Sermon Archives

Sunday, August 9, 2020
The Transfiguration
The Reverend Walter Brownridge, Associate
For the glory of God is the living human being

May I speak in the name of our ever living, ever loving and ever leading God. Amen.

Thursday was August 6th. It is officially the feast day of the Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ, where the church commemorates the transfiguration of Jesus on the Mount with his three disciples, Peter, James and John. Here at Christ Church, we properly transfer this feast day, to give proper deference and recognition to an important feast day that could be overlooked, particularly for what this feast day represents.

It stands for, it represents and symbolizes the true glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ, who is also the Jesus of Nazareth and as witnessed by the fortunate three, Peter James and John, they get to see the true and complete and full glory of God. Yes, this rabbi, this Jesus of Nazareth was more than just a rabbi. From that point on, they knew at least the fullness of God’s glory. It’s significant for us, because it also symbolizes the human opportunity to witness and participate in this glory of God. In fact, we are because of this feast, because of this occurrence, we are transfigured, transformed with Christ. We share in God’s glory.

Also, on this past Thursday, August 6th, 75 years ago on yes, the feast of the Transfiguration, the B-29 bomber, Enola Gay, dropped an atomic bomb over the city of Hiroshima. The bomb was nicknamed Little Boy. 44 seconds after the bomb was released, it detonated with the power of 16,000 tons of TNT. The first effect of the detonation was a blinding light, followed by blast and fire. All those near the epicenter evaporated, the suffering of the survivors was just beginning and it was compounded by the effects of radiation that would claim casualties for years to come.

Three days later, August 9th, 75 years today, in fact, August 9th, this Sunday, a second atomic bomb nicknamed Fat Man was dropped on the city of Nagasaki, which happened to be the center of Japanese Catholicism, the most Christians located in the entire country. Those killed in the two cities numbered as many as a quarter of a million. The war in the Pacific ended a few days later and historians and theologians and philosophers would debate the decision to drop the bombs for the next 75 years.

Did the bombing accelerate the end of the war and thus maybe prevent more lives and hand-to-hand ground combat, aerial assaults? And on the other hand, versus this idea that something, an action that only a few years ago would have been merited universal condemnation, the deliberate obliteration of two cities, the deaths of over a quarter of a million civilians, can now be taken as an acceptable feature of warfare. Whatever position one took, it is clear that the bombings opened the way for the production of even vastly more powerful weapons. And it pointed to the possibility of human self-destruction.

Fortunately, many people immediately mobilized to prevent the future use of nuclear weapons. From Japan, themselves, a people called the Hibakusha, they were the remaining survivors of the blast, and they traveled around the world offering witness and their prayers that they would be the last victims of atomic warfare. The symbol of the paper cranes in fact, was meant to symbolize this desire for peace. Today, their numbers have of course diminished. A few still remain, but the urgency of their plea is the same. No more Hiroshima’s, no more Nagasaki’s.

The end of the Cold War ended one type of nuclear threat with the Soviet Union, yet the threat from rogue, non-state actors still exists. And thus we would do well to take head of Pope Francis’s words, when he visited Hiroshima last year. He honored the dead and he stood firm against any other future horrors. Pope Francis said, “Here, in an incandescent burst of lightning and fire, so many people, so many dreams and hopes disappeared, leaving behind only shadows and silence. From that abyss of silence, we continue even today to hear the cries of those who are no longer.”

Now, the point I made earlier is that we celebrate the feast of the Transfiguration because it is significant in the life of the church, for what it shows about Jesus and what it symbolizes for human opportunity. And many theologians have made this connection that this feast that deals with dazzling and bright light is Jesus so arraignment, so amazing, so blinding, that there’s this somehow a connection to the dropping of these two atomic bombs with its incandescent and dazzling light.

For me, I think it’s about, in fact, this idea of transformation, of pivot points, of the world being totally different after the dropping of the bombs, just as the world was different when Jesus was shown to be in his full glory. And those who witnessed it were definitely changed. But what does this transfiguration mean for us? And what does this transfiguration look like? And how do we get there in light of our challenges, not only of nuclear war, but pandemic, racial reckoning, economic chaos?

First, what does it mean? Despite whatever we’re dealing with, our willingness to participate in a ministry with Jesus Christ is a great opportunity. And it means that we have a way of revealing as Christ was revealed, the truth of God, the goodness of God and the fair beauty of God. What would that look like?

Early church, bishop, saint, scholar, Irenaeus said, and I translate from the Latin, “For the glory of God is the living human being. And the life of humanity is the vision of God.” That we need to be about living and allowing others to live. And when we do so, the vision of God and the Glory of God is revealed. To respect the dignity of every human being and to support they’re full and abundant life. But how do we get there?

Well, we need to confront the truth about ourselves and to examine that without shame or fear, guilt or blame. But to examine the fullness of our own humanity, the good, the bad and the ugly, and then to come out on the other side, committed to reflecting Jesus’s glory, proclaiming God’s truth, goodness and beauty. Let me end with a very personal story about how this feast day and the stories that happened 75 years ago, coincide for me.

It was August 1981. Now friends, I want to just say that when I tell you this story, remember that I have not gotten there to the other side of any kind of Christian perfection. But this time in August 1981 was a critical sign post for me on my journey to try to follow Jesus. As a young Marine Corps Lieutenant, I was stationed then on what’s called a West Pacific float and our ship had landed at a Naval base in Sasebo. We got a day of leave and I visited Nagasaki in August 1981, which was about 90 minutes away from our ship.

In Nagasaki, there is an amazing Peace Museum. In fact, it is so important that school children around Japan go there and pilgrimage like school children used to go to Washington DC to see monuments and to learn their history. But in this museum where you witnessed tragedy, there were only three places, or three circumstances that I could reflect the same kind of struggle. One was Holocaust museums, whether in DC, or Cleveland, or Los Angeles. Another were in South Africa at the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, or in Cape Town at Robben Island.

My fourth experience, which was really in fact, my first, was at Nagasaki. The tragedy of what human beings could do to one another raised for me, questions. The questions of why did this happen? How could this happen, and how can we overcome and triumph, or at least transformation? In South Africa that is easy. When you look at the history of South Africa and the pain that it endured, we do come out on the other side of the end of apartheid and justice for those who lived under it. But with the Holocaust and Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it’s a bit more complex.

My experience on that day in Nagasaki, particularly with the kindness and affection that Japanese school girls showed me, did render me thinking about, was I somehow guilty, or responsible for this? And I wasn’t even born. I was made uneased by the school children’s affection, didn’t they know that it was my country that did this to them? And despite some of my colleagues on the tour who talked about, “Well, what about Pearl Harbor?” For me, the only way that I could process this was through Jesus. The Jesus who was, and is, the Prince of Peace.

And in this moment of seeing what had happened there at Nagasaki, I had a conversion experience. I had been brought up and raised in the church in so many different contexts, but this was something different. The awful, frightening truth of God, convinced me that I needed to try to follow his example and to share in his mission. It was the only path I could take to true peace and a true vision of glory. That meant for me, a Marine Lieutenant, to even reevaluate what I thought about war. Even though I had no power to change anything going on in the world in 1981, I had to at least recognize that while I may not be a passivist in the literal sense, I now was someone who had truly seen the horrors of war. And began my ongoing and unfinished journey towards following Jesus, the Prince of Peace, in the way of peace and non-violence.

Dear friends, you don’t have to witness the horrors of Nagasaki, or Hiroshima to make that kind of transformation. But Jesus invites you also to participate in his glory. And it may in fact, with that invitation cause you to question and turn away from long held beliefs. It’s not easy, but I can attest it is so well worth it. May God bless you on your journey. Amen.