August 6 is the Feast of the Transfiguration. It is also the 69th anniversary of the dropping of an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. In fact, the connection between August 6, the Transfiguration, and war goes back to 1456, when Pope Callixtus III established that day for the Feast of the Transfiguration, in celebration of the victory of Hungarian forces led by John Hunyadi over the Turks which temporarily stopped the advance of the Ottoman Empire into Europe.
For those of us who grew up after World War II, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were frightening symbols of the power of atomic weapons and of the horrible destruction they could unleash. The unimaginable suffering of those who died and survived created indelible images that were balanced by the equally unimaginable suffering caused by the war that was ended by Japan’s surrender.
In the decades since August 6 1945, we witnessed continued war and suffering, but thankfully no more use of atomic weapons. This summer we commemorate not just Hiroshima but also the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I. We witness wars and violence in Gaza, Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, as well as in central Africa.
What is the message of the Transfiguration in the midst of all this violence, historical and current? On one level, the Transfiguration is about the mysterious appearance of Jesus Christ to his disciples in the radiance of his divinity, with a voice from heaven telling them, “This is my beloved Son.” Still, Jesus’ suffering and death, the cross, looms on the horizon of the Transfiguration, the Mount of Transfiguration foreshadows the mount of Calvary, as the collect for the day so beautifully expresses:
O God, who before the passion of your onlybegotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.