Rev. Susan Eaton
Booster Shots & Mountain Tops
Mark 8:31-34; 9:2-8
“Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’ He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’
“Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’ Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.”
I’m a pain avoider—always have been.
I have a vivid memory of a trip to the doctor’s office when I was about six years old. It was the day I had to get my dreaded booster shots. When I was a child, getting a shot in my backside was one of the most terrifying things I could imagine, and on this day I think I was due for three shots. To state the obvious, I did not want to go to the doctor’s office that day. But no matter how much I begged or pleaded with my mother not to make me get those shots, there was no way around it. I had to get the vaccinations so I could go to school.
We entered the office, signed in, and then waited for what seemed like an eternity. The anticipation of what was about to happen only increased my anxiety. They didn’t know it yet, but I was a tiny, six-year-old volcano ready to erupt.
This is what I remember from the rest of the morning: I remember screaming, kicking, and crying. I remember that it took six nurses to get the job done—five to hold me down and one to administer the shots.
The last thing I remember is standing by my mother at the front desk as we checked out. I stood on my tiptoes with my little fingers grasping the edge of the counter, my face still wet from the flood of tears that had poured out just minutes earlier. As I rested my face on my fingers, my eyes barely able to see over the top of the counter, the receptionist looked at me and said, “Was that YOU throwing such a fit back there?” I didn’t answer. I just grabbed my sucker from the stash on the counter, and walked out of the office exhausted, embarrassed, and limping because of my sore backside.
As I look back on that day, I realize that much of the suffering I went through was of my own making. The pain of the shots was real, but my suffering was caused, in large part, by my own mindset. My six-year-old self couldn’t reason through WHY the shots were actually a good thing for me even if they were a bit painful. All I knew was that it hurt, and I didn’t want anything to do with that.
As I’ve grown older getting shots or having my blood drawn is not nearly as terrifying to me as it once was. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a fan of shots to this day, but there’s a type of pain that hurts more than any shot ever could.
I’ve experienced grief and anxiety that have tightened my chest, flooded my eyes with tears, and caused my bones to feel as if they were melting within me. And as much as I would like to avoid excruciating emotional pain, it seems to be inevitable in this life. Much like my six-year-old self had trouble understanding why I had to endure something as horrible as shots in my backside, my grown-up self often has a hard time seeing how deep, emotional pain can work out for good.
This past spring as I read through the gospel of Mark, I came across these passages where Jesus predicts his death, and then six days later is transfigured on a mountaintop. Peter’s remark about wanting to stay on the mountain struck a chord with me. As soon as I read it I thought, “You know, I can’t say that I blame him. I’m pretty sure I would have suggested the same thing.”
You see, Peter had been walking around with the heart-breaking news of Jesus’ impending suffering and death for six days when, suddenly, he found himself on a mountain, away from the world, in full view of Jesus’ glory! Peter could see with his own two eyes what he believed. THIS. This was his preferred view of Jesus: Dazzling, majestic, glorious Son of God. KING.
This moment was the good stuff. This was what Peter wanted more than anything. Why couldn’t everything just stay beautiful and glorious? Why did they need to experience something as horrible as suffering and death?
“Rabbi, it is good for us to stay here.”
Please, can we stay here? Can we keep this moment? That other stuff—that talk about you being humiliated and dying an excruciating death—that’s too much for me to bear. What will I do if that happens? What will become of me, of us, of the mission? No, it’s too horrible to even consider. Please, let’s stay here in the glory.
His suggestion wasn’t a well-thought-out one by any means. Peter didn’t know what he was saying. But I think it revealed that Peter wasn’t ready to surrender his expectations of his Messiah to such a painful picture.
Of course on this side of things we know that Jesus’ glory and Presence had to become more than something a few might view from a distance, or even from an extremely close proximity. It needed to be an indwelling reality for everyone. God’s life, God’s power, not external to us, not conjured up by us, but dwelling WITHIN us to strengthen us and empower us from the inside out—restoring us and forming us, once again, into His image.
The only way that was going to be possible, was for Jesus to defeat, once and for all, every form of evil that prevented the restoration of God’s image in us. And the only way that could happen was for Jesus to suffer and die. He had to go through the pain.
I find that I am very much like Peter was on that mountain. I would much prefer to stand in the midst of the glory. I don’t want to follow Jesus into the pain and darkness of the valley. It’s a terrifying proposition: the devastation of my expectations, hopes, and dreams—the pain of loss and grief. I can’t stand the thought of it.
But the promise you and I have from God is that no matter what happens, we do not walk alone, and our strength comes not from avoiding pain, but from standing firmly in God’s grace—the grace of His Presence WITH us down in the dark valleys.
We are not alone. God is with us. And not just with us, He is WITHIN us. He strengthens us through the power of His Holy Spirit from the inside out, enabling us to get through suffering, not around it.
The Apostle Paul understood suffering. In Romans 5:2-5 he has this to say:
“And let us boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but let us also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”
Suffering didn’t crush Paul’s faith; it strengthened his faith. Paul knew that because of the Holy Spirit WITHIN us, our suffering can produce perseverance; perseverance will produce character, and that strong character will enable us to hope. And if there is anything that is going to get us through the dark and painful valleys that we will inevitably enter, it’s hope—hope that God will one day redeem every ounce of our pain.
So, whenever you face trials, hardship, or pain, remember: Christ is your strength. He is your hope. It is Christ’s very Spirit that dwells within you to give you the strength and courage you need to endure even the hardest times. He came down the mountain that day and embraced the suffering of this world so he could be that for you and for me.
May you be strengthened by his indwelling Spirit of love today.