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Tuesday 6 August 2024 The Transfiguration of the Lord

Heaven on Earth or Armageddon?

Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14; 2 Peter 1:16-19; Luke 9:28-36

By Pat Gaffney

Vice-President of Pax Christi England and Wales, Executive Member of the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative, Member of ‘Women in Black’ London peace vigil group, Volunteer with the Irish Chaplaincy, London

Context: an inner-city Catholic parish with people of many different nationalities and a strong Irish presence among the older generation

Aim: to get people to reflect on the transformative hope of the Gospel and the diabolical threat of nuclear warfare

Have you had many lightbulb or eureka moments in your life, when you have suddenly come to realise or see something that you had not realised or seen before? That ‘Aha’ moment of clarity. Or perhaps such clarity has come in a slow-burning way, gentle nudges, out of silence and solitude? I wonder if they offer insight into readings of today’s feast and the account of what happened with the disciples on the mountain with Jesus.
The chapters in Marks Gospel, leading up to the Transfiguration, are full of the busyness of Jesus’s ministry. The calling of the disciples, calming storms, healing the possessed, the deaf, the leper, feeding the crowds and the ever-patient storytelling, trying to convey in parables, what this promised kingdom was all about. Biblical scholar Ched Myers speaks of Mark’s Gospel as a place that tells of God’s earthly presence, a manifesto for radical Christian discipleship. With hindsight, we can see and understand this. The disciples, however, may have been too close, too wrapped up making sense of the past months and all they had seen and heard. The full implication of who Jesus was and the sacrifice he was soon to make was lost to them. Until this revelation that would trigger a memory through story and experience. First, from the faithful trusted Daniel, they may remember a throne, light and fire. The presence of one of great age and wisdom who welcomed another as king, eternally sovereign. A lightbulb moment perhaps?
Then, the personal experience. Those who went up the mountain with Jesus were among his first followers, intimately close to him. Peter, who loved Jesus. John, whom Jesus loved and James the brother. Jesus would surely want his closest friends to wake up to who he really is, to know and accompany him in a new way, so that they will be with him as he faces Jerusalem and prepares for death. He wants to prepare them for his rising from the dead. Yet, he does not want them to be completely terrified. The scene resonates with the three. They are embraced and feel the wonder and revelation of the moment. Peter, having seen the changed, the transfigured Jesus, offers to make three tents – a place for Moses, Elijah and Jesus to stay. Is he honouring them? Is he trying to keep them close?
Through the cloud and the shadow it casts, they are suddenly in two places at once. Heaven and earth. This makes me think of the term a ‘thin place’, a veil between this world and another. The poet Padraig Ó Tuama calls it a narrow place, where the living and the dead commune, where heaven draws close to earth. This is a gentler place for Peter and James and John, a still, slow burning moment of dawning.
The voice through the clouds says: ‘This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him!’ They are with the Son of Man and the Son of God. Jesus who has spoken and acted for the lost, the vulnerable. Jesus who has taught them about God’s kingdom of peace and justice in the present. His glory and status are even greater than that of Moses and Elijah. And they must listen to him, remain quiet and follow him in the days ahead.
This feast coincides with another momentous act whose impact still resonates today. On 6 August 1945 the world was introduced to the fear and desolation of nuclear weapons when the bomb, named Little Boy, was dropped at 8.15 on a bright sunny morning, on Hiroshima. The light prevented the pilots seeing the ground below them. The death toll, four months after the bombing, was between 90,000 and 150,000. People became nothing, transfigured to simple outlines of bodies. The flash, the fire, the cloud that has become an icon of nuclear annihilation, announced a new era. 79 years on we are the closest we have ever been to nuclear catastrophe. We are now just 90 seconds to midnight. This is a warning of how unstable the world has become and how close we are to nuclear catastrophe.
Two acts of revelation. One attesting to human ingenuity gone wrong, bringing fear, death and suffering. The other attesting to the life-giving, life affirming way of Jesus, the Son of God. The path we are invited to follow.


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