I have grown to love the church calendar for numerous reasons. Perhaps the simplest reason is that it takes me through the high points of the Christian story every single year. As Epiphany moves into Lent, and we approach the great celebration of Easter, many Western traditions celebrate Transfiguration Sunday on this date. As a Baptist evangelical in my first forty years or so none of this stuff was ever mentioned. The closest we ever got to a service intentionally linked to the transfiguration was if the pastor was preaching through a gospel text and that text fell on this event, which never happened at any special time of the year. It was always odd to me that we still celebrated Christmas and Easter, which seemed quite artificial to me. (Consistent Puritans, where they still exist, celebrate none of these days at all. Even the great Puritan-Baptist preacher Charles H. Spurgeon spoke about these dates having no significance to the church’s life and then preached sermons at Christmas and Easter that fit the occasion!) In my background our worship was generally one of two things: (1) Either an evangelistic service, aimaed at the non-Christian, or (2) An exposition of some text of the Bible with the goal of instructing the minds of our congregants in how to be better Christians based on mastering Bible knowledge. (I did both of these in my years in the Baptist ministry, but much more of the latter.) Even communion, which we celebrated irregularly, was all about the mind since we believed in the "real absence" of Christ at the table.
All of this made today’s Transfiguration Service very special to me. The prayers, confessions, texts and music all centered around this great event. And the Apostles’ Creed was a sung version called "Credo," based upon an African-American composition that began to really "rock" when it got to the resurrection and the gift of the Holy Spirit and the holy catholic church. The emphasis of the sermon was on the power of the Word of God, meaning in this case the Holy Scriptures. The point was the power of the Word to transform us as Christ, the Word, did the three disciples who ascended the mount of tranfiguration with him. The closing litany, based on a classic ancient prayer, was very moving. After we had come to the table to receive the body and blood of Christ we then responded with these words before the spoken and sung benediction:
Pastor: Lord of the Mountaintop, glorious God, be with us when we come down from the height of worship to face a world that didn’t see what we just saw in you. Show us how to live by the example of Jesus Christ. Where there is hatred,
Congregation: Let me sow love;
Pastor: Where there is injury, pardon;
Congregation: Where there is doubt, faith;
Pastor: Where there is despair, hope;
Congregation: Where there is darkness, light;
Pastor: Where there is sadness, joy. When divisions and strife threaten to engulf our communities,
Congregation: Let it not be said that your disciples cowered in fear or walked on the other side of the road.
Pastor: Where there is peril or fire or flood,
Congregation: Let it not be said that your disciples cleared unwanted belongings from their homes and called it charity.
Pastor: Lord of the Mountaintop experience, glorious God, show us how to be. Change us; transfigure us; so that this world might see what we have just seen, and worship you.
Anita and I looked at the line about not being disciples who "cleared unwanted possessions from their homes and called it charity" and we had a flood of memories about people giving the church their used junk over the years and then feeling good about it. Then I realized we had done the same and repentance began to settle into my own heart with real conviction. I want to give to the Lord something that really costs me, not just my junk. How about you?
The transfiguration is really about transformation. I needed to realize this afresh today as my body and soul were both weary and distressed. I am still weak this afternoon but I am refreshed, deeply and powerfully, by the worship of the living Christ who was transfigured for you and me, showing us the way into the Father’s radiant glory through himself.