February 10, 2012

Transfiguration Sunday

2013 Update - New Song Links
In the liturgical calendar of the Christian Church, the Sunday before Ash Wednesday is known as Transfiguration Sunday.  Falling between Christmas and Lent, the season of Epiphany focuses on the events of Jesus’ ministry and culminates in celebrating the Transfiguration, where Jesus’ divine glory was manifested to Peter, James, and John, marking the transition in Jesus’ life toward Jerusalem and the events of Holy Week.  This is an important Sunday as it gives worshipers the opportunity to behold Jesus’ glory before setting foot to the road of Lent and moving toward the cross and empty tomb.

Thematic reflection
Recorded in each of the Synoptic Gospels (Matt 17, Mark 9, Luke 9), the Transfiguration is where God revealed his glory in Jesus Christ upon a mountaintop, likely Mount Hermon.  God revealed his glory to Moses on Mount Sinai; Moses’ face continued to radiate God’s glory when he returned to the people at the foot of the mountain (Exod 24).  The Gospel texts intentionally connect Jesus’ actions with Moses’ when ascending the mountain, the main difference being that Moses merely reflects God’s glory while God’s glory pours out from Jesus.  Present with Christ at the Transfiguration were Moses and Elijah, men whose roles pointed toward their fulfillment in Christ.  The disciples also hear the voice of God, confirming that Jesus is God’s Son and that they should listen to him (Mark 9:7).  By appearing in his full divine glory, Jesus is identified as greater than Moses and Elijah and is confirmed to be the eternal Son of God.

Just as with observing Jesus’ Baptism at the start of Epiphany, it is important to ask how the Transfiguration is an important moment in Jesus’ life.  This is the penultimate revelation of Jesus’ divine nature that is celebrated in the liturgical calendar before the celebration of the Resurrection at Easter (the others being Christmas, Epiphany, and Baptism of our Lord).  It is also the fullest revelation of his pre-resurrection glory, the very same glory on display as the presently ascended Christ and that will be displayed when he returns.  To celebrate the Transfiguration is to worship Jesus in his full divine splendor.

What characterizes worship on this day when compared to other Sundays?
God’s glory is the primary focus of worship on this day, both how it was revealed in the Old and New Testament and also in how he displays it today in the church and in the world.  Part of observing Transfiguration Sunday is that worshipers today are remembering what the disciples witnessed with their own eyes as if we were present in the same way.  Responses to seeing God’s glory include awe, fear, and shame, so public worship should give voice to these responses.

Much of regular public worship has ties to the Transfiguration; while beholding God’s glory in the worship gathering, a similar mountaintop experience is evoked as the cares of daily living are seemingly left at the door.  But if this is the only result, then public worship fails.  Instead, beholding God’s glory should welcome the struggles of daily living and allow opportunities to bring all things under the love and care of God.

Another aspect to balance is the pivot from Epiphany to Lent, whether observed mid-week at Ash Wednesday or on the following Sunday.  Worshipers are celebrating the glory of Jesus with an eye toward his death and resurrection.  Lament over the sufferings Jesus endured on our behalf is proper but should result in joy and thanksgiving rather than wallowing in sorrow or self-pity.

In his song simply titled “The Transfiguration,” singer/songwriter Sufjan Stevens reflects the attitude of worship at the Transfiguration:
Lost in the cloud, a voice: Have no fear! We draw near!
Lost in the cloud, a sign: Son of man! Turn your ear! 
Lost in the cloud, a voice: Lamb of God! We draw near! 
Lost in the cloud, a sign: Son of man! Son of God!

Designing Worship
Below are provided a handful of resources to aid worship planners in designing worship that reflects the concerns of the Transfiguration.  For prayer texts, I recommend consulting the Book of Common Prayer, the Book of Common Worship, the Revised Common Lectionary, and the Worship Sourcebook.

