The transfiguration has always been one of my favorite passages in the gospels because I wrestle with it so much. Moses’ appearance makes a great deal of sense to me, but I have always struggled with understanding why Elijah is there. Why not David? Why not Joshua? How about Abraham, Noah, or Ruth? That is a fascinating topic that will have to wait for another day, because today something else caught my eye.In verse 33 Peter says something remarkable. Peter is a particularly lovable disciple since he swings from really getting it to having no clue in the blink of an eye. Here he almost really gets it, and that causes him to wind up having no clue. How many times have we all been there? In verse 33 after seeing the incredible sight of Jesus, Moses, and Elijah gathered and conversing and seeing Jesus ‘transfigured’ (in verse 29) in glory, Peter suggests that they build three dwellings. Well, that’s what the NRSV translation says. However, this is not the word for house. A more accurate translation would be ‘tent,’ and an even better translation would be ‘tabernacle.’
Peter recognizes that something really, really special has happened and he has been given a sneak peak at who Jesus is. So he reacts from his Jewish roots and recalls that when Moses and God’s people were in the wilderness they were instructed by God to build a tabernacle/tent. This tabernacle would be the place where they could go and meet with God and signify God’s presence among them. But Luke tells us that Peter made a mistake in trying to recreate the past. What was his mistake? Perhaps Peter is just ahead of schedule and Jesus has not completed his work upon the cross. But I think the answer is at the very end of the Bible. Revelation 21:22 – “I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.” John of Patmos teaches us that there is no need for a temple or special holy structure when in the presence of God. And here is Peter, in the presence of the beloved Son (verse 35).
At times we all find ourselves overly attached to buildings and places. It is important to remember that all of God’s creation is good and we should celebrate all of those places. Careful and beautiful craftsmanship is no stranger to God’s people or God’s instruction to people (the episodes of the construction of the tabernacle and the items in it is fascinating). But ultimately we must not veer off course and worship these things. Our worship is to be directed toward God alone.