“It will be to you as a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts”.
Those words from the Second Letter of Peter (which Mary Waite so kindly wrote out for me in beautiful calligraphy) hang on the wall in the vestry at St Andrew’s, and would be my favourite verse of scripture – if such a thing were allowed.
Of course, it isn’t allowed; because having a favourite verse would be like having a favourite son or daughter – it would, of necessity, devalue the others – and that would be ever so wrong.
So let’s just say it’s a verse that never ceases to encourage me.
I’m sure that Tolkien had that verse in mind in The Lord of the Rings (required reading for every Christian – well, every person really) when Queen Galadriel gives Frodo a glass phial containing “the light of Elendil, our most beloved star. To guide you when all other lights fail.” Well, you have to read the book to know how much that light is needed in dark times.
So here is Peter (the letter has been revised by other authors, but there’s still some Peter left). Here’s Peter in prison in Rome, awaiting execution. He writes to young churches everywhere to encourage them in their own dark times of persecution and strife; and what does he choose as a symbol of the hope that dwells in his heart, to share with struggling Christians everywhere? What is it that will be this lamp in a dark place – this distillation of the beauty of the morning star?
Strangely, it’s the Transfiguration. You would think that Peter had plenty of extraordinary experiences to look back upon – from walking on water and feeding the multitude, to the wounding struggles of holy week and Good Friday – to say nothing of the resurrection and “Peter, do you love me?” If he was looking for that defining experience to hold on to in his prison cell and shine light in his darkness, surely one of these would take pride of place?
But no. The light comes from the simple statement, “We were there on the holy mountain, and we ourselves heard the voice from heaven.” That is the experience he recalls to give the church (and himself) encouragement in dark times.
That experience of Jesus transfigured (and for the word “transfigured”, we might substitute the phrase, “shown as he truly is”) gave Peter the clarity of vision that made sense of everything else. Well … that eventually made sense of everything else. At the time he was still totally lacking in understanding, he “spoke without knowing what he was saying” – not an uncommon experience for me either! But in prison, with time on his hands, he looks back and realises that the holy mountain was his, “God moment” – such an intimate, powerful and challenging vision of Jesus’ divinity and purpose, that it transfigures all the rest of those experiences – even the resurrection itself. This man is not a prophet or miracle worker full of wise sayings, but God himself, unfolding the mystery of love that was there from before the world ever existed; bringing triumph and sacrifice, joy and desolation, together in one great act of obedient love. That is the lamp that can out-shine any darkness.
That is Peter’s God moment. But he doesn’t want us to receive it second-hand. “I was there,” he says. “Lucky you: we weren’t,” we might reply. And I imagine Peter would get very excited and come back with, “Of course you weren’t! Neither were any other disciples – except James and John, and I think they were still asleep. That was my “God moment,” you will have had your own. You will have had an encounter that changed the way you see everything – that’s what being a disciple means. And you just need time to recognise that you’ve had one. I had prison to do that, you’ve got lock down. Don’t waste it!”
Either God exists or he doesn’t. If he exists, he either communicates with his creation or he doesn’t. Two out of those three possibilities are pretty much dead ends, but the third (the true one) means that every living creature has had their moment on the holy mountain; their lamp shining in a dark place until the morning star rises.
How will I recognise it? At the risk of repeating myself, “Il faut chercher avec le coeur.”