Special -- Light at the Top of the Mountain
Suggestions for Planning a Full Liturgy for Transfiguration Sunday
In the book of Matthew, we read of this amazing event: The disciples, Peter, James, and John, go up the mountain with Jesus. At the top, Jesus pauses to pray and suddenly the disciples see him surrounded and suffused with light. Moses and Elijah appear nearby. The disciples are struck wordless, but only for a moment. Ever the organizer, Peter suggests building tents to house these unexpected guests. Clearly he wants to preserve the experience. But Jesus reminds him that the power of God is not something to contain or control. Instead, all are changed by this brief glimpse of the holy power of God.
The following suggestions for worship are intended to assist the congregation in their own journey to that mountain and to return transformed.
Preparing to Ascend (A Call to Worship)
(This dramatic reading may be presented responsively, alternating between leader and congregation, or the leader may read each line and have the congregation repeat it back. In that case, do not put the words in the order of worship.)
We can each climb the mountain.
Alone or with friends.
The change of view will do us good.
We could use a new perspective.
But when we go up, we may be changed.
The mountaintop is a place of power.
Like Jesus, we could be filled with light.
Our lives could be transformed.
Let us climb the mountain together.
And be ready for the light.
Gathering Hymn "Gathered Here" TNCH 742*
Asking for Help (Prayer of Preparation and Confession)
One: To make the journey up the mountain, we must begin at the bottom, aware of our limitations, perhaps even frightened of what is ahead. Perhaps at that point we are more open to God's assistance. Let us pray together:
People: The mountaintop promises new beginnings, but we may not be ready for the difficulty of the trip. We may be changed, and what if we are too set in our ways to change? We step onto the mountain with trepidation, not trusting ourselves to climb steep slopes. Dearest One, walk with us. Hold our hands, steady the ropes.
Give us strength to put one foot in front of the other. Remind us of our communities, all those who climb with us. And if we shy away from your light, gently turn us back to your powerful presence.
Silence for a Time
A Good Word (Words of Assurance)
One: Step onto the mountain with courage and joy. You are surrounded by the love of your people and your God. You will have what you need for the journey. The light at the top of the mountain will fill your heart and soul. As Jesus was transfigured, so may you radiate God's love. Amen
Responsive Psalm 99 TNCH 687*
(Ideally, this would be sung including the response, but it could also be read, alternating back and forth between the leader and congregation)
Hebrew Scripture and Epistle Readings
2 Peter 1:16–21
Hymn "We Have Come at Christ's Own Bidding" TNCH 182*
(Is there someone in your congregation who might be willing to memorize the Gospel story and recite it to the congregation? In addition to the Gospel reading or in addition to the reading, have someone dramatically present the following monologue. The monologue might also be included as part of the sermon.)
Peter Recalls: A Dramatic Monologue
So, off we went up the mountain. At least from the bottom it looked like a mountain. You might have said, "Oh, that's just a little hill." Hmmm. Isn't that often the case? Anyway, it was just Jesus and me and James and John. Kind of nice to get away from the rest of that crowd for a bit.
I wasn't sure where we were going, exactly, or why. It didn't look like anyone had a picnic basket. Jesus sometimes went away to pray. Perhaps that was what he had in mind.
So up we went, step after step. Sometimes the path was clear and smooth and not all that steep, but every once in a while, rocks would crop up and we would have to clamber over them. Jesus set a pretty brisk pace and didn't seem to be daunted by anything that blocked the path.
When we reached the top, he didn't seem to be breathing heavily, but James and John and I had to lean against a tree for a bit to catch up with ourselves.
After we had admired the view, Jesus sat down as though he was going to pray. We knew to leave him alone when he did this—even though I had hoped to get a few questions answered while I had him pretty much to myself. Sometimes, I must admit, I napped while he prayed, but for some reason I decided to just be with him. He was always giving so much to others. The least I could do was to offer my quiet companionship while he prayed. Let me tell you what happened next!
As I sat there and watched, Jesus seemed to be filled with light. It was like he was glowing from the inside out! His robes were all white rather than their normal dusty brown. I had never seen anything like it. But that's not the end of the story. All of a sudden there he was, standing between Moses and Elijah. Moses and Elijah! Standing there talking! Right in front of us! So I'm running around saying, "We've got to build some shrines for these guys. Right now! Right here on the spot! Before anything disappears on us!" But then we heard this voice: "This is my Child, in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him!"
Just as I had feared, the moment passed. Moses and Elijah disappeared and Jesus stopped glowing. We were frightened and amazed and awestruck and everything all at once. We were as breathless as when we walked up the mountain.
And then, and then! Jesus told us not to say anything about what had happened. Yeah, right! You've all heard this story before, so someone must have spilled the beans. It was certainly a day I'll never forget.
Prayers of the People
One: When you reach the top of the mountain, or even as you journey up the slope, the light of God is there for you to take in. What parts of your life do you want to open up to the light? What joys or concerns do you want to carry to the top of the mountain? Take a few moments of silence to invite the light into your life, our life together.
[Time of silence.]
And there are others in our lives and in the world who need God's light in their lives. Let us call out the names of the people and places that we want to carry with us to the top of the mountain.
[Allow time for those to be voiced]
Let us gather all our prayers, those spoken and those deep in our hearts, as we say the prayer that Jesus taught us.
The Prayer of Jesus
Offering and Doxology
Hymn "Holy Spirit, Truth Divine" TNCH 63*
One: Jesus was transformed before his friends, filled with the light of God. Go now into the world. Be ready to climb the mountain. Have courage to make the uphill journey. The light at the top of the mountain is yours. Go in peace and make peace. Amen.
*TNCH refers to hymns or resources from The New Century Hymnal (Cleveland: The Pilgrim Press, 1995).
This service was prepared by Phil Porter, Minister of Liturgical Arts at First Congregational Church of Berkeley, California. He is an artist, theologian, performer, and writer who has been creating art in churches for over twenty-five years.
For more information about worship and liturgy in the United Church of Christ, see www.ucc.org or contact Worship and Education Ministries Team, 700 Prospect Avenue East, Cleveland, Ohio, 44115-1100.
Copyright 2001 Worship and Education Ministries Team, Local Church Ministries, UCC, Cleveland. Permission is granted to reproduce or adapt this material for use in services of worship or church education. All publishing rights reserved. Designed and printed by United Church Resources, Local Church Ministries.