The Hardest Question was an experiment in preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. All posting is finished, but the content will continue to live here in archive form. You can discover new content by former THQ curator Russell Rathbun at Question the Text.


Hammering it Home

If the experience of glory leads to silence, what are we supposed to say about it?

by Ruth Everhart

Gospel Reading: Luke 9:28-36 [37–43a]

For Sunday, Februray 10, 2013—Transfiguration of Our Lord

When I was on a pilgrimage in Israel, we visited the Mount of Transfiguration. Our itinerary allotted thirty minutesfor this taste of mountaintop glory. As the bus rumbled toward the base of the mountain, I thought: It’s a ridiculous timeframe, of course, but maybe it will be enough.

In the story, Jesus manages to “get in and get out” of glory rather quickly. It’s Peter who tries to hang onto the moment.

Disoriented Enough for Glory

At the foot of the mountain we pilgrims had to switch to taxis. The only road up is a series of hairpin turns that a bus can’t manage. We ascend, sloshing back and forth across the seats, the vista switching abruptly at each turn like looking through a viewfinder held by an 8th grader.

When we emerge at the top, we are breathless and rumpled and disoriented enough for glory. This was the very spot, this mountain tiptop, where Jesus shone like the sun, the veil between heaven and earth pierced for a moment.

Helpfully Unhelpful

They’ve built a church up there by now, of course. Peter’s way won out. After all, we humans are like that. We like our hammers. We all know what it’s like to be the onlooker, the disciple in ordinary clothes, gawking at the dazzlers. We want to hang onto our brush with a moment of glory.

Like plain-clothed Peter, we humans are well-meaning and awkward, helpfully offering to do unhelpful things. “Let us make three dwellings . . .” And don’t we all feel for Peter? He was being so goodhearted, so helpful. So entirely human. “Hey, I know how to use a hammer. Let me use it. Let me build a booth. Let me nail this moment down.”

Words that Nail it

As we clergy might say: “Hey, I know how to use words. Let me use them. Let me craft a liturgy about transcendence. Let me nail this moment down.”

Why? Because we love Jesus! We, too, are goodhearted and helpful and human. So we get out our hammers. We study the scripture. We design our bulletins. We write our sermons. We hope to create a space where people can approach the sacred presence.

But look what happens to Peter. “And they kept silent.”  That’s tough talk for preachers.

The Hardest Question

The gospel writer brushes Peter’s offer away as irrelevant. But, if the experience of glory leads only to silence, what are we supposed to say about it?

Ruth Everhart is the author of Chasing the Divine in the Holy Land , which traces her pilgrimage through Israel and Palestine. The book explores faith questions stirred by that land’s dust and danger. Also its pomegranates, wine, and cable-cars. She is on staff at Western Presbyterian Church in urban Washington, DC, the home of Miriam’s Kitchen. She tweets and blogs at Work in Progress.

How do you read?