Relevant Scripture passages that may be used for different liturgical readings (1):
  • Gospel Accounts
    • Matthew 17:1-9 (A)
    • Mark 9:2-9 (B)
    • Luke 9:28-36(37-43) (C)
  • Related texts 
    • Exodus 24:12-18 (A)
    • Exodus 34:29-35 (C)
    • 1 Kings 19:1-18 (WS)
    • 2 Kings 2:1-12 (B)
    • Psalm 2 (A)
    • Psalm 50:1-6 (B)
    • Psalm 99 (A/C)
    • John 1:14
    • 2 Corinthians 3:12–4:2 (C)
    • 2 Corinthians 4:3-6 (B)
    • Hebrews 1:3
    • 2 Peter 1:16-21 (A)
    • 1 John 3:2 (WS)
(1) The primary sources for these texts are the Revised Common Lectionary (readings identified by year (A), (B), or (C)) and the Worship Sourcebook (WS).

Song suggestions that emphasize the themes of the Transfiguration:
  • Service Music
  • Hymns
    • *Christ Whose Glory Fills The Skies Cardiphonia post
    • *Hail To The Lord’s Anointed
    • All Hail The Power Of Jesus' Name
    • Be Thou My Vision (C) - Matt 17:8
    • Come Thou Almighty King - John 1:14
    • Fairest Lord Jesus (B)
    • Glorious Things Of Thee Are Spoken
    • Holy Holy Holy - Ps 99:3
    • How Sweet The Name Of Jesus Sounds - 1 John 3:2
    • Jesus I Am Resting - 2 Cor 3:15-18
      • David Hampton mp3
    • Jesus Is Lord – Getty/Townend
    • Love Divine All Loves Excelling - 2 Cor 3:18
      • TH 529 BEECHER
      • Melody for "Here Is Love" leadsheet
    • O Worship The King
    • Out Of My Bondage (Jesus I Come) - 1 John 3:2
    • The Lord Is King
  • Choruses
    • *Shine, Jesus, Shine – Graham Kendrick
    • Beautiful Savior - Townend (2 Peter 1:19)
    • Better Is One Day - M Redman
    • God Of Wonders - Byrd/Hindalong
    • Great Is The Lord - MW Smith & D Smith
    • Holy Is The Lord - Tomlin
    • How Great Is Our God - Tomlin
    • Jesus Name Above All Names (John 1:14)
    • Majesty - Hayford (2 Peter 1:17, Ps 99:9)
    • Meekness and Majesty - Kendrick (2 Peter 1:16)
    • Open The Eyes Of My Heart - P Baloche (2 Cor 4:6)
    • We Fall Down - Tomlin
    • You Are Holy - Byrd/Hindalong
*Songs with explicit focus upon Transfiguration and Epiphany

Other art

Example Liturgy
  • Prelude (if you’re particularly daring) – “The Transfiguration” (Sufjan Stevens)
  • Song of Entrance/Gathering into presence – “Open The Eyes Of My Heart” (P Baloche)
  • Call To Worship – Psalm 99:1-3
  • Prayer of Invocation
  • Doxology or Gloria
  • Songs of Praise – “Christ Whose Glory Fills The Skies” 
  • Scripture Reading – Mark 9:2-9
  • Confession of Sin
  • Assurance of Pardon – 2 Cor 3:17-18
  • Song of Confidence – “Jesus Is Lord” (Stuart Townend/Keith Getty)
  • Sermon
  • Offering/Anthem – “Hail To The Lord’s Anointed” (Welcome Wagon)
  • Eucharist
  • Song of Communion – “Jesus I Am Resting” (David Hampton
  • Prayer of Intercession
  • Song of Sending – “The Lord Is King” (Nathan Partain)
  • Benediction – Num 6:24-26

February 02, 2012

calvin worship symposium 2012 reflections

Last week, I participated in the Calvin Worship Symposium in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  This year's topic was "When Life Is Prayer: The Psalms," and coincided with the release of a new Psalter entitled Psalms For All Seasons, intended for congregations to read, chant, pray, and sing the Psalms throughout the life of the church.

