Planning - Transfiguration Sunday/Last Sunday after Epiphany
God calls Moses up on the mountain, and Moses enters the cloud of God's glory.
Psalm 99 (UMH 819).
Tone 1 in D major (See p. 737.)
2 Peter 1:16-21.
Peter says, "We had been eyewitnesses of his majesty ... we were with him on the holy mountain ... So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed."
Matthew's account of the Transfiguration.
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Today is The Feast of the Transfiguration, a major Feast Day (so plan to celebrate Communion this Sunday!) and a transitional Sunday between the ordinary time after Epiphany and the beginning of Lent. We move from one mountain where Jesus offered the sermon we've been listening to these past five weeks to another where Jesus is transfigured and a few of his disciples get a glimpse of his true glory. All of the readings are connected to one another on this day, with a focus on the gospel reading. We celebrate this now precisely as a reminder that the one who leads us through the coming season of penitence and preparation is preparing us to participate in such glory with him both now and at his second coming.
Lent begins with Ash Wednesday on March 9. By now, your planning for Lent should be well underway. For specific guidance for weekly ways to include a focus on persons preparing for baptism in appropriate ways during worship, see Come to the Waters by Daniel Benedict.
On the denominational calendar, a second possible date for Scouting Sunday is scheduled for next Sunday, March 13. Two dates are provided with the expectation of avoiding Lent. If you have not already celebrated this Sunday earlier (February 13), consider rescheduling such celebrations until Ordinary Time after Pentecost, or find some way to include a recognition of scouts that does not distract from Lenten disciplines and emphases.
The One Great Hour of Sharing offering is received on April 3, the fourth Sunday in Lent. This denominational offering underwrites the administrative costs of the United Methodist Committee on Relief so it can continue to offer worldwide emergency relief and long-term disaster support with no overhead for its direct services.
The Festival of God's Creation in 2011 falls on Easter Sunday (April 24). You are encouraged always to include the earth and care for the earth in your congregation's weekly intercessions (if not, start adding that now!), and of course on this day as well. If, during Lent, you will encourage folks to reduce their energy consumption, today may also be an occasion for folks to share testimonies or simply place something in the offering plate indicating the results of their efforts to save energy. But Easter should be the primary focus of your celebration this day, regardless of any other denominational focus. So while you may include recognition of the denominational day in worship, keep the resurrection of our Lord front and center, and consider offering other commemorations for the day at a time other than the worship hour.
Liturgical calendar. Get your bearings as to latitude and longitude on the Christian calendar. We are on the cusp of Lent, heading toward Holy Week and Easter. This day has connections to what lies ahead. See The United Methodist Hymnal, 259, for some hint of this and The New Handbook of the Christian Year for more extensive "compass" work.
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Atmospherics: Being Transfigured
The Feast of the Transfiguration, which we celebrate today, is not primarily a commemoration of an event in the life of Jesus. If it were, it would be being disobedient to the very stories we tell on this day, as the voice from heaven clearly instructs Peter, James, and John not to set up shrines to commemorate this event, but rather to keep listening to the teaching of their Master, Jesus, now revealed to them in all his glory. What they had witnessed then was no special effects spectacle, but rather a deeply symbolic affirmation of all that was at stake both in Jesus himself and their (and our) continuing obedience to him.
Today isn't about razzle-dazzle and special effects for worship, either. As tempting as it may be to go there, don't. This year's "worship spectacle" will be "so last week" in less than seven days in our current culture. So don't invest in graphics or special lighting. Invest in good reading. Tell this story well. Telling the story well doesn't mean telling it with too much expression (vocal razzle-dazzle is no more helpful and may be even more distracting than visual!). It means letting the words be the words they are, pronouncing them well, and offering the whole at a steady, understandable pace, and perhaps a time of silence following it. Let the words themselves provide the images and sounds and awe in people's imaginations -- these words and your congregation are more than capable of it!
How people may respond to the story of this "visionary experience" is likely to vary. Some may have had visions of this kind themselves and find it both plausible and affirming. Others are likely to think this some sort of bizarre fairy tale. Both can be missing the point if the point is the literality of the events described rather than the meaning this story and the broader biblical story supplies for them. Did Peter and the others see this? Our reading from 2 Peter this morning affirms they did. But even they didn't place their stock in what they saw, but rather what it meant: that in the face of Jesus in their midst they were seeing the face of God's Beloved.
We are the body of Christ. His transfiguration points to ours, here in this life. All of us who seek to be disciples of Jesus are being transfigured here in this life, through the power of the Holy Spirit, from glory to glory, that we may attain entire holiness, perfection in love in this life. That process continues, as we cooperate with it, even when the more momentary revelations cease or are forgotten.
The momentary revelations happen, too, for many of us. And they are a blessing whenever and however they reach us in our sense-bound bodies. Sometimes they come through visions where we ourselves see something of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Many testify that they come by tasting that glory in his body and blood offered to us at the Lord's Table. For some, they come more frequently hearing the word sung or spoken and our minds and hearts igniting with the glory of it. For others, by touching or being touched with a mercy and strength we did not know we had or could receive. And perhaps imperceptibly but no less powerfully, they can come through smells that transport our souls in awe and wonder. But no matter how they come, his transfiguration, and ours in such moments, is not for himself or for us -- but for the sake of God's mission -- God's unceasing effort to redeem the creation, to save us and save us to the uttermost.
So however you keep this Feast called Transfiguration today, do it in ways that do not leave your worshiping community merely remembering or reflecting on past, present or possible future momentary experiences of God's glory. Do so instead in ways that help your worshiping community be empowered for God's mission in your midst. Do it with the hope that today's celebration may continue the Spirit's ongoing work of sanctifying, transfiguring your congregation, into that glorious body on the mountain that immediately then goes into the valley to cast out demons, heal diseases, declare justice, forgive sins, bless the poor, and teach all who will become his disciples to do the same -- living fully as his body in the world.
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Greeting --BOW 318 (Exodus, Transfiguration)
- BOW 319 (Transfiguration)
- BOW 462 (Transfiguration)
- UMH 259 (Transfiguration)
Prayer of Confession -- BOW 478 (Psalm, Transfiguration)
Prayers of Intercession
Great Thanksgiving for Communion
- BOW 36-38 (General)
- A Great Thanksgiving for Transfiguration Sunday OR
- BOW 58-59 (for Epiphany with the insertion at the bracket of the following):
On the mountain he was transfigured, brighter than the sun,
appearing with Moses and Elijah as witnesses
of his glory as your beloved son.
Here before his passion and suffering the cross,
you gave a foretaste of the resurrection,
confirming in us the prophetic message of
Emmanuel "God with us."
Dismissal with Blessing -- BOW 559 and 560
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