Here we are, once again, at the cusp of a change in the season. Sometimes we treat Transfiguration as if it’s the last Sunday in the season after Epiphany, a kind of exclamation point to the Ordinary Time that takes us from Epiphany to Ash Wednesday. But this year, we chose to make this a stand-alone Sunday, which is appropriate given that this day belongs not to Ordinary Time or Lent but in the liminal space between the two. This is a day of growing pains and crossing thresholds instigated by the shock of coming face-to-face with glory. In the Old Testament, we have the glory of Elijah being taken up. In Mark, we have the glory of Christ. In many ways, we start and end this season after Epiphany with revelations of Jesus’ fully divine and fully human nature. What we first encounter at the waters of baptism is further revealed in the Transfiguration.
Yet, in both narratives, the spectacle is only part of the story. Now, that doesn’t mean we need to tone down the wonder and the glory in worship. Bring out the white and gold paraments and altarscapes. Sing majestic praise to the Triune God. Pull out all the stops, whether you have an organ, a praise band, or a group of faithful disciples singing a capella at the top of their lungs. Throw in a few Hallelujahs if you can. We need the reminders of glory as we enter the shadows of Lent and Holy Week.
But what do the encounters with glory call Elisha, Peter, James, and John to do? What do they call us to do? If Jesus wouldn’t let the disciples stay on the mountaintop and reminisce about the glorious sight they once encountered there, then we can’t either. We have to find ways for the awe and wonder in these texts to lead us to taking up the mantle that Elijah and Jesus extend to us. Perhaps you invite the congregation to respond to the proclamation today by committing to a discipline or mission for the upcoming season of Lent. Or create a visual for the altar or another area of the worship space that is made up of many little pieces and invite the congregation to take a piece with them to remind them of the glory they’ve encountered and the call to carry God’s glorious love out into the world.
Also consider how the energy of this day can serve as a crossing over into Lent. Perhaps you begin the gathering with a joyous call to worship and a loud, joyous hymn or song of praise, followed by a slow descent of the energy that ends with a benediction that invites the congregation to return in just a few days for Ash Wednesday. In this way, your service mirrors the experience of the disciples and of Elisha as they move from a literal and/or metaphorical mountaintop experience and descend back into the dirt—and perhaps even the ashes—of everyday life with God and with neighbor.
Dr. Lisa Hancock, Director of Worship Arts Ministries, served as an organist and music minister in United Methodist congregations in the Northwest Texas and North Texas Annual Conferences, as well as the New Day Amani/Upendo house churches in Dallas. After receiving her Master of Sacred Music and Master of Theological Studies from Perkins School of Theology, Lisa earned her PhD in Religious Studies from Southern Methodist University wherein she researched and wrote on the doctrine of Christ, disability, and atonement.