Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Recollections of an old apostle

I'm back today from a great weekend in Staffin, Skye. I was taking part in a communion weekend at Kilmuir and Stenscholl CofS. We had a great weekend - thank you if you prayed for us based on my 'A busy week for Shed' post below.

I've decided to post a 'creative piece' I used during the weekend. We worked through 1 John, but on the Sunday evening I also used the words below as a reflection on Mark 9:2-9. John really must have changed a lot over his life serving Christ. (Of course, I'm assuming authorship by John the apostle - something that I did for the whole of our journey through selected passages from the letter.)

Recollections of an old apostle

I never tire of telling the story. I must have told thousands about my experiences with Jesus. And yet, even though I’m now sometimes unclear about the details, the impact of all the things that happened in those days allows me to keep going over the stories. One day, perhaps, I will write them down.

Anyway, you wanted me to tell you about that afternoon on the mountain. They all do! I’m the only person alive who was there; at least, I’m the only person still living this side of the grave who was present that day. Peter and James were killed years ago. I sometimes wonder why the Lord has allowed me to serve him all this time.

You’ve got to understand that all of us who followed Jesus – we just didn’t know at the time what was really going on. We were impressed by Jesus because of his wisdom, his passion for God’s kingdom, his energy and drive in all the work that he did. He taught us about the purposes of God, and the scriptures, and how we should live in the light of what these things meant – and he opened up these things in a way that blew our minds.

Jesus really believed that things were about to happen big time. And, because God had chosen us, we could be part of it. All we had to do was commit our lives, and follow his example, and believe all the signs that pointed towards God’s coming kingdom. Jesus trained us for ministry, so that we could go and preach about the kingdom, and pray for people in need of healing and restoration. He was the kind of person that, once you’ve met him and seen the truth of his mission, you just can’t help following.

My brother, James, and I were excited about the promises of God. When we first met Jesus, we knew he was talking our language, we thought that he was the kind of person to keep in touch with – and the more we followed him, the more we trusted in his call to serve God’s kingdom.

We knew Jesus was special before that day on the mountain. We’d seen the feeding of five thousand people with a few fish and some bread – we’d seen Jesus raise a dead girl to life. He was more powerful than any other person or prophet we knew about. Even John the Baptist had to confess that Jesus was special. So, before the mountain, we’d already decided that Jesus really was the Messiah, he really was the promised one, the one who would restore the kingdom to God’s people.

I bet you want to know what it was like, and how I felt when I saw the glory and the light, and heard the voice, and the conversation between Moses and Elijah and Jesus. And, you wanted to know how it changed me. Hmm, it was pretty awesome. It was like a dream, a scary dream – the most realistic dream you’ve ever had. We were sleepy at the time, but when we saw the brightness we came to our senses. There was no denying that something happened. You’ll probably know about Peter’s offer to build shelters. James and I were too frightened to say anything. Peter probably didn’t know what he was saying. Afterwards, he told me that he had felt very vulnerable at the time. He needed to do something, anything. I guess people react in all sorts of ways when they are confronted with something new, something different, something altogether out of this world.

Imagine being surrounded by thick fog, only, lighter and brighter than any fog you’ve ever known. I shivered, even though it wasn’t cold. Before the cloud covered us Jesus appeared to change before our eyes. It was still him, his features didn’t change. It was just that from within his body light seemed to stream straight into our souls. He became more beautiful, more manly, more radiant. And at the same time he sounded exactly the same, he still talked in the same way, he still had the same mannerisms.

It felt strange, because I was fascinated by the glory, like the prophets and the song writers who longed for a vision of God – it was attractive, I wanted to move towards the brightness, reach out, and touch. What we have seen, what we have heard, and what we have touched – this is the thing that we speak about.

But Isaiah’s experience of feeling unclean, unworthy became my experience too. I was unworthy to be in the presence of these three heavenly men. My life was in danger – at least, that’s how it felt when we heard the voice from heaven. Those words moved my guts like no storm on Lake Galilee, like no harsh words from my father. They sounded in the sky – but they resonated within me, as if they’d found a way in through the soles of my feet right through to the top of my head.

It was over before it dawned on us what we were seeing. And that’s the thing – we didn’t really know what we’d seen until much later on. We actually felt pretty chuffed about it all – we felt as if we’d been chosen by Jesus for special blessing. He wanted us to be princes in the kingdom, and we acted like that for a few weeks. We asked if we could get special seats on the day when the new kingdom was going to be established; we were more zealous than ever when it came to arguing with the Samaritans and other preachers and prophets. We knew that we were the genuine workers in God’s plan. After all, we’d just seen and heard something from out of this world. So, instead of serving and loving these people, we dismissed them, and even prayed that they might be destroyed if they didn’t agree with us.

I’ve thought about all this a lot. You see, what I’m trying to describe to you is this – the transfiguration wasn’t the thing that really changed us. It wasn’t the only experience we had that helped us to understand Jesus. We saw his glory that day – glory that was part of his humanness, yes, but glory that was divine and heavenly too. But we didn’t see, and we didn’t anticipate, his suffering.

Looking back, Jesus was already feeling the pressure of his future burdens. It was as if he had an invisible load, and the load got heavier and heavier as he got closer to that final week in Jerusalem. In the garden, we saw him in a darker place – his form, his body, seemed to crumple under some weight. But even then, something seemed to communicate the same glory that we witnessed on the mountain. We needed to see the light and the darkness before we could begin to minister the gospel to people. We needed to hear the declaration of God about the glory of his beloved Son, and we needed to hear the cry of pain and suffering of that same beloved Son. Everything we witnessed – the glory and the shame - fulfilled the will of the Father in heaven.

It all came together when we saw the risen Jesus. He was just like the figure we saw on the mountain – real and human, and yet more real, more human, more obviously glorious. And you could tell that he had suffered too. You could still see the marks of his pain, signs that showed the depth of his love. Jesus died so that we might know the love of God for us.

That’s my story. That’s how it seemed to me – I can’t remember that day on the mountain without rehearsing and retelling the whole story – close friends get bored sometimes, they laugh at my enthusiasm. I can laugh too, because many of my friends have believed the story, and they have seen how the risen Christ can still change people, can still touch them with his glory and his pain. And when he does that, he builds his kingdom – people begin to live not according to what they see in this world, but what they know is coming – a renewed world, a safe world, a world that is fit for living in.

Don’t forget that, whatever you do. Don’t forget that God is working in the darkness as well as in the light. Never despair of yourself, or of the world. God loves the world, and he is saving the world. In one sense it is already saved. Hope that is real believes that Jesus is the Saviour of the world. What we have seen, what we have heard, and what we have touched – this is what we declare to the world. Jesus is Lord, Jesus is Lord.


C G said...

Dave, beautiful. This should be published!

Danny said...

Agree, enjoyed reading, very evocative and wonderfully theological.

Anonymous said...

I think you should be writing that best-selling novel Dave!! You have a story-telling gift.