lent each year. To bring ourselves back to Christ.
In the transfiguration of Jesus, we see our future. A future of light, peace, and the constant desire to want to be with the Lord. If we can recall some of the most joyful moments and events in our lives, the transfiguration is the cherry on top of the hot fudge sundae. But then reality sets in. The Church beckons us to come down off the mountain and back to the desert. Even though this Gospel story takes place on a mountain, where indescribable joy becomes known, the desert is always lurking. The desert always has its fingers in our pockets. Where temptations happen, and where all that pulls us away from Jesus are in need of being dried out.
Yes, it is good for Peter, James and John to witness this miraculous transformation right before them. It would be good for our faith to witness a sick person made whole. Or to witness one person giving assistance to another in need. For every act of love, big or small, is a transfiguration. It’s good for those three chosen Apostles to be up there in the clouds and be witness to what awaits all of us.
But let’s bring those words of Peter down to Lent. Let’s take them off the mountain, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here,” and carry them to the bottom like Moses carried down the tablets of the commandments. However, unlike Moses, who appears in this scene with Jesus, unlike Moses who threw the tablets on the ground in anger because of the disobedience and revelry taking place in the camps of the Israelites, let us carry the words of Peter into our personal Lenten season. “Rabbi, it is good that we are here in the desert.”
It’s too easy to feel good on the mountain. It’s too easy to feel good when your team wins. It’s natural. It’s not so easy to feel good when in the rock bottom of the desert for 40 days. In fact, it can feel downright awful.
But particularly during this holy season, a healthy approach to the call of conversion that comes with Lent is to accept that it is good to be in the desert. It is good to clean out the system. It is good to purify our souls. It is good to fall deeper in love with our Savior. It is good to go through Ernie’s Car Wash and come out clean.
The desert is a place of transfiguration as much as the mountain. Maybe even more so. This is why the Apostles will go on to carry their crosses with joy. May we put our short time in the desert to good use. It’s not the mountain of glory and perfection. But a productive desert experience will certainly lead to the words of St. Peter, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here.”