Transfiguration Sunday is complicated. In a world of ever-increasing racial tensions, the last thing that our congregations need in their lives is dazzlingly white Jesus. The historic Jesus was likely brown-skinned, brown-eyed, and black-haired. If your church has typically celebrated Transfiguration with traditional light/dark imagery, please pay attention and tread carefully regarding the possible racial connotations of such imagery. Take a second look at your bulletin cover for this week, and at the artwork on display around your building. Pastors of predominantly white congregations, how can your dark-skinned worshippers find meaning this weekend? What would help them to feel seen and heard?
If you’re not sure where to start with considering the intersection of race and faith, there are some good resources from the UCC on this page. RevGals also keeps a list of helpful books and resources. I preached a sermon about some of the racial implications of Transfiguration and light/dark imagery six years ago, with significant input from Black colleagues and friends. I’m happy to say that some of the info here is now outdated… but I offer it as a resource for anyone who is looking for a perspective on Transfiguration where a white pastor is preaching to a white congregation. This is nothing like a comprehensive take on the topic, but hopefully it can help some other light-skinned pastors of predominantly light-skinned congregations understand how harmful this story can be to our dark-skinned siblings.
If I were preaching this Sunday, after addressing the potential problems of light/dark imagery, I’d probably choose one text to unpack. Worshippers can only absorb so much information at once! The Revised Common Lectionary gives many opportunities for this. In Exodus – what does it mean that Moses went to the mountain of the Lord? Do we have a place in our lives where meeting the presence of God is guaranteed? If so, what is it? How do we get there? And who is our Aaron, waiting to catch us when we finally emerge from the cloud and need help re-entering society? And have they betrayed us in the meantime?
If you choose to focus on the Gospel this weekend, why does Jesus only select a few of his disciples to ascend the mountain with him? Is Jesus just done with crowds and needing a break? That would be totally understandable. Or does Jesus believe that these specific disciples have something to learn from this particular experience? Or was Jesus perhaps a little afraid of ascending the mountain by himself, and wanted some of his closest friends with him?
Of course, the reading from 2 Peter and both of the options from Psalms give plentiful preaching opportunities as well. Which passage speaks most closely to your congregation this week? How will you interpret Scripture in a way that helps to deepen people’s faith? While many things about Transfiguration Sunday are problematic, the idea of a direct and personal encounter with God is inspiring and engaging for most people. What would a personal connection with God look like for your congregation? For your youth? For your council/board/vestry? How can this Sunday help your people to discover the presence of God in their lives?
Blessing on your preaching, teaching, worship, and leadership this week. Please share your reflections on this week’s RCL texts below or over on the Facebook page.
Katya Ouchakof is a hospital chaplain and paddlesports professional in Madison, WI (USA). Her blog has been rather neglected lately, but some new book reviews are coming soon!