“Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here ” Matthew 17:3
Such moments as Peter describes are all too rare.
Peter knew that it was not too often that you were captivated by the glory of God. He and James and John had gone up with Jesus to a high mountain and there they saw Jesus in his glory; his face shines like the sun and his clothes become as white as the light, and then Moses and Elijah appeared.
Peter knows what a moment this is and he wants to hold onto it; he wants to make it last. “if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”. It was a strange offer; where would Peter have found materials and how would hand-built shelters have compared with such glory? But it was an offer that came from a heartfelt desire to remain in God’s presence.
The moment intensifies as God speaks, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” and then it is past, “And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone”. A few brief seconds in which they experienced God’s glory; an experience so profound that twenty centuries later it is still read about it.
A sense of the holy, a sense of the profound, a sense of God being present: these things are not easy to find. Church services are meant to be a meeting place with God, yet how often do people go home from church being able to say, as Saint Peter did, “Lord, it is good for us to be here ”
Perhaps in times past it was easier to have a sense of holiness, a sense of the numinous, a sense that people were in the presence of God, but that capacity seems to have been lost. Maybe it’s because people have become much more secular.
Being secular, people accept the beliefs and philosophies of the modern world. They don’t expect to meet with anything which is beyond rational, scientific explanations. They don’t go to church, or live their daily lives, with the expectation that they are going to meet the divine. Education tells people that these things do not happen, so they do not expect them to happen. Secular thought has driven out the superstition that marred societies in centuries past and that is still a danger in parts of Africa, where everything is ascribed to ‘“spirits”, but it has also driven out a sense of the supernatural.
Most church people would not agree about what it is that brings them close to God. There is always a challenge to try to create an atmosphere in which people sense God’s presence when there is no agreement as to how that atmosphere is to be created. People have very different preferences; in an age of individual choice the church cannot simply impose.
How do secular people, people very different in their thinking, create a church where someone coming in might have a sense of the risen Lord?
Maybe the answer lies with people themselves, perhaps the answer lies in being open to God’s presence. The story of the Transfiguration involved just three of the disciples, why not all twelve? Perhaps it was because the three concerned were more open to God’s presence.
When people come to worship, when they say their prayers, when they go about their everyday lives, do they take seriously the possibility that, like Peter and James and John, they too might encounter the divine?
God never imposes. Jesus could do few miracles in his home town because the people just did not believe; they could not accept the possibility that God might be present there with them.
It is a matter of individual choice. It is a person’s own choice whether they accept the possibility that they might meet with the holy God; it is their choice whether they accept the possibility that, with Peter, they might say, “Lord, it is good for us to be here”.