Today we have two conflicting remembrances which, when held side-by-side, should humble both the church and all of humanity: The Feast of the Transfiguration and the Bombing of Hiroshima.
Of course everyone who is familiar with the ramp-up to Lent in the church will note that we celebrate the Transfiguration of Our Lord on the Sunday before Lent. This is most certainly true.
But that is a Sunday observation, not a feast day.
Today is the proper feast day of that event where Peter, James, and John followed Jesus up to the mountaintop and witnessed him standing between Moses and Elijah, between the Law and the Prophets of old, bridging the gap between what was and what will be. In a blaze of light Jesus has his identity shine forth.
That ancient blaze of light stands in stark contrast to the blaze of light where, from the height of a mountaintop in 1945 the first atomic bomb to be used on humans was dropped onto Hiroshima. In that particular blaze we have, I fear, humanity’s identity as people addicted to weapons and war shining forth.
In the first instance we have a glorious blast of transfiguration. In the second, a blast of incineration. The innocents of Hiroshima were disfigured, not transfigured.
However we might take a historical look at the impact of that bomb on the wider war (Did it stop the war? Was it an evil that was outweighed by the ending of a long conflict?), the particular impact of that bomb was horrific.
Continues to be horrific.
And certainly the use of that bomb opened Pandora’s small box of a legion of future potential horrors which we are constantly trying to hold at bay, standing between what was and what we fear might be.
The church, when it eats at the food trough of Nationalism, would do well to hold these two side-by-side and remember that the hunger for war and dominance is abated not by indulgence but by repentance.
The Feast of the Transfiguration revealed the Christ as a saving actor in human history. The remembrance of the bombing of Hiroshima reminds me, and should all of us, that we are terrible at saving ourselves.
-commemoration notes from Claiborne and Wilson-Hartgrove’s Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals
-commentary by me
-icon of Transfiguration by Lewis Bowman