As I write this it August 6, the Feast of the Transfiguration, when the Church commemorates when on Mount Tabor Jesus was transfigured before three of his disciples, “and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.” However, ironically enough it is also the 74th anniversary of the first use of an atomic bomb in warfare. On the morning of the August 6, 1945 at 8:15 an American Air Force plane christened the Enola Gay dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima an atomic bomb, nicknamed Little Boy, the total effects of which we may never know. We do know that up to five miles of Hiroshima were destroyed and that the initial blast killed 80,000 people instantly – most of them ordinary citizens. Within five years there were 120,000 more deaths related to the bombing. Of the city’s 78,000 buildings 70,000 were damaged or destroyed, 48,000 completely. A city changed – transfigured – beyond all recognition. Yes, it seems ironically frightening that on this day we are faced with these two awesome and radically different transfigurations, and that we are forced to confront the glory of God and the savage horror of war. We are forced to own how distant we can be from God’s plan to make all things new, literally to transfigure creation, and take seriously the many forces that seek to destroy creation or transfigure it according to a pattern of ugliness, evil and meanness.
In its resonances August 6th offers us two radically opposite ways of being in the world, one in which the world is transfigured according to our basest fears and desires, and one in which the world is transfigured according the divine vision, according to – what our Presiding Bishop likes to call – God’s dream for creation. In recent days it feels that the forces of evil, ugliness, and chaos are working double time to transfigure our society and nation into a horrific image of reactionary fear and violence, and so it becomes ever more important that we especially hold out to the world signs that tell of God’s transfiguration. It seems crucial that we involve ourselves in actions that foster God’s dream of re-creation, of making all things new. The events of last week in Gilroy and El Paso and Dayton tell a particular story about human beings and the human condition; a narrative of violence fueled by simplistic nationalism, racism, and exclusion. They tell of that seeming human drive in us to transfigure creation according to our limited world-view and our need to control it. As such, it becomes ever more incumbent on all who have faith in God’s dream to tell a different story, construct a different narrative. Our story has to be about the God who transfigures the chaos of our basest motives and intentions into a will for justice and inclusion, who transfigures our drive for control and narrowness into an expansive vision we appropriate for everyone, whether they are part of our immediate circle or not. It must be about the dream of the creator, that transfigures the brokenness in creation into wholeness, and the brokenness within us into salvation. As Christians we are called to be tellers of that story, and tellers who by our lives and actions tell that story loudly, clearly and intentionally. One my favorite collects in the Prayer Book is the last in Easter Vigil in which we pray that God in his transfiguring power “let the world see and know that things which are cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made.” That is the story we need to be telling, the Good News we need to be living.
In the Hebrew Scriptures God speaks to the recently freed Hebrews saying, “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.” (Deuteronomy 30:19) This is the same invitation God makes to us when he invites us into the work and process of transfiguration he envisions for humanity and for all creation. In varied ways – racism, poverty, abuse, sexism – and in so many places – Hiroshima, El Paso, Dayton – we have chosen death, transfiguring God’s dream into a nightmare. Out of fear and narrowness we have told a story of horror. But, we can choose life whenever we draw wide our circle and allow our lives to be transfigured by God’s call and glory. We can choose life by transfiguring lies and deceit into a cohesive narrative of truth. We can choose life by transfiguring a chronicle of hate and exclusion into an expansive vision where all things and people belong. We can choose life by allowing ourselves to be transfigured from our own short-sightedness and delusions into the image of God in which we were created.