The Feast of the Transfiguration, on August 6th, commemorates a miraculous and mysterious event in Jesus life and ministry.
The event was when Jesus was ‘transfigured’ by a brilliant white light at the top of a mountain and proclaimed to be the well-loved Son of God by a heavenly voice. It is observed by Catholics, plus some Anglican and other Protestant Churches, many of whom consider it to be the highest point of Jesus’ earthly life.
Accounts of the original event are found in the New Testament Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Jesus had travelled to the top of a mountain to pray, taking with him 3 of his disciples: Peter, John, and James. Upon reaching the summit, Jesus was ‘transfigured’ – his entire body being filled with a shining white light, as though his person were filled with clear fire. Moments later, the prophets Elijah and Moses appeared to either side of him. Next, a blazing cloud appeared overhead, and God’s voice was heard from heaven, saying that Jesus was his beloved son, in whom he was well pleased. (This was the second of time that he is called a beloved son by a heavenly voice – the first was when he was baptised by John the Baptist.) After the event was over, Jesus asked the 3 disciples not to tell anyone what had happened until after he’d risen from the dead.
Many think of this as a literal occurrence, with Mount Tabor being the presumed site of the event. However, other Christians think of it as an allegory with Moses and Elijah representing the Law and the Prophets, with Jesus as the fulfilment of both. Either way, the Transfiguration is an important festival, and is a chance to reflect on the presence of the divine Christ in a human and material world.
There is, though, a strange convergence of events involving bright light on 6th August each year. It was on this day in 1945 that the USA dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima in Japan. Three days later, another was dropped on Nagasaki. As a result, a number of churches mark the Feast of Transfiguration with remembrance services for the estimated 318,000 Japanese who died, plus the multitudes more who have been affected in other ways over the years.