Thursday, January 24, 2013

Year C - Transfiguration of the Lord (February 10, 2013)

R The liturgical color for Transfiguration Sunday is white – usually decorated with shiny gold.  It is the color for the days we see God’s glory brightest – like Christmas, Easter and today.  Before the call to worship point out all the white and gold paraments.  Imagine the whole sanctuary filled with floaty gold glitter swirling around you (rather like being inside a snow globe).   Urge worshipers to listen for stories about God’s incredible more than we can ever understand power in the Bible readings and in the songs and prayers.  Then invite the congregation to join you in a Call to Worship composed of selected phrases from Psalm 99.  (The first four lines of the one below could stand alone.  Adding the rest gives a little more content.)


One:   The Lord is king!
All:      The Lord is mighty!
One:   Everyone praise his great and majestic name.
All:      The Lord is the Holy One!
One:   Mighty king, you love what is right.
All:      You have brought righteousness and fairness.
One:   Praise the Lord, our God.
All:      The Lord is Holy!

                                     Based on selected phrases from the TEV


R Display all the candles of the liturgical year (Advent candles, little candle lighting services candles, regular Sunday candles, paschal candle, baptism candles, etc.)  Name them and light them telling what each one says to us as we light it. Then urge worshipers to watch for God’s glory and light in worship today.

R Especially if you are going to bury the Alleluia for Lent, use lots of Alleluias today.

Create a call to worship in which the congregation replies “Alleluia” to selected phrases from Psalm 99.

Work through the section of the Apostles’ Creed about Jesus one phrase at a time with worshipers responding "Alleluia" to each phrase.  (This could be a children’s time reviewing Jesus life or an affirmation of faith following a sermon about Jesus’ glory.)

Choose hymns with lots of alleluias.  Point them out and encourage even non-readers to sing the alleluias if they can’t sing the other words."Come Christians Join to Sing" is in many hymnals.  There is also a Taize chant of Alleluias that could be used during communion. 


R It would be possible to fully celebrate this day without using the word “transfiguration.”  The dictionary defines it only with reference to this story.  And since it is used only one day a year at church, it is not word children need to know.  So, I'd avoid using the word at all.  There is however one connection that might make me bring it up.  In the Harry potter books transfiguration is a required class at Hogwarts.  There it is a matter of changing one thing into another using your wand, charms, and spells.  Go do Harry Potter Wiki for detailed information about the course including a video clip of a raven being turned into a goblet before the amazed young Harry and Ron.  Unlike the bird, Jesus was not changed into something else (say a goblet).  Jesus became more who he really was.  He shone with the glory of God.

Exodus 34:29-35

R Read this story and the gospel story back to back, maybe with different readers.  Before reading them, point out that these stories are very similar.  In one Moses who lived way back at the beginning of the Old Testament spent time with God and came away with a face that shone.  In the second Jesus who lived hundreds of years later became shiny all over while he talked with God.

To make this the “real” reading for the morning, have the readers stand beside each other and pass the Bible or flip the pages of the lectern Bible between readings.  Or, invite the children forward for the readings.  Take the big Bible with you to the steps.  Introduce and read the stories there, briefly asking the children
      * was the same and different about the stories
                 * how do they think Jesus and Moses looked like when
                     they were shiny, and
                 * why do they think they were shiny.  
There are no right or wrong answers to these questions.  They are simply ways to imagine together something that was very mysterious.

Psalm 99

This psalm is a series of short phrases praising God who is the glorious king of the universe.  Unfortunately it is filled with the names of people and references to Biblical stories that will not make immediate sense to children (or many adults).  Use selected phrases that are clear in the call to worship like the one at the top of the post and responses throughout worship. 

2 Corinthians 3:12 – 4:2

R There is no way children will get any of this text as it is read.  In fact, a group of seminary professors suggested not reading it all and concentrating instead on the two stories for the day.

R To explore Paul’s message that we can refuse to see what is right in front of us, begin with a couple of examples.  You can see the dog sitting by the door looking at you with anxious eyes and just see the dog or you can see that the dog needs to go for a walk.  Or, you can see a child eating alone in the lunchroom without seeing that the child needs someone to be a friend and eat with her.  Then go to the transfiguration story noting that disciples had been living with Jesus for a long time.  They knew he was special.  He said wonderful things, he told important stories, he healed people, and even walked on water once.  But, in this story, God is telling them Jesus is more than just a special person.  Jesus is part of God.  He shines like no person ever has or will.  Finally, go to Paul’s insistence that though we do not live with Jesus like the disciples did, we still have all the stories about him.  We know who Jesus is and what he is teaching us.  We can either ignore him and do whatever we want to do.  Or, we can who he is and try to be who he wants us to be.

