My Dear Friends--
Seventy-five years ago today, in the course of World War II, the United States dropped the world’s first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, killing 140,000. Days later, the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki would kill 70,000. Fifty-two years later, on a late summer morning much like this one, I reported to my first assignment as a young sailor, the USS John S. McCain, a Navy destroyer homeported in Yokosuka, Japan. One of the places I would visit early in the course of that first tour was Nagasaki. I remember walking the grounds of the Peace Park there, struggling to reconcile the beauty of the place with the horror of what had taken place there on August 6, 1945.
In nearby Peace Memorial Hall, I veered from sorrow to anger to hope and back again as I took in the exhibits that testified to humanity’s capacity for creativity and destruction, cruelty and devotion--the depravity of war and the slow work of peace. As I gazed upward, I saw that the walls were lined with the letters of successive mayors of Nagasaki, each writing in their turn, year after year, to heads of state all over the world with one message: peace.
This week our lection from the Hebrew Bible gives us Elijah listening for the voice of the Lord at the entrance to the cave at Mount Horeb. We often linger on this listening, waiting expectantly for the soft murmuring, the minute stillness, the small, still voice that we know will arrive after the wind and the earthquake and the fire. This is the benefit of knowing how the story will end. But 75 years after the atomic wind and fire that engulfed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we are less certain of how our story will end. Today pandemic and injustice shake our foundations and we might well wonder, “Will the voice of the Lord speak to us? Whence our deliverance?”
God’s words to Elijah from the stillness are a commission: Elijah is to anoint kings and another prophet in his stead. Elijah, the prophet who speaks truth to power, will now call others to that sacred duty. Here we might remember the words of our Communion Prayer:
“All praise and thanks be unto thee, almighty God… who did not forsake us when we forsook thee, but sent us judges, kings, and prophets to call us back to righteousness….”
As I stood in that room of the Peace Memorial Hall 23 years ago, as I looked up at the rows upon rows of letters written by the mayors of Nagasaki over the years, the sorrow and the anger and the hope began to coalesce into resolve. The resolve to remember this moment and these people, and to do the work of peace in the world.
In faith and love,
Watch David's ringing of the Revere and Son Bell in commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing: