I remember the story by a priest who visited a certain Pentecostal Church. He wanted to experience how things are done in that denomination different from what he is used to in his own Catholic tradition. According to him, it was a very lively worship experience. The atmosphere in the church was absolutely heavenly – the praise worship, the preaching, the lively congregation and great choir. But this priest felt there was something missing in the church there. He did not see where the cross was hung. He did not even see it in the hymns, preaching, or anywhere at all. So, he managed to meet the pastor after the service and asked him about that. The pastor whispered to him, “The cross doesn’t market well in this church, so we don’t say a lot about it.” The priest said that he went home and was thinking all through the night whether he was into marketing or ministry.
Preaching the cross of Jesus Christ is one of the most difficult aspects of the gospel. It was difficult for the apostles of Jesus. Peter did not want Jesus to talk about it. James and John were interested in securing their positions in the kingdom, when Jesus tried again to raise up the topic. The message of the cross sounds like a message of losers. It is anti- capitalistic, anti-imperialistic and anti-individualistic. People do not want to hear about it. That is why so many clergy have turned the gospel into prosperity ministry. We want the gospel to be about the good life, about self-fulfillment, not self-denial; about success, not surrender; about bigness, greatness and glory. No wonder Peter wanted to build shelters on top of the mountain, one for Jesus, one for Elijah, and one for Moses. He wanted to stay there and basking in the euphoria of glory. He did not want to think about suffering, death and self-denial. We want our spirituality, our faith, and our Church to be about glory, glory, glory.
Of course, there will be glory. But there can be no glory without the cross. Jesus had to walk through the Good Friday to get to glory of Easter. So, the Transfiguration experience on the mountaintop is inseparably connected to the suffering and death of Christ. The glimpse of the glory they saw on the mountain was to prepare them for what was to come. But I doubt if they got the message.
The voice that spoke to them during the Transfiguration experience did not say anything new. He only affirms what Jesus has been telling his disciples, ”..that the son of man will suffer and die….” The voice said, “This is my chosen Son, listen to him.” So, there is really no gospel, salvation or conversion without the cross. May we use the opportunity, which this Lenten season offers us, to learn to carry our cross to follow Christ. Our cross is our salvation. The only way we can enter into the transformative power of the resurrection is by way of the cross, by sharing in the sufferings of Christ and being conformed to his death.
I do not think this message will draw big crowds. It will never be marketable. It will never make any preacher popular. But that is certainly the gospel of Christ.