This final Sunday before Lent begins brings us the story of Jesus’ Transfiguration every year. The struggle is to find something relevant to preach this year that doesn’t repeat what was said last year. The good news is that this is one of those stories that shows up in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, so at least there’s a slightly different version each year!
God’s voice from the clouds in the Transfiguration echoes God’s approval of Jesus at his baptism. How are the two stories related or connected? This would be a particularly interesting angle to explore if you happen to have a baptism scheduled for this weekend. The 2 Peter reading provides one early interpretation of the Transfiguration for a Christian community. How can you interpret it for yours today?
One typical interpretation of the Transfiguration is the “mountaintop” experience in which someone is changed, and then finds a way to translate that transformation into their daily lives down the mountain. The “mountaintop” could be literal (we used this story when I worked at church camp in the mountains) or figurative – feeling an emotional high from worship or an awesome church event or conference or vacation. What kind of mountaintops have your people visited lately? How do you take that experience and apply it to your daily life? In this interpretation, the disciples become role models, so you might consider doing a little research into the ministry of Peter, James and John after the Resurrection.
A totally different angle would be to go with the Exodus text. While one can understand why the RCL puts the two stories together – God meets the prophet on the mountaintop – the actual content of the stories is quite different. Moses goes to the mountain with Joshua, but appears to experience God’s presence on his own. He receives the law, and remains on the mountain for 40 days. Jesus takes three companions to the mountaintop, he is given a vision and a blessing, and he refuses to stay longer than it takes for the vision to be complete. Looking at the “mountaintop” experience from the perspective of Moses gives a different angle, especially when one remembers that he came down the mountain to the golden calf fiasco.
This week there are two Psalm options (2 or 99) and both relate well to the other readings. You could take the opportunity to preach on the Psalm this week, since it would almost certainly be a new way of approaching the story for your congregation. You could even use a line from the Psalm as a refrain in the sermon, with a congregational response, making it more interactive.
A few practical thoughts or considerations for this weekend…
- You might consider defining the word “transfiguration” since it’s not one that is generally used outside of church.
- This is one of those places where “dazzling white” is equated with divine goodness. Why does white mean good (implying that dark means bad)? What are the racial implications of this interpretation?
- If your congregation hides or buries the Alleluia during Lent, remember that this is the last Sunday you’ll be seeing it for a while! Often this ritual is relegated to a children’s activity. Could this be a topic for your “regular” sermon?
- The Transfiguration bears similarities to the post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus. Maybe you could look forward from this last Sunday before Lent to the celebration of Easter.
Please share your sermon ideas, questions, and reflections below. Blessings in your writing and your worship preparation this week!
Katya Ouchakof is an ELCA pastor in Madison, WI, occasional blogger at Provocative Proclamations, and a contributor to There’s a Woman in the Pulpit. She is counting down the days until the next Star Wars movie comes out – 296 as of this posting!
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