Transfigur-what? — Christian education at home

The story of Jesus’ transfiguration ranks high on my list of Tricky Biblical Texts to Explore with Young Children.  The event seems to come out of nowhere, its purpose isn’t immediately clear, and it’s so unusual that it’s difficult for concrete thinkers to imagine.  Despite all this, I love when this passage comes up in the lectionary!  Not only does it encourage children to use their imaginations, it also provides an opportunity to recognize the value of experiencing God’s presence even when we don’t fully understand it.  This lesson gives your children the opportunity to connect to the mystery of Jesus’ transfiguration.

Begin the time with your children by sharing the story of a dream you had while sleeping.  Be sure to talk about a dream that made perfect sense while you were experiencing it, but one that becomes confusing and even unusual when you try to explain it.  Focus on the way it made you feel while you were dreaming.  Ask your children to share similar dreams.  Explain that sometimes we experience something that may be confusing or mysterious but enjoyable.  We don’t always have to fully understand something for it to produce strong feelings within us.

Prepare to read Mark 9:2-9 aloud to your children.  Ask your children to close their eyes while you read so they can create mental images of the story.  If you choose to use a children’s Bible for the reading, try to avoid having your children view the pictures that accompany the reading.  They should use their imaginations to picture the event.

After reading, ask your children to open their eyes and describe what they saw in their heads as you told the story.  Encourage them to consider all of the little details in their mental images.  What did the characters look like?  What did the setting look like?  How did Jesus, Moses and Elisha appear during the transfiguration?  Share your own take on the reading.  Describe how you imagine the event playing out.  Once each of you has shared your responses, note the differences in what you each imagined.  Ask your children why you would see different things when you are all hearing the same words.  Note that this story is one that is mysterious.

Share with your children that many people love the story of Jesus’ transfiguration, even if they do not fully understand it.  Some have created art to try explain what they believe happened in the story or to show the way that it makes them feel.  Share a few examples of transfiguration art with your children by conducting an internet search.  Be sure to look at various works so that your children can see the wide range of visual representations artists have created.  (Note: A standard search of Jesus transfiguration art does not always give you abstract works related to the topic.  You may need to search specifically for these.)  As you move through the images, ask your children to reflect on the works.  Which piece best captures the event?  Which work gives them the same feeling that hearing the story did?

As an extension, provide your children with art materials such as paper, crayons or markers, paint, scissors and glue. Ask each to create her own visual representation of the story.  Explain that their creations may be realistic (depicting the scene as they see it in their heads) or they may be abstract (capturing the feeling that the reading elicits as they heard you read it).

JOELLE BRUMMIT-YALE is the director of children’s and youth ministries at Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  When not at the church, she can usually be found at home with her son and husband caring for their many animals and developing their family homestead.