Thursday, January 14, 2016

Year C - Transfiguration of the Lord (February 7, 2016)


* 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

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

* 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.

* Especially if you are going to bury the Alleluia for Lent, use lots of Alleluias today.  (Go to Burying the Alleluia for Lent for a fuller description of this practice.)

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.)

A word sheet with the repeated "Alleluia! Amen!" highlighted helps young reads.
Choose hymns with lots of alleluias.  “Come Christians Join to Sing” may be the first choice.  Point to the alleluias and encourage non-readers to sing the alleluias even if they can’t keep up with the other words.  Or, have the choir sing the verses with the congregation responding with the “Alleluia! Amen!”s.  Other Alleluia filled songs include:
“All Creatures of Our God and King”
“Praise the Lord, God’s Glories Show”
“Praise My Soul the King of Heaven”
“Halle, Halle, Hallelujah!
Save the alleluia filled Easter hymns to celebrate the return of the Alleluia during the Easter season.

The hymns based directly on the transfiguration story are not very easy for children to sing.  Instead sing hymns about Jesus’ power and glory.

“Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise” is filled with impossibly complex words that describe all the ways God is more than we can understand.  Introduce it walking through the words in the first verse then inviting everyone to sing it enjoying all the words we can hardly know and the bigger-than-anyone-can-understand God they describe.

Immortal (God is forever, God never dies), Invisible (we can’t see God), God only wise.

In light inaccessible (God is so brightly amazing that we can’t see God) hid from our eyes….

“Fairest Lord, Jesus,” on the other hand, is filled with concrete images and simple words to praise Jesus who is still more than we can fully understand.  The final line links to the transfiguration saying “Jesus shines brighter; Jesus shines purer than all the angels heaven can boast.”  Point to it before the singing.

“Holy, Holy, Holy” 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.”   

The Texts for Today

Because today is Transfiguration Sunday, it is all about the gospel story.  All the other texts relate to it.  So, let’s start with Luke’s account of the Transfiguration.

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

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

The word transfiguration is long, strange and used only on this day for this story.  The dictionary definition refers only to this story.  Given that, it may be simplest not to use it with children (or even adults) at all.  If you do use it print it on a large poster to use in sounding out the word.  Point out the two key parts “Trans” (change) and “figure” (shape or form) to define what happened in this story. 

Willliam Willimon suggests that this story is meant to be savored as presented rather than to be explained.  He insists that there are moments when we experience God’s presence in amazing ways.  These do not happen often, but are very special and often shape lives.  So let the children hear the story literally and encourage them to expect to have such moments a couple of times in their whole lives.  If you have stories of experiencing God’s presence in amazing ways to tell, tell them. 

Before reading the story tell worshipers that it is about that something that was absolutely amazing to see.  Instruct them to close their eyes while you read and try to see with their imaginations what the story describes.  In an informal setting, ask after the reading, “what did you see?”  In a more formal setting go to the next activity encouraging children (or all worshipers) to draw or write what they saw on paper.

Angelico, fra, ca. 1400-1455. Transfiguration, from Art in the Christian Tradition,
a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved January 14, 2016].

Artists have portrayed the transfiguration repeatedly.  Go to Vanderbilt Divinity Library: Art in the Christian Tradition and search for transfiguration to find 15 very different great art depictions of this story.  (These pictures are free for use in worship with attribution!)  Select one or two to show worshipers after reading the story.  Point out some of the differences in them.  Give children paper and crayons with which to draw their own pictures of the transfiguration.  Be sure to have plenty of gold, even glitter gold pens or crayons.  Invite them to post their pictures at a set place after the service for all to see.  (Art can be taped to the altar rail, to any fencing at the front of the sanctuary, or on a door.)

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]
* Another way to use great art to unpack this story with children is to 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.

