On the Transfiguration mount, Jesus’ “face shone like the son and his clothes became dazzling white.” The event we read about on Sunday was a moment when something special happened, and it was made manifest in visible form for the sake of the disciples (and for us). Depending on how you think of the Transfiguration, the divinity of Jesus came up from the inside and spilled out onto the surface or maybe the divine light from heaven beamed down on him highlighting his uniqueness. Either way, the miracle is depicted in specifically visible terms—shone like the sun, dazzling white, appearance of Moses and Elijah, a bright cloud.
We are visual people. Seeing is believing. In this case, though, believing is seeing as the first words of the lesson emphasize: “Six days after Peter had acknowledged Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God…” This story seems to be a response to Peter’s recognition. Regardless, seeing and believing are linked in the human experience. We see it. We believe it. Rarely are those two things separate.
For the last several Sundays, our altar hangings have been green to depict the season after the Epiphany. We were white for Christmas and then for the first Sunday after the Epiphany, but then we switched to green. Next Sunday, we’ll be purple as Lent will have arrived. We’ll stay purple (or red, depending on your tradition for Holy Week) until Easter comes, when we’ll switch back to white again. But this Sunday comes with an option: green or white.
Usually, I’d stay green. So what if it’s the last Sunday after the Epiphany? It’s not a feast in and of itself. It’s just another Sunday.
But it’s not.
This year, we’re switching to white, and I’m pretty excited about that for two reasons. First, we’re celebrating the gift of a new set of altar hangings, Eucharistic vestments, and all the items that go with them. They were given to our church by a family in memory of a man who loved our church and loved worship, and it seems fitting that we’ll have a complete and matching white set for the first time in a good number of years. We’ll consecrate them (set them apart for exclusively holy use) this Sunday at the offertory.
Second, the altar hangings, stoles, and other vestments remind us of what the disciples saw on that mountain top a long time ago. White is the color we use when we celebrate God shining through into this world. It is the color of the incarnation, when God became flesh. It is the color of the empty tomb, when God broke through the barrier of death. For those reasons, it is also the color for baptisms and the burial of the dead and All Saints’. We use white when we remember a saint who revealed to us a little bit more of who God is. White reminds us of what God is showing to us: a glimpse at himself. This Sunday we read about God shining through the person of Jesus, making himself known to us in a moment of revelation. We prepare to bury our alleluias and enter the penitential season of Lent. Easter is still a long, hard ways off. Isn’t it right for us to pause this week and let the bright glow of God shine through?