“And Jesus was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became whiter than light.” –Matthew 17:2
‘As I peered up, I saw something long and thin fall from the sky. At that moment, the sky turned bright and my friends and I ducked into a nearby stairwell.’ (Kumiko Arakawa, Nagasaki survivor)
Two lights – 2,000 years apart. Everything changed in both times.
On August 6, we remember the Biblical event, the transfiguration traditionally celebrated on this day. In Matthew 17:2, Jesus is transfigured before his disciples. The word “transfiguration” means a change in form or appearance. From Luke – “And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. ”
The Transfiguration was a turning point in Jesus’ ministry, leading to the resurrection. Jesus was speaking in Luke of his departure which would happen in Jerusalem while the disciples wanted to make monuments to the event on the mountain. There was a disconnect. The disciples believed Jesus was the Messiah but had difficulty acting on it.
Although Peter, James, and John had the transfiguration experience on the mountain, they still held onto the first-century idea that Israel’s Messiah was coming to deliver Israel from Rome and future oppressive cultures. They weren’t ready for the idea that Jesus was coming to deliver humanity from its sin, which would require dying. Faith often comes in stages.
August 6 is also the day in 1945 that the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima at the end of World War II.
There are parallels between both events. When Jesus came down the mountain a little boy was healed — a boy who had been thrown into fire and water by a demon When “Little Boy” (the name given to the bomb at Hiroshima) shone like the sun over Hiroshima, a demon was let loose and thousands of little boys and girls were burned in atomic fire and poisoned by radioactive rain.
There is light connected with both events but the two displays were diametrically opposite. In the scriptures, light is almost always seen as good, in contrast to darkness. The light helps to clear up uncertainties bringing clarity to the situation. Jesus’ transfiguration revealed God’s love and reconciliation. Its light promised life.
At Hiroshima, the flash of the atomic bomb was described as brighter than a thousand suns. It bought death to about 140,000 people, and in subsequent years many thousands more suffered from its effects. The atomic bomb revealed man’s inability to reconcile differences and willingness to go to the extreme against each other. It saw the possibility of the end of human life on earth and peace based only on mutual mistrust.
Both events were turning points. Why do we hear the transfiguration story at least once every year? It is a spark of divine revelation and invigorates our faith. We are called every day to transfigure this world, in whatever small and shining way we can, into the kingdom of God on our earth.
And we are called each day to prevent another Hiroshima and Nagasaki as well in our time.
Ironically the film “Oppenheimer” is out about J. Robert Oppenheimer, the leader of the wartime Manhattan Project and acknowledged father of the atomic bomb. Witnessing the first test of the bomb, he remembered a Hindu scripture, “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” He saw where it could lead and he led the way after World War II opposing an even more powerful bomb, Hydrogen Bomb.
On one level the Transfiguration of Christ before his execution and the nuclear blast could not be more opposite in meaning, sharing only the date and the brilliance of the described light. Yet the story of Christ preparing for his death and the war victims both serve as witnesses to the terrible fragility of human life. With them both in mind, we must go forward.