Transfiguration Sunday might not be a common observance in the United Methodist tradition. There are those who do attempt to pay attention to this significant moment in the life and ministry of Jesus, but many do not. Now, as a part of the “Follow Me” series, would be a time to take a moment and consider this event.
This is the one who calls us to follow. We can always ask which is the real Jesus? Is it the one who gets his hands dirty with the mud and spit of this world, or is it the one who stands on the mountain top and glows with a radiance divine? Well, of course, the answer is yes! Yes, it is both. The human Jesus and the divine Christ. The transcendent part of the Trinity of God, and the immanent, incarnate human laid in a manger and nailed to a cross, the one who walked and taught and healed and loved on earth just like you. Yet not like you. More than you. A glimpse of what you might be. A hint of what you were created to be. An invitation and a hope.
It is not the task of the preacher or the worship team to explain transfiguration. Thanks be to God. But to stand with the congregation in open-mouthed wonder at the fullness of the Christ we worship. In this in between moment, before we launch into Lent, we catch our breath by standing on the mountaintop with Peter and John and James. And we watch Jesus do something unexplainable. The Transfiguration has always been a puzzle to the church, raising more questions than answers. At its heart, the event presents the “otherness” of Jesus, even as it celebrates his oneness with his followers. There is always more to Jesus than we can know or figure out. And that’s a good thing. We worship one who can still take our breath away in wonder and awe.
So, sing the songs about the glory and grandeur of God and of Jesus. And if you’re not singing just yet, then listen to them. Get carried away by the wonder and the beauty of the Christ who calls us to follow. This is a moment for reaching beyond yourself, beyond everyone, and simply basking in the light that is the Christ. Worship today should be about lifting us up, higher than we thought we could reach. It should be deep, more profound than we have attempted before. Speak of the mysteries and the promises of eternity beyond the grasp of our human brain to comprehend.
Our prayers should be statements of praise and awe. Our confession should be full of the realization that we have diminished the wonder of Christ, that we have reduced God to something that we could grasp, simply because it makes us feel better about ourselves.
Provide the worshipers with an experience that is all-encompassing, that gathers them up and sparks the imagination and the hope. The response might be tears or might be laughter; both are appropriate in the awesomeness of God.
At the same time, in the face of the awestruck wonder, there is also a call to follow, to stay close to the one we worship. Even the voice on the mountain told us to listen to him. Now is the time, if you haven’t before in the series, or even if you have, to come to the altar and declare your intention to follow where he leads. Now is the time to follow him down the mountain and to remember that the commandment to not tell was given to them, but not to us. We are to tell anyone and everyone. We are to live our telling, walk our proclamation.
But the key will be for us to keep the focus off ourselves and our successes and failures and instead keep our eyes on the Christ. That’s the emphasis of the title for this Transfiguration Sunday: “But Only Jesus.” We are surrounded by distractions and responsibilities aplenty. We are overwhelmed by injustice and oppression; we are almost overwhelmed by needs and brokenness, our own and that which envelops us. But in the end, it is only Jesus. The source of the strength and the focus of our attention is only Jesus. To be sure, this does not mean that we don’t care about that which surrounds us. In fact, if anything, we are even more eager to be at work in the world, bringing hope and healing, bringing justice and freedom. But it is not to our own benefit that we work in the world, but only Jesus.
Let our worship be that which lifts up the name of Jesus through our work and our service, through our passion and our commitment, through our songs and our prayers, through our compassion and our caring. Let us worship only Jesus.
Rev. Dr. Derek Weber, Director of Preaching Ministries, served churches in Indiana and Arkansas and the British Methodist Church. His PhD is from University of Edinburgh in preaching and media. He has taught preaching in seminary and conference settings for more than 20 years.