In many ways this story is a shot of God’s glory and a hint of the resurrection for Jesus, his disciples, and Luke’s readers before settling in for the long hard trip to Jerusalem.  For children it is a chance to hear Jesus’ whole story - especially its glorious ending - before settling in to hear the frightening parts that are coming.  There are several ways to do this:

Be honest.  Tell the children that Jesus’ story is not always happy.  There are sad and scary times in it.  During Lent we will be reading and thinking about some of those times.  Knowing how the story ends helps us get through the sad scary parts.  Then tell or read a brief summary of the gospel.  My summary story is

Jesus was born in a stable
Jesus taught people how to live good lives
Jesus told stories that made people think about what is important.
Jesus healed people
Jesus also made some people very angry
So angry they decided to kill him on a cross
That was the very worst day.
But it wasn’t the end of the story. 
Three days later he was alive again and is still alive today.

The Easter Story, by Patricia Pingry, is a good readily available short book telling this story.  My copy is a board book.  If I read it, I would omit her theological interpretations of the story on the first and last pages and simply read the pages that tell the story.

Ø If you have a teaching picture file in the church school area, select pictures that tell the major events in Jesus’ life.  Display them in order as you tell the story in your own words.  If you do not have good pictures go to Vanderbilt Art in the Christian Tradtion to select paintings that can be used from that grand collection at no cost.

Ø Before the congregation sings the story with “O Sing a Song of Bethlehem,” point out the locations at the beginning of each verse and challenge worshipers to think their way through Jesus’ life as they sing.

Create a responsive confession of faith with a worship leader saying each phrase of the Apostle’s Creed about Jesus.  After each phrase the congregation responds, “God said, ‘This is my beloved Son.’  We will listen to Jesus.”

* If you celebrate Communion today and use the phrase “with the angels and archangels and all the heavenly host” in the liturgy, point out the phrase.  Note that Moses and Elijah came to Jesus.  In Communion we imagine ourselves joining Moses and Elijah and all the others at a great banquet table.  Both are rather shiny events and remind us that we can be connected to God, Jesus, and a whole universe of folks who love them. 

There are three familiar transfiguration connections in currently familiar children’s literature:

Recall the mild mannered Clark Kent who changed into Superman.  No one ever saw him make the change or knew that Clark Kent was Superman.  In this story three disciples actually see Jesus changed into who he really is.  Jesus of Nazareth is God’s son.  He knows important long dead people like Elijah and Moses.  And, he shines! 

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 to  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.

In the first Shrek movie Princess Fiona is transfigured.  In a whirl of light and special effects the beautiful princess becomes a large, loving ogre.  Similarly, in a flash of light, Jesus who has been revealed to be the son of God “sets his face toward Jerusalem” claiming his task of suffering love.

Just in case you need the details:  Fiona was under a spell in which she was a princess by day and an ogre by night.  Love’s first kiss was to allow her to take “loves true form”.  She very much expected to end up a beautiful princess married to her prince charming.  But the prince who came for her (Lord Farquar) was far from charming and the ogre Shrek, who actually rescued her mainly to force Lord Farquar to give him back his swamp home, was loving and kind.  At her forced wedding to Lord Farquar just before the kiss, Shrek appears to claim her for himself.  The sun sets during the confrontation turning her into an ogre who Lord Farquar finds hideous.  After a tussle in which a dragon ate Lord Farquar, Shrek proclaims his love for Fiona.  With their kiss she rises into the air with all sorts of lighting effects.  When she comes back, she is an ogre.  At first she is dismayed, but Shrek assures her that she is beautiful to him and is indeed in “love’s true form.”  They head off to happy a life in the swamp. 

Exodus 34:29-35

* 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
-          what 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.

* Children may wonder why Moses and Jesus got all shiny when they talked to God and we do not.  Most are satisfied with the answer that we are not Moses or Jesus and that even they did not get shiny every time they talked with God.  These were special events.  To take it further, refer to the comment from Will Willimon at the beginning of the section on the gospel story for today.

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 and responses throughout worship.  See one script at the beginning of this post.

2 Corinthians 3:12 – 4:2

* 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.  If you do focus on this text in worship….

* 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 recognize who he is and try to be who he wants us to be.

* 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.

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

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