A reflection for Sunday 6th August 2023 the Feast of the Transfiguration

“…while he was praying the appearance of his face changed and his clothes became dazzling white.”                 Luke 9:29

“…at that time, I happened to be receiving the transmission over the wireless. I was in the receiving room and I was facing northwards. I noticed the flashing light. It was not really a big flash but it still drew my attention. in a few seconds the heat wave arrived. Afterwards I noticed the flash white clouds spread over the blue sky. It was amazing. It was as if the blue Morning-Glories had suddenly bloomed in the sky. It was funny, I thought. Then came the heat wave. It was very, very hot. Even though there was a window glass in front of me, I felt really hot. It was as if I ws looking directly into a kitchen oven. I couldn’t bear the heat for a long time. then I heard the crackling sound. I didn’t know what made the sound, but probably it came from the air which suddenly expanded in the room. By that time I realised the bomb had been dropped.”

A witness account of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima on the 6th August 1945 by the 33 year old Isao Kita a weather forecaster.

St.Luke wrote:

“ … a cloud came over and shadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud.       Luke 9:34

Isao Kita continues:

“The sound of thunder itself was not so great but i could still see the lightening over the fire. When I looked down on the town from the top of the hill, I could see that the city was completely lost. the city turned into yellow sand. It turned the colour of the yellow desert … the town looked yellowish. the smoke was so thick that it covered the entire town. After about five minutes, fire broke out here and there. The fire gradually grew bigger and there was smoke everywhere and so we could no longer see towards the town … The cloud moved from the ocean towards Hiroshima station. It moved toward the north. The smoke from the fire, it was like a screen dividing the city in two parts. The sun was shining brightly just like it was the middle of Summer over here on this side. And behind the cloud on the other side it was completely dark …”

This year marks the 78th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb ‘Little Boy’ on Hiroshima and its companion ‘Fat Man’ over Nagasaki on the 6th and 9th of August 1945. These bombs effectively ended the Second World War but at the same time led the world into the glare of the atomic age and the threat of nuclear annihilation. I have never failed to be aware of the irony of these events the first falling as it does on the Feast of the Transfiguration of Christ.

Today’s feast commemorates the day Jesus ascended a mountain (we do not know which one) with Peter, James and John and was seen to be in conversation with Moses and Elijah, the great prophets and leaders of the ancient Hebrews. This was the day when God declared to the world that he was well pleased with his Son and that all people should listen to Jesus as he spoke directly for him. In the act of transfiguration Jesus was shown to be the heir of the Old Testament prophets and the authorised mouthpiece of God.

The transfiguration took place in the cloud and bright light, blinding light and it confused the disciples at first as to what was going on; rather like that account of Isao Kita and the after effects of the dropping of the atomic bomb. It is, as I have already said, ironic that the account of Jesus’ change of appearance (becoming shiny) echoes the initial change in appearance recoded by the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

This is not only ironic but uncomfortable and disturbing as well. When an atomic bomb explodes it does so in mid-air; creating a mighty rising wind and searching light. Living tissue is seen to glow bright white before exploding! Devastation then reigns as the familiar mushroom shaped cloud forms. Day is turned into night and all in its path is destroyed.  It is the complete reverse of God’s creation.

When it was first tested and used the full potential for destruction by the bomb was not seen or imagined by either its inventors or the military leaders who authorised its use. I wonder if they would have used the bomb if the full extent of its immediate and long-tern effects had been known? Thank God, since 1945, atomic bombs have not been used in aggression or defence because quite simply they are agents of mass and indiscriminate destruction. ‘Little Boy’ killed 140,000 and ‘Fat Man’  74,000 immediately but another 340,000 were to die in the following five years from the initial effects of the bombs and many more thousands in Japan and of the allied troops first on the scene were to die because of the bombs in the subsequent decades.

The awesome power of the bombs destructive force has haunted the world for the past 8 decades and all efforts to reduce the worlds stock pile of such bombs has been the goal of all right-thinking people since 1945. Today, however, life is more dangerous as nuclear technology is so readily available on the internet that mass destruction is an ever increasing threat to world peace!

Yet, in this feast of the Transfiguration, that we celebrate today, we can draw some hope. Hope in the irony of what this feast commemorates. The fear of mass destruction is counter-balanced by the recognition of who Jesus is. Both the Transfiguration and the dropping of the bomb changed people’s perceptions. Jesus was seen to be God’s chosen one, his messenger of love. The bomb showed us humans the destructive power we have at our hands if we misuse it.

We cannot go back from either event today because quite simply we know more now that we did before. We can accept the knowledge we have gained or reject it but we cannot ignore it. There is, however, one incredibly big difference between today’s feast and today’s anniversary - In Jesus we see life and in the bomb we look death full in the face.

Jesus puts before us the peaceful ways of God and we should use these ways to ensure that our world remains safe from those who would seek to destroy it for their own twisted beliefs and desires. In the irony of today we must pray for those who would seek to terrorise and destroy; and hope that the light of Christ will once again transfigure Creation by exploding in every human heart. Those of us you already recognise this light Must, and I repeat MUST, always work for peace and reconciliation in all we do. We are called to be harbingers of life, not death and we must work to ensure that the life and light of Christ ever shines in the world.

It can never be said of the bomb that it was good to be in its presence, for the bomb brought nothing but pain and death. Being in the presence of Christ is a completely different matter, for Christ is the antithesis of the bomb - for he brings only life!

We humans can play at being God, as the terrorists do, but in the end all that will do is to bring death. We who chose to follow the ways of Christ should always be prepared to stand up for the ways of life and love, to live our lives as peacefully as possible and in fortitude and continue hope; praying that via our gentleness and compassion we may transform even the hardest of hearts.

In Christ and through Christ we can change the world, if we are committed to putting his ways, the ways of God, before our own. This is the challenge the Transfiguration puts before us today and it is a challenge we cannot afford to ignore or to lose.