Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Holding on to memories

2 Peter 1.12-21
Whether the writer is the real Peter, or a colleague of his or simply someone writing from his perspective, he writes here very much from the viewpoint of the older Peter living in Rome just before his martyrdom. People often say, as they get older, that time seems to fly by faster and become more precious. It’s not an original idea. It is voiced here by the writer, and other people had probably said the same thing to him.
Memories become more important with age too. We have so many of them and they become ever more precious the further away in time they recede. There is always the fear of losing our memories, or indeed of losing the capacity to remember. So from the perspective of the first eyewitnesses of Jesus’ ministry, there was a desperate anxiety to preserve their memories of him, pass them on and make sure they were cherished.
It’s fashionable to say that the Christian story is a ‘cleverly devised myth’ dreamt up for the most part by St Paul and the writers of the Gospels, and only loosely based on the real historical Jesus. But this isn’t a new claim. It is anticipated here by the writer of 2 Peter, who is at pains to say that the Christian story is based on the recollections of people who actually witnessed these events and passed on everything they felt was of abiding significance. So we don’t get the incidental details - what people were wearing, what they looked like, and so on - but they did strive to preserve the essentials.
The writer singles out just one example, probably because only Peter, James and John were there. It’s the semi-mystical experience they shared with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration when they heard God speaking to them - the writer reminds us - and telling them that Jesus was his beloved Son.
The writer is at pains to explain that this was a real incident. It isn’t just something devised by later Christians who were inserting Old Testament motifs - like the encounters that Moses and Elijah had with God on mountain tops - into the life story of Jesus.
A certain amount of that did happen. Things which, at the time, puzzled his followers, were later understood to have been ways in which Old Testament prophecy was being fulfilled. But there is a kernel of truth behind these reflections. History really did confirm the prophecies, at least if you understand those prophecies in a certain way, but the prophecies weren’t being used to construct an elaborate myth about someone who had really been being quite ordinary. The writer says that Christianity isn’t just a matter of interpretation - of people making the Old Testament fit their own bizarre or fanciful notions about Jesus - it’s about people being moved by the Holy Spirit to see a new and deeper meaning in those prophecies because of their encounter with Jesus.
So all those memories of Jesus that the first eyewitnesses shared, and their reflections on what they meant, become really important. They are the glimmer of light that we must keep our focus on, even in dark times, until ‘the day dawns and the morning star rises in our hearts’ and we know for ourselves the truth about Jesus.

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