I have been aware of the annual conference for quite a while now through friends and mentors who regularly participate, but this was my first opportunity to make the trip.  I wasn't quite sure what to expect, flying to Michigan in the dead of winter.  Turns out, winter has been kind to the region so far, and allowed for easy traveling for the nearly 1800 participants from 30 countries.  The conference stretched over three days—Jan 26-28—with plenary talks, seminars, workshops, and many opportunities to worship in song, prayer, and sermon.

For Thursday's all-day seminar, I participated in "Tune My Heart To Sing Your Praise: The Re-tuned Hymn (and Psalm!) Movement in the Context of the Broader Culture," which brought together a panel of speakers that included Kevin Twit, Sandra McCracken, Isaac Wardell, and Bruce Benedict—hymn retuners in the States—as well as Eelco Vos, a retuner of the Genevan Psalter from the Netherlands.  The session was opened with an introduction by James K. Smith on the "Young, Restless, and Reformed," and why they hymns renewal movement taps into this spirit.  After that, Greg Scheer—Calvin music prof—led the seminar, having each member of the panel share their background in the movement, what inspires them to work with the hymn texts that they choose, and ask about the direction the movement seems to be headed.  As each speaker shared their experiences, we all sang together a song that they had written.  It was quite moving for me to hear many songs that I have been familiar with for the past decade be sung by a new yet enthusiastic set of voices; at one moment I found myself fighting back tears while attempting to sing "Dear Refuge of My Weary Soul" with the group.  Overall, I think it was a good introduction to the movement for people not familiar with it, as well as helpful critique from people on the outside looking in concerning the forward trajectory of the movement.

On Friday, I heard NT Wright on "Praying the Psalms: Personal, Pastoral, Theological, and Liturgical Reflections."  Thought provoking, though so rich that it was hard to digest in one hearing, not to mention that his English accent practically set my ears in a trance.

That afternoon, I attended two workshops.  The first was called "Singing Old Genevan Psalms in Very New Ways," led by Eelco Vos and the Psalms Project from the Netherlands (see above), a project which was born out of a desire to reach the youth in churches where Psalm singing was dying out.  They discussed the process of their project to rework many of the best melodies from the original Genevan Psalter from the 16th century.  It was a fascinating exercise in analyzing the original melodies for their positive and negative elements in regards to congregational singing today, and then retranslating them for 21st century singing.

The second workshop that I attended was "Does Worship Keep Your Understanding Of God Too Small? Insights From Ancient Constantinople About the Transcendent in Worship," led by Lester Ruth and Carrie Steenwyk.  It was a fascinating analysis of the worship space of the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople in the 6th century, seeking to learn from the positive and negative results of their worship practices and how it can shape and critique our worship today.  This was a presentation of material that is going into the second volume of six that the Calvin Institute on Worship is publishing on historic worship.  The first is on worship in 4th century Jerusalem, which I am looking forward to reading this spring.  (the next day I got to have lunch with Lester Ruth, who is president of the Charles Wesley Socity. very interesting conversation at the table about Wesley's hymns and the current hymns renewal)

That night I participated in the "Psalms For All Seasons: A Festival Of Singing," in celebration of the publishing of the new Psalter.  Musicians from around the world led us through old and new settings of the Psalms.  Bruce Benedict (see above) played his version of Psalm 120, and had me and a couple other friends back him on the only truly folk rendition of the evening.  Check out a video of the entire concert here, or fast-forward to the 38:00 mark to hear our song.  And no, I haven't taken up glockenspiel as my primary instrument, yet.

Saturday morning, I heard another great plenary talk, this time from Walter Bruggemann on "Performing a Counter World: the Alternative Reality Offered by the Psalms for the Worlds We Inhabit," having a similar experience to the Friday plenary, minus the English accent.

I had a to catch a flight that afternoon, so I had to miss the other workshops and the closing worship service.

To sum up, this was a rich and renewing experience for me.  I got to hear a lot of great and challenging ideas, to sing with upwards of 900 people at some sessions, and to fellowship with old friends and get to know some new ones.  Oh, and I got a chance to sample the local antiquarian books and breweries.