Transfiguration Sunday is one of the major events of the church year, the glorious culmination of Epiphany, the season of light. It is one of the most wildly hopeful and light-filled services of the year.
Jesus and two disciples climb a mountain, tired from overwork, stressed from conflict, dirty from living on the dusty road, sweaty from the heat, and when they get to the mountain top the disciples suddenly see Jesus transfigured from that struggling human into a brilliant, shining being of light, his true, pure Spirit shining through, and they see other beings with him, Moses and Elijah, representing the law and the prophets, guiding him through the dark, hard time ahead to the resurrected life beyond. Then a cloud covers the mountain top so the scene is lost in fog and they hear a voice saying, “This is my son, the chosen one. Listen to him.” The fog lifts and the perfectly imperfect human Jesus is standing before them, and they return to the struggle.
Transfiguration Sunday comes on the eve of Lent, a time of intentional, ritualized struggle. Lent invites us into a symbolic spiritual wilderness and dark night of the soul on our way to the crucifixion on Good Friday and the next brilliant light on Easter dawn. Transfiguration Sunday is like that cartoon cliché gas station on the edge of the desert, your last chance to fill up with gas and food and water—we fill with the light we need for the Lenten crossing. (We enter Lent at this year with a drop-in, silent Ash Wednesday service that you can read about by clicking here.)
One of the messages embedded in the structure of the church year is that we need to fill with light to help us through the valleys of the shadow of death that we inevitably go through in life. Another is that without a vision, the people perish or at least fall into confusion, as Proverbs says. We need to see the ideal as the disciples did on the Mountain of Transfiguration and hold it before us to guide and uplift us during the hard times.
The sermon will present a vision of the world transfigured to show a beautiful light within and all through it—something that is not easy to see at a time when we can get swallowed by the sinister shadows that swirl around every encounter with the news of what is happening in the world. Paul Hawken’s book Blessed Unrest can help us see that transfiguration light shining globally, and we can all think of moments when we have seen the beauty and goodness, the wisdom and strength of the Spirit shining through the people, places and creatures around us.
We will read a medley of passages from the Psalms and II Corinthians about the beauty, power and triumph of God’s light shining through all creation, and we will hear the story of the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8). We will sing “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise,” “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee,” and a new work in progress, “God’s Realm on Earth Is Hidden in Plain Sight” sung to the tune National Hymn.