From a Child's Point of View
The focus of Transfiguration Sunday is that Jesus is the divine Son of God. Halfway between the celebration of "God with us" in the baby born in a barn, and the celebration of the resurrected Christ with us forever, we are reminded that Jesus was not just a good person, or even a new prophet. Jesus is God's Son who lived among us. With this in mind, we prepare for Lent. For children who are less likely to attend Ash Wednesday services, this preparation is important.
Gospel: Mark 9:2-9. In the Transfiguration, Mark tells us who Jesus is by how he looked and who stood with him. Unfortunately, Mark assumes that his readers know the significance of Jesus' appearance and of Moses' and Elijah's presence. Children do not, and they get lost in extensive explanations. All they need to know is that no human being ever looked like Jesus did on that mountain; that being seen with Moses and Elijah meant that Jesus was God's Messiah; and that God's voice confirmed what the disciples saw.
The disciples did understand and were impressed. Jesus then told them to tell no one what they had seen. In children's words, "You now know for sure that I am the Son of God, but you do not yet know what that means. It is not just looking superhuman and knowing long-dead leaders like Moses and Elijah. The important part of being the Son of God is suffering, even dying, to save people."
Old Testament: 1 Kings 2:1-12. The story of Elijah's fiery chariot is read today because of Elijah's appearance at the Transfiguration and because of the spectacular way he departed this life. Children, however, are mainly attracted to Elisha's bravery in sticking with Elijah, and his boldness in asking for twice as much power as Elijah had. So the lesson may distract them. Furthermore, the fiery chariot, when connected to the divine dramatics of Transfiguration, leads children to ask why God did such things for people in the Bible, but not for us today. They wonder, "Were those people that much better than we are?" or "What would I have to do or be to rate such treatment?" or "Did God love the disciples more than us, and so gave them special proof about Jesus that we/I do not share?" Though there are few answers that satisfy literal thinkers, children appreciate hearing their questions recognized as valid.
Epistle: 1 Corinthians 4:3-6. The only idea in the passage that is meaningful to children is the suggestion that some people "veil their eyes" that is, they do not see God standing before them because they are paying so much attention to other things (toys, TV, what others think of them, etc.). Or they insist that God can appear only in certain ways, and they refuse to see God in other ways. We are to watch for and recognize "God with us."
WARNING: Mixing Paul's poetic-light images in this text with the physical light in the Transfiguration story confuses literal thinkers.
Psalm: 50:1-6. This is another word picture of God appearing with great power. The New Jerusalem Bible paints a particularly clear picture for children. When the text is read in majestic tones, children sense God's greatness. But literal thinkers also respond that they have never seen God come with storming fire, so they need descriptions of other ways that God appears: God speaking through a Bible story; God's power displayed in the beauty and power of nature; God's presence felt during campfire vespers.
Some dictionaries define Transfiguration only with reference to this event in Jesus' life. So you might want to omit the long, strange word entirely. If you do use it, introduce it as the name of this day of the church year or as the title of this story about Jesus.
If you speak of incarnation or Emmanuel in talking about who Jesus is, do not expect children to recall these words from Christmas without coaching. Do reintroduce the terms to reenforce a growing worship vocabulary.
Let the Children Sing
Not one of the Transfiguration hymns is easy for children to sing with understanding. Before singing "Swiftly Pass the Clouds of Glory," paraphrase the last verse.
To praise Christ in more general terms, sing "Come, Christians, Join to Sing," with all its Alleluias; "When Morning Gilds the Skies," with its repeated "May Jesus Christ be praised!"; or "Fairest Lord Jesus," if spring seems near.
To review Jesus' life, sing "We Would See Jesus," "I Love to Tell the Story," or "O Sing a Song of Bethlehem."
The Liturgical Child
1. For the Call to Worship, read Mark 9:2,3, and 7, then say simply, "Let us worship God and Jesus, God's Son." For the Charge and Benediction, say:
As they came down from the mountain, Jesus told Peter, James, and John not to talk about what they had seen there. Though they knew Jesus was God's Son, they did not yet know what being God's Son meant. But you do. You know that God's Son was arrested, beaten, and killed. And you know that he rose on Easter. So do not be silent. Tell everyone! Tell people at school, people at work, and people in your neighborhood. Invite them to worship with you. Take care of them in Jesus' name. And remember that Jesus the Christ, God's Son, is with you always. Amen. ("Go, Tell It on the Mountain" is an appropriate choral response.)
2. Celebrate Jesus' divinity with a litany reviewing ways we know "God with us" in Jesus' life. The worship leader describes a series of things Jesus said and did. To each, the congregation responds, "God is with us!" Mention Jesus' birth as a helpless baby, his powerful healings, the way he made friends with people others looked down on, his teachings, and the confrontations of Holy Week and Easter. For example:
Jesus taught us that God loves us and wants us to love one another. He told a story about a father who waited for a son who had run away from home, and he said that God loves us as much as that father loved his son. He told us about a man who rescued a foreigner who had been beaten by bandits, and he said that we are to be like that man. When we hear Jesus' teachings, we know that . . . (CONGREGATIONAL RESPONSE)
1. The Transfiguration invites careful comparisons between Jesus and Superman. Superman was a being from the planet Krypton who lived on earth as "mild-mannered Clark Kent." Few people (except comic-book readers and movie-goers) ever saw him transformed into the powerful Superman. Similarly, Jesus of Nazareth was the divine Son of God. Only Peter, James, and John saw his divine appearance. Invite worshipers to recognize Jesus' true identity.
2. Speak about the church year. Recall how you celebrated Jesus' birth during Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany. Look ahead to Lent and Easter. Point out that Transfiguration Sunday is about halfway between Christmas and Easter. Talk about the importance of remembering who the Christmas baby was and of beginning Lent by remembering what that baby did when he grew up. Introduce any Lenten disciplines your congregation is urging this year, and point out Lenten opportunities to celebrate the life of Jesus, the Son of God.
Adapted from Forbid Them Not: Involving Children in Sunday Worship © Abingdon Press