Hiroshima Day Sermon for the Feast of the Transfiguration

A few weeks ago, a Jesuit friend from Ireland came to visit and we spent a few days sightseeing. At the end of his stay we went to Bandelier National Park. It was my first time there, and I was utterly overwhelmed–the beautiful valley, the green trees, the striking cliffs, the niches where the Anazthazi lived from the 1100s until the 1500s. By chance, the following week at Ghost Ranch, I had lunch with the guy who ran the information desk at Bandelier for 27 years, so I asked him about the people who lived there long ago. He confirmed my impressions that those good people shared everything in common, cared for their children, lived together in peace, and every day climbed up the cliff to that big opening in the cliff to worship the Creator, the Great Spirit of peace. While St. Francis was trying to teach nonviolence in Europe, these holy people had already created a community of nonviolence. For me, it is one of the most beautiful places of peace in the world.
But as you know, on the top of that mountain, on the other side of those beautiful cliffs, stands Los Alamos, the most destructive place in the world, in all of history, the birthplace of the bomb, where business is booming, where they will start Pit production next year to make a whole generation of nuclear weapons that can incinerate millions and destroy the earth. There are so many places on the planet where we could work for peace, from Iraq to Afghanistan to Palestine to Lebanon to Darfur to Haiti and Colombia. But Los Alamos is the mother of all weapons of mass destruction, as Phil Berrigan called it, “the ultimate hell hole.” The people are good, but the work is evil. And we live here; so this is our responsibility. As the bumper sticker says, “It started here, it has to end here.”
So tomorrow, we commemorate two events, the feast of the Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus, when he was revealed as the God of peace, when he exploded with the spiritual power of nonviolence and unconditional love into the light of the world, the fullness of love and peace for the whole human race. And another event, the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, when we vaporized 140,000 people in a flash and did it again three days later in Nagasaki, events which Dorothy Day called “the anti-transfiguration,” when we rejected Jesus’ nonviolence and created our own demonic light, the blast of the bomb, the dark cloud. Instead of bringing light and peace to the human race, we bring death and destruction.
So I’d like to offer three little reflections–about the Transfiguration, about our sackcloth and ashes action, and about professing a vow of nonviolence after communion, so that we become a community of peace and nonviolence like the Anathazi people of Bandelier.
Seven years ago, Doubleday asked me to write a whole book about the Transfiguration, and its finally coming out this Christmas with a beautiful foreword by Archbishop Tutu. They asked me to write about our own personal transfigurations, how once in a while we feel good and happy and transfigured. That happens for me every morning when I have a cup of coffee, I said, but I don’t think that’s the transfiguration. As I studied the story, I decided the Transfiguration wasn’t a feel good event. It’s about the paschal mystery, about the cross as the way toward global disarmament and the new life of resurrection. It’s about Jesus going to Jerusalem, where he will turn over the tables in the Temple in an act of peaceful, nonviolent civil disobedience against the systemic injustice of the religious authorities working with the empire to oppress the poor, and for that act, he’s arrested, abandoned, tortured and executed, and go through horrific suffering in perfect nonviolence, in perfect love, forgiveness, and compassion. Moses and Elijah appear to Jesus to encourage him to fulfill this mission of nonviolence, and he turns into bright white light, the biblical sign of martyrdom, and becomes the risen Christ.
And according to the story, a voice speaks from the cloud to the scared disciples and says, “This is my beloved son, listen to him.” Our job I think is to listen to the transfigured Jesus and follow him on the way of the cross, to help him carry on his mission of transfiguration nonviolence.
And when we listen to Jesus, we hear a few simple commandments: Love one another; love your neighbor; forgive one another; be as compassionate as God; seek first God’s reign and God’s justice; do unto others as you would have them do unto you; put down the sword. Love your enemies.” I think this is the mission for the rest of our lives. And despite the horrors of the world–the US war and occupation on Iraq, Israel’s bombing of Lebanon, nuclear weapons at Los Alamos, a world on the brink of violent destruction–our job is to walk in the light of the transfigured Christ as never before, to trust that Christ’s light of nonviolence will heal us personally and disarm the world.
This is what we are going to do tomorrow, when we go to Los Alamos and take up the story from the book of Jonah, the only place in the Bible where an entire town converted, and do what they did. We’re going to the place where they built the bomb, and like the people of Nineveh, put on sackcloth and ashes, and repent of the sin of war and nuclear weapons, renounce our violence and our complicity with these horrific weapons, and beg God for the gift of peace.
And through our witness, we will name these weapons are immoral, unnecessary, unjust, impractical, illegal, criminal, idolatrous, sinful, and demonic; and say they don’t protect us; they don’t make us safer; that the billions spent on them rob the world’s poor of food, water, medicine, homes and education; that these weapons put us all in danger, that they are the ultimate form of terrorism, and that they are blasphemous before God, an affront to the Creator. The ashes we will sit in will remind us of the ashes of Hiroshima. And the story of Nineveh will remind us of Iraq, because as you know the ancient city of Nineveh is today known as Mosul, in Iraq, a place which we have leveled with depleted uranium. We will call everyone to quit their jobs and be converted to the transfigured Christ and his way of nonviolence.
So from now on, we’re going to be people of the transfiguration, people of repentance like the people of Ninevah, people of Gospel nonviolence. That’s why we decided to invite one another after communion to profess the Pax Christi Vow of Nonviolence, to do what Gandhi did a hundred years ago, to commit our lives to the narrow path of nonviolence in the footsteps of the transfigured Jesus. No matter what anyone else says, no matter what horrors our government commits, no matter how many people support war and killing, we will be people of Gospel nonviolence, people of universal love and truth, people of compassion and forgiveness, people who make peace with ourselves and God, with our families and friends and the whole world, people who have witnessed the transfiguration of Jesus here at this altar, who listen to him and obey his commandments of nonviolence, and who go forth like him announcing the coming of God’s reign of peace and nonviolence, a new world without war, poverty or nuclear weapons.