R Create a responsive prayer in which worshipers use their hands to cover and uncover their eyes.  A leader describes a series of things we would rather not see while worshipers hold their hands over their eyes.  Worshipers reply by removing their hands and saying a set phrase.  For example,

Leader:   God, when we see a person begging by the side of the road, we try not to see them.
People:   Open our eyes.  Help us see clearly.

Leader:   Creator of the world, when we see mountains and beaches and trees sometimes we just see stuff we can use.
People:   Open our eyes.  Help us see clearly.

 R “Open My Eyes” is filled with images children understand especially after exploring Paul’s message here.

Luke 9:28-36, (37-43a)

R Omit verses 37-43 for the sake of the children.  Focus instead on the first story.

Angelico, fra, ca. 1400-1455.
Transfiguration, from Art in the Christian Tradition,
 a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.
[retrieved January 23, 2013].
R Before reading this story, note that something very mysterious happens in it.  Invite worshipers to close their eyes as it is read and to see with their imaginations what happens.  Display several rather different artist’s drawings of what they thought happened.  (Google “transfiguration images” and choose from the many pictures there.)  Then, challenge the children to draw their own pictures of what they think happened.  Make sure lots of white and gold crayons are available.  Encourage children to post their drawings in a designated spot.  Talk with children about any drawings they have with them as they leave the sanctuary.

R To celebrate the “more than we can understand” glory of God and Jesus, sing “Immortal, Invisible, God only Wise.”  Read through the first verse briefly defining some of the really big words and ideas before inviting the congregation to sing the whole song. 

R Or to praise Jesus in more concrete language that also describes his awesome glory, sing “Fairest Lord, Jesus.”
R This is a good Sunday to look more carefully at the hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy.”  It describes the glory of God that shone all around Jesus at the transfiguration.  Ask worshipers to open their hymnals and follow with you as you explore some of the song.  Start with verses 1 and 4 that describe us singing to God who has done wonderful things.  Then go to verse 2.  Note that all the saints in heaven and the heavenly seraphim and cherubim bow before God who is forever.  (Reminds us of Moses and Elijah joining Jesus on the mountain.)  Before reading verse 3 aloud, recall the awestruck, somewhat confused disciples who were trying to figure out who Jesus really was and note that we are sometimes just as confused about who Jesus is.  Conclude by going back to the first three words of every verse, “Holy, Holy, Holy” that describe God and Jesus.  Then invite everyone to sing it.  Encourage even non-readers to sing the most important words in the hymn, “Holy, Holy, Holy.”    

(Close-up of the Disciples) Angelico, fra, ca. 1400-1455. Transfiguration,
from Art in the Christian Tradition,
a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.
[retrieved January 23, 2013].

R To unpack this story with children, show them a transfiguration picture that includes the disciples watching at the side.   Tell them that God did this not for Jesus, but for the disciples.  Note that the disciples had been living with Jesus every day for several years.  They went everywhere with him, even slept near him.   Recall some of the things they had seen him say and do.  Looking at their faces in the picture, point out that they looked that puzzled and amazed.  Insist that they looked that way most of the time.  They knew Jesus was special, but they were never quite sure what that meant.  By wrapping Jesus in a shiny cloud and incredible clothes, God was telling the disciples, “Jesus is more than a special person.  Jesus is God with you.”   Conclude with a WOW or some ALLELUIAS.

R If you are focusing on God’s command to “Listen to him,” go to Transfiguration of the Lord (Year B) for ideas about unpacking this on this day and possibly as a Lenten theme.


  1. Older kids who have started to learn about amphibians might be able to make a connection with the Greek word behind 'Transfiguration': metamorphosis. Just like tadpoles change shape to reveal what they really are - frogs or salamanders or whatever - Jesus looks different to reveal what he really is. But as I write that, I have no idea how to keep that from being an object lesson.

  2. Metamorphosis is an interesting connection but as you say bears some of the object lesson problems. What if instead of using amphibians, you used butterflies. In that case we are getting a peak ahead at the risen Christ, "who Jesus really is" based on a symbol that is used a lot during the Easter season rather than adding the less familiar amphibians. Or, what about simply telling what happened and how Jesus looked and what it meant in concrete language that the children will take at face value?

  3. Why not teach children about the meaning of his prophetic mission in life in connection with Moses and Isaiah rather than enforcing the "magic" of appearances?

  4. I am focusing on "Spending time with God in prayer, changes us to be more like Him".

  5. I am always amazed at how many different good directions worship planners can take from one set of texts!

  6. Go to for a collection of transfiguration pictures children during worship in a church in Pennsylvania


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