Canon Michael Middleton, Emeritus Canon of Westminster has produced this Reflection for the Feast of the Transfiguration on 6th August.
Explosive Radiance: reflections on the Feast of the Transfiguration
Of all the iconic images of the 20th Century, the “mushroom cloud” following the dropping of the atomic bomb must rate as one of the most memorable and also the most terrifying. Even though we can split the atom, “of course we can’t draw a picture of it” declared a TV scientist, going on to explain why. A rare acknowledgement that we can’t have a complete and visual explanation of how things are: in other words, the scientific community were confronted with what the rest of us call a mystery.
So why do I begin with the atom? On 6 August 1945, the greatest destructive force known to humankind was unleashed on Hiroshima, the very day we celebrate the divine love at the heart of Creation– what irony. The mystery of the atom and the mystery of our being are both brilliantly illuminated on that day, giving another dimension to this Holy Feast.
On the Mount of Transfiguration Peter, James and John, dazzled by the radiant white robes of Jesus, hear the voice from the cloud “This is my beloved Son, listen to Him”. At this moment of profound insight and revelation we can stand with the three disciples in awe and wonder.For a while they are moved by the divine revelation, and then “suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one anymore but only Jesus”. They descend to the world again with all its problems. The poet and priest, RS Thomas, dryly points to the dilemma:
“He is such a fast
God, always before us and
Leaving before we arrive”.
Just as the disciples knew they had to face the world again after their experience on the mountain, so we cannot escape the realities of life today. Both the contrasting radiance of The Transfiguration and the deadly radiation that destroyed Hiroshima emphasize our human condition. The blinding flash of the atomic explosion casts a shadow still, reflecting the inner darkness that can drag humanity down: the dazzling robes of Our Lord shine as a beacon, guiding our way on the path of discipleship.
Celebrating the Feast of the Transfiguration points us to the divine mystery, while remembering the tragedy of the atomic bomb emphasises our responsibility as agents of peace and stewards of creation. As pilgrims we are led into uncharted territory, but that is the very place we find greater understanding and where, we too, can catch of glimpse of radiant glory.
“O 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.”
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