Welcome to worship for this Transfiguration of Our Lord Sunday, landing on February 19th, 2023!
The worship bulletin for this service can be found here. We aren’t singing any new hymns this week so you’ll find most of the usual stuff in the bulletin, along with the music for the liturgical pieces out of the ACS book. And as always, all the words that you need to know will be on your screen, and the sermon is included on this page below the worship video.
For an enhanced worship experience at home, you may have a lit candle in your space that can be extinguished with the altar candles after the sending hymn. And if you wish to participate in communion you may have something small to eat and drink prepared that can be consumed at the appropriate time during the service, as directed in worship.
May God’s blessing and peace be upon you this day and always!
God our light, may we be attentive to your Spirit in this place as a lamp shining in the dark, that we might see your truth and be moved to live faithful lives with the morning star rising in our hearts, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Transfiguration Sunday. We get this day every year, so we should be pretty familiar with what it’s all about. Although the actual words of the story we get would be from different gospel accounts depending on what year it is, it’s still pretty much the same story: Jesus takes his buddies up a mountain, he transfigures to be all dazzling white while Moses and Elijah show up and chill for a bit, then Peter unsurprisingly says something dumb and a voice from heaven interrupts him and declares almost word-for-word what was declared about Jesus at his baptism, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him,” or something along those lines at least.
So we’re pretty familiar with this story, and we’ve heard the different interpretations and takes on what it means, why Jesus was transfigured, why Elijah and Moses show up, and so on and so forth. We’ve heard ideas on why Peter wanted to build the huts, why he was so abruptly shut up by the voice from heaven, and parallels with this event and the baptism and even crucifixion of Jesus. And we’ve even heard of the whole Messianic secret thing and theories on what that’s all about.
Or, I should say, we’ve been told these things, at very least by me. Whether or not they were retained or even listened to is a whole other matter altogether.
But even as familiar we might be with this story, something popped out at me this time around that I really don’t think I’ve noticed before. Like I said, we’ve talked about the Messianic secret before, like how Jesus tells them not to talk about what they’ve seen and keep a lot of his teaching and miracles on the down low type thing, but in this text out of Matthew (and apparently out of Mark as well), Jesus gives further instruction. He doesn’t just tell them not to talk about it, but he says don’t talk about it until after he comes back from the dead.
So… the disciples aren’t even going to talk about what Jesus just said? He just predicted his death. He establishes the fact that even his time is limited. He just told them that everything that he’s been doing and everything they hope he’ll do will end. He confirms that their experience, their witness of Jesus’ glory in the transfiguration, their wanting to keep and mark the event with those dwellings, their awe and wonder of what just happened in front of their eyes, is temporary. It won’t last forever. It will change… and die.
I’d imagine that’d be a tough one to swallow. I mean, we all will die some day, we can’t deny that fact. But Jesus just makes it all so real here. And actually, he makes it real nonchalant too, like, “oh by the way, I’m going to die, k?” like it’s really no big deal for him. These disciples, this inner circle of Jesus’, this “who’s who” of apostles just had a supernatural experience. They witnessed something inexplicable and majestic. They were present for this glimpse of the glory of God, so much so that all they can think about is how they could capture it, hold on to it, and preserve it for as long as they can. And in almost the same breath Jesus tells them that they can’t hang on to it, because it’ll change, it’ll end, it’ll die.
And like how any one of us who have lost a loved one at any point in our lives, we know that death sucks. It is just the worst because we have no control over it. It hurts so much because it is so final and permanent, and there’s no coming back from it. We avoid it with very fibre of our being because with death comes much change, change that we don’t want or welcome, change that brings with it brokenness, pain, and just more death.
I remember back in the day when I worked in retail, one of the biggest complaints that I’d hear from customers wasn’t the condition of the store, it wasn’t our hours of operation that weren’t convenient for them, it wasn’t even the prices that I admit were a bit on the high side. But one of the most frequent complaints that I’d hear was from irate customers who came to buy something specific only to learn that the product had been discontinued. The amount of frustration in finally finding something that works for them only to have someone else decide that it doesn’t sell well enough to stock anymore was just astronomical. And I’ll admit that I understand. I get that it’s super annoying. I know the pain of having something change out of our control and present to us a world that seems worse and lesser because of it.
I know, we’re not talking about losing a flavour of toothpaste here, but we’re talking about a death of a person. The potential death of a movement that was supposed to save the world. The impending death of an entire way of life.
At least, that’s what it would have sounded like for those disciples present at the time. That’s the pain that they would have felt to have their dreams crushed. That’s the change that would have been dreading as everything they were hoping for in the Messiah and their salvation starts to slip out of their grasp, fall out of reach, and just die right in front of them.
But… it didn’t really die, did it, not even now some 2000 years later. It changed, yes, but it didn’t end. It looks much different from how they understood it, but the gospel of gracious salvation and the good news of God’s love and welcome remains true today. Jesus did say that he’ll die, but he also said that he’ll be back.
And back he came.
Again, yes, it wasn’t the same. The experience was different. Jesus was changed in that he had these new scars and spoke in even more riddles if that was even possible. Jesus wasn’t with them physically in the flesh for much longer, but he was with them in spirit. His teachings remained in their hearts. His life continued to give them life.
Life even in their pain. Life in the inevitable change. Life in death.
See, this to me, is the promise of the gospel. In that while everything changes, everything ends, and everything eventually dies, the gospel remains the same. Jesus’ teachings remain true. God continues to be with us. Perhaps not in ways that we’re used to or in ways that we’d like to see or give us comfort in the way that we want it, but that presence remains constant, it remains strong, remains full of abundant life, overflowing our cups with blessing and love.
And so this is what I am seeing in the Transfiguration this year. I see Jesus being present in our ever-changing lives. I see the Spirit lifting us up in the midst of our discomforts and uncertainties. I see God giving us life even in death, and showing us that death isn’t actually final, it doesn’t end everything, and it doesn’t have the last word. Rather, the Transfiguration shows us how God’s love is bigger, stronger, and brings the peace that surpasses all understanding to even the most difficult areas of life. Those areas that maybe need to be changed.
But I know, change is still scary. It’s always easier to hold on to what we know, what we are familiar with, where we might be comfortable. But let’s not allow those feelings of familiarity and comfort stand in the way of and hold us back from the hope in change, the joy of new life, and the peace found in the transfiguring life in which God remains present with us in love forever.
We will be observing Ash Wednesday in just a few days and thus embarking into Lent and the journey toward the cross, where we remember the ultimate death that ushered in the way of ultimate life. And so as we start this process of remembering, let’s look forward to what might come, and be inspired by God always with us, be sensitive to the Spirit always joining us together, and be filled with life by the hope that is given to us through the life and teachings of Jesus Christ our Lord.
So as we again come to the end of this season after the Epiphany, may we remember all that we have learned about Jesus and be filled with the confidence of the Spirit, that the light of God might freely shine in and through our lives, bringing us all the joy of the gospel, the hope in the change, and the life even in death. Thanks be to God. Amen.