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August 6, 2009

Transfiguration

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After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John
the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he
was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes
became as white as the light. – Matt. 17:1-2

 

Driving home this evening, the full moon hung low, hiding
behind patchy cloud cover. The moonlight was bright enough to rim the clouds in
silver, but I still strained for a long, unobstructed look at the face.

The moonlight, I know, is a poor reflection of what Peter,
James and John saw on that mountaintop. But the longing I feel, tonight, the
feast night dedicated to the commemoration of the Transfiguration, mirrors my
longing to see what the disciples saw that day.

Sometimes it seems that we live in a world where we only get
the most fleeting glimpses of the power and glory of God, where the truth
appears to be more darkness than light, more valley than mountaintop. We long
to be taken up in a vision much larger than ourselves, almost blinded by the light
that draws us forward.

So was the longing, and the vision, of those scientists
involved in the Manhattan Project. The desire and pursuit of something much
bigger, something much more dazzling and powerful than had ever before been
experienced, drove their scientific exploration and creativity. They wanted
more—not in itself a bad longing. And they wanted to see the world
transfigured—a desire common to us all. They strove to split the atom and
release it’s brilliance. And they succeeded.

In what often seems to me like a cruel conjunction of
commemorations, the Feast of the Transfiguration shares an anniversary with the
day the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan. One event, two thousand
years ago, revealed to humanity the power and splendor of Christ. The other
even, sixty-four years ago, revealed to humanity the power and splendor of
human engineering—as well as its destructive power.

It’s striking that the story of the Transfiguration is a
story of love and glory, but not of destruction. Throughout the Old Testament,
humans who confront the glory and holiness of God are either killed by that
power, or reduced to crying out, as Isaiah did, “Woe is me!” On the Mount of
Transfiguration, Peter, James and John see Jesus’ glory unveiled, and they suggest
building tents. When they are surrounded by the cloud and the audible voice of
God the Father, they collapse in fear. Even in this place, Jesus’ touch is one
of reassurance and grace: “Get up,” he said. “Don't be afraid.

Don’t be afraid. What
a glorious, ridiculous command. Jesus, shining like the sun, possessed then
(and now) more destructive power than the collected nuclear arsenals of every
country on this planet. The disciples had ever reason to be afraid. And yet,
possessing that power, God Incarnate reached out to touch them. Not to destroy,
but to reassure. Not to wound, but to heal.

Whatever the political or historical significance of that
destructive day, sixty-four years ago, we can say that it stands in stark contrast to the love and tenderness
displayed by the God of the universe on that mountaintop with three very
frightened men—and through them, the world. Because of this love, “we, who with
unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory,” can also bring that light into
the world, reflecting His grace, love and mercy to those around us. (2 Cor.
3:18)

May we be instruments of His peace, so transformed by the
Transfigured Christ, that horrors like Hiroshima will never happen again.