Let us pray (in silence) [that we may grow into the likeness of Christ]
God of life and glory,
your Son was revealed in splendour
before he suffered death upon the cross;
grant that we, beholding his majesty,
may be strengthened to follow him
and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory;
for he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God now and for ever.
NZPB The Transfiguration of the Beloved Son p.659/565b
The story of the Transfiguration is the story of Jesus climbing a mountain with his closest friends. There Jesus has a profound experience. There is a dazzling light, a cloud that overshadowed them, and they were terrified by the cloud, and a voice.
We read the story of the Transfiguration on this day with some ambivalence. Before the fifteenth century, a few Christian communities had been keeping the feast of the Transfiguration on August 6. But we would probably not be celebrating that date if it wasn't for a terrible battle. On the sixth of August 1456 news was announced in Rome that John Hunyady had overcome the Turks near Belgrade and the bells of many countries still ring at midday to commemorate the slaughter. Pope Callistus ordered the whole church to commemorate the victory by celebrating the feast of the Transfiguration.
But the ambivalence of August 6 is highlighted, because on this day in 1945, someone climbed not a holy mountain, but into the cockpit of a plane - a machine of war. There had been a lull of a week in the fighting between America and Japan. The Americans had a new secret weapon and they wanted to use it with the maximum psychological effect. They had prepared three atomic bombs. On the 16th of July, one had been tested in New Mexico. Now on August 6 one was dropped on Hiroshima, and three days later the last one wad dropped on Nagasaki. The bomb had more than 2,000 times the blast power of the British "Grand Slam" till then the largest bomb ever used in the history of warfare. 150,000 people lay dead. Other people later died from the effects of atomic radiation. 75,000 buildings were destroyed. Two cities were devastated. The world will never be the same.
Here we have a new voice booming from heaven. Here too was brightness, brilliant as burning magnesium. Here too is a cloud that has come and has covered us all with shadow. Truly, under the shadow of this new cloud, we are right to feel afraid.
The shape of that cloud hangs now forever in our sky. Look at the shape of that cloud. It is the new tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We have eaten of its fruit and we shall never be the same again.
We in Aotearoa-New Zealand, who pray and work for a Nuclear free world, remember that the seed of that tree was planted in this land. Rutherford's good knowledge of the workings of God's beautiful creation has been turned to evil and annihilation.
We today commemorate Hiroshima day, world peace day, by telling again the story of another climb, another light, another voice, another cloud. Jesus there was speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Jesus was speaking of his death, his destruction by another tree, the cross. And we meet today below that cross, to break bread and proclaim the victory of Christ's death over every evil, even the total annihilation by human evil.
We began this service by confessing our sins, conscious that Jesus would say today: "you have learnt that nuclear war is evil, but I say this to you, do not war at all, do not hate, do not harbour a grudge, do not envy, do not bully, do not gossip for all these are the seeds of which the bomb is but the fruit".
When Jesus was baptised a voice was heard from heaven: "You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased." Here today, as Jesus is at prayer, God's voice is heard again "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!" At the crucifixion, the climax of Jesus' story, we wait in expectation for the voice to ring out again.
But we wait in vain. God's voice does not sound again. Nor does it sound today as we gather around this cross, this table. For now it is we who must proclaim who Jesus is. By our lives, by our actions, and by our words.
We who gather here are challenged with a choice. Do we declare to the world that Jesus is God's beloved Son, that we follow him, we listen to him. We have with open eyes seen the symbols of the human heart: the mushroom cloud of power, control and hate, and the rough wooden cross of service, love and sacrifice.
Which one do you choose?
There are a number of days on which the Transfiguration may be celebrated. NZ, surely must win the "flexibility" prize in providing three options in its Temporale (liturgical year) and if these don't suit you, I'm sure nothing will happen should you choose to celebrate it another time: the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, the last Sunday before Lent, the Second Sunday of Lent. Not forgetting 6 August in the Sanctorale which is what the above reflection is written for.
1928 was the first Anglican Prayer Book to celebrate the Transfiguration. It included the collect which appears to be the origin of the NZ collect above:
GOD, who before the Passion. of thine only-begotten Son didst reveal his glory upon the holy mount: Grant unto us thy servants, that in faith beholding the light of his countenance, we may be strengthened to bear the cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.