“And they lived happily ever after…” This is probably a phrase that you all have heard at some point in your life. It literally is the fairy tale ending. It’s what is said after Cinderella is found to be the one who the glass slipper fits perfectly. It’s what’s said after Prince Charming finds Sleeping Beauty and gives her the kiss that wakes her from her slumber and banishes the curse put on her kingdom. It’s what happens after Beauty finally admits her love for the Beast. “Happily ever after…” The perfect ending to the perfect story of romance and danger, No?
Happily ever after carries with it some very nice imagery. It carries the image that the two star crossed lovers are finally able to be together. It states that their life from there on forward is mired not in sorrow or heartache, but rather in love and bliss and pleasantness. Happily ever after means that all their cares and needs are forever taken care of almost as a reward for the trials they had to endure to be together. It even often means a beautiful castle with the very finest furniture, coaches, and servants. We love our happy endings. In fact, movie directors are told quite often to make the ending their movies have a happy ending because that’s what people will pay money to see in the theaters. Yet, happily ever after rarely ever occurs in the reality of our lives. In reality, when we come to these watershed moments like those in our fairy tales, we instead find out all too quickly that the next day the sun rises and clock still runs forward and life still continues on presenting more that we must face. Maybe that’s why sequels are so popular at least the first and second times. We know that there’s a next, and we wonder what that next will be.
Certainly today, we are not faced with the end to our gospel story. We know that. In fact, it much more like the middle of the gospel story, yet here we come to this mountain top where disciples see a dazzling display of lights and the coming of two men from their ancestral past that had long been gone. What a sight it must have been! To see light shine forth from Jesus’ face. What a sight it must have been! To see two heroes from the past who had led their ancestors out of slavery and through strife. It may not have been the end of the story, but it is no wonder that Peter would rather erect dwellings and stay in this place from here on out than to do anything else. “Master, it is good for us to here, let us make three dwellings…”
At this point of the gospel story, this would be Peter’s happily ever after. Here, on this mountain, Peter and James and John would be able stay forever in the presence of the glory of their God. They would forever be able to bask in the light and glory of the God who had created them and has sustained them throughout the years. In Peter’s words, it is good for us to be here. Here on this mountain their cares and troubles melt away, and they only know the happiness in which they experience right now, at this place, at this time. But God declares that they should listen to Jesus, God’s Son, the
The story of Jesus is not a story of happily ever after. The story of Jesus is a story that culminates in the cross in which he wins the forgiveness of sins and eternal life for us all on a cross upon which he dies for us and our sins and transgressions. And Jesus knows this. He knows what he must do. He knows who he must be. He knows he must be the story of redemption and salvation in the world that God has made. And so after that dazzling mountain top experience, there is a On the next day. Jesus knows that life continues forward. Jesus knows that our future contains not only happiness comfort, but also a sadness and sorrow that must be and will be salved.
So instead of Jesus letting Peter and James and John stay up there and erect dwellings for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, Jesus leads them down the mountain and onto the path which Christ knows will lead to his crucifixion. And the disciples follow.
Our Lord is not only a Lord of the past, but a Lord of today and the next day as well. Jesus goes forth from that mountain top so that the good news that he brings will be brought to the whole of God’s creation. That is what the Christian life is about. It is about a life that is lived moving forward following Jesus and sharing the grace that God has shown us through the Son who gives up everything so that we might live.
This morning we will baptize a new person into the Body Christ. In Jeremy Rommel’s baptism, a mountain top experience in his life will occur. He will be forgiven of all his sins and claimed as a child of God forever. With those kind of promises, you could almost say, “and Jeremy lived happily ever after.” But he is child. He has so much to learn and experience and all of that is laid out in front of him. It is from this moment of joy and grace that Jeremy must go forth with our help and live a life following Christ, not because he must earn some measure of his salvation, but because the salvation he has been given is a grace and a story that lived a shared throughout the rest of his life.
Jesus turns happily ever after into life ever after lived in the love and grace of our God that has claimed us and will not let go. It’s not that we’re not promised a happily ever after in the life to come with the whole communion of saints, but Jesus comes to bring not only reward but real, actual life. Jesus comes to bring us the next day, and what a joyous next day it is.