How many ways can a pastor preach the transfiguration story year after year? Up the mountain, down the mountain, shiny God, silly disciples. Ho hum.
Can anything good come from Transfiguration Sunday?
Yes! (I’m a liturgiophile, of course my answer is yes.)
At the bare minimum, the “good” of Transfiguration Sunday is the essential foundation it lays for Lent. The premise of Lent is the humility of our humanity before the brilliance of God’s divinity. Ash Wednesday — the start of Lent — provides that tangible reminder of our humanity in a smear of ashes; Transfiguration Sunday provides the ecstatic, surreal reminder of God’s divinity, the sheer glory of which prompts our Lenten humility.
The glory of God (Transfiguration Sunday) is a necessary affirmation preceding the confessions of the chastened human spirit (Lent).
So give people glory in worship this Transfiguration Sunday! You’re about to hit ’em with six weeks of dreary Lenten “Jesus is getting ready to die” hymns alongside “try harder/live better/sin less” sermons. Do not begin the labor of Lent without giving people the foundation for it: give people a taste of the greatness of God, of the blazing splendor of the presence of God, of the holy triumph before which we gladly confess, “You alone are God.”
What does that glory look like, feel like, taste like in worship? You know your faith community best to answer those questions, but here are some suggestions:
- Sing people’s favorite hymns. Not the quiet ones or the somber ones, but the belt-out-loud ones (such as “Great Is Thy Faithfulness”).
- Laugh with the children. For once, set aside the serious theological lesson for kindergarteners (a.k.a. Children’s Time), and get silly with the kids in worship. Their laughter is God’s delight!
- Share chocolates. Giving up chocolate for Lent seems to be the standard American example of a Lenten discipline … thus Transfiguration Sunday, as the theological premise for Lent, should be a “Taste and see that the LORD is good” Sunday!
- Pass the peace. Peter, James and John trekked up a mountain to see Jesus shining like the sun. In the church, we can shine with Christ just by crossing the sanctuary to share a gesture of welcome and fellowship.
- Preach wonder. Perhaps you feel that the sermonic moment requires a moral, a lesson. The awe of God, however, does not always need a “therefore”; it simply is and it is good! Preach the Inhabiting Fire, the Mighty Laughter, the Beloved Presence, the Dazzling Goodness!
You may be tired of preaching the mountaintop, but people need that mountaintop. Give people a transformative and uplifting worship service this Sunday, a strong foundation of God’s glory upon which to build their Lenten journeys.