Michael Middleton offers a reflection for the Feast of the Transfiguration
Scholars have suggested several possibilities for the site of the Transfiguration, but today pilgrims head for Mount Tabor in Galilee, a quiet and rather lovely spot. The cars that ferry people up and down the mount are ancient and far from quiet, but once on the summit there is a mood of calm and peace. Here, indeed, one has left the hectic world behind and can enjoy some moments of reflection.
Originally only celebrated by the Eastern Church, the Feast was adopted in the West in the 15th Century and finally incorporated into the Anglican calendar in 1928. The same date, August 6th, also commemorates a recent and sombre event, for it was on that day in 1945 that the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. The Mushroom Cloud that hung over the city soon became a symbol of the worst that humans can do to each other. The nuclear arms race had begun, and the fateful phrase “mutually assured destruction” became currency in the Cold War.
With the hint that nuclear weapons might be used in Ukraine, the ghosts have walked again: President Kennedy facing down Khrushchev over the Cuban Missile crisis in 1962 and the wind spreading radiation from the meltdown of the Nuclear Power Plant at Chernobyl in 1986. These bring back fearful memories of what can happen in the mysterious world of nuclear power, whether used for war or peace.
So, what irony that the greatest destructive force known by man was exploded as Christians celebrated Christ’s lordship over the world. The mystery of the atom and the mystery of our being were both brilliantly illuminated on that day, causing us to pause and consider their deep significance.
The Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain is a moment of profound insight and revelation. Peter, John and James are dazzled by His shining robes and hear the voice from the cloud declare “This is my Son, my Chosen, listen to Him!” it is soon over and they must descend again into the world with all its problems. The priest and poet R.S. Thomas dryly points to the dilemma:
He is such a fast
God, always before us and
Leaving as we arrive.
Just like the disciples, we cannot escape the realities of life today. The contrasting lights of Hiroshima and Transfiguration illuminate our human condition. The blinding flash of the atomic explosion casts a shadow still, exposing that inner darkness dragging humanity down. In contrast, the glory of Our Lord on the mountain shines as a beacon, illuminating the path of discipleship.
Celebrating the Feast of the Transfiguration points us to the divine mystery, while remembrance of the atomic explosion emphasises our responsibilities as agents of peace and stewards of creation. On our pilgrimage path we are led into unchartered territory, but that is the very place we can find greater understanding and where we too might catch a glimpse of glory.
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.