Ukraine (2008)
Jeremy Cowart
copyright 2008
permission granted for display in service

Transfiguration of Our Lord, Mark 9:2-9

Historical Description:  

Jeremy Cowart is a designer and professional photographer from Nashville, Tennessee.  Recently relocated to Los Angeles, California Jeremy is a Christian professional who uses his platform as a celebrity photographer to engage in the creation of social art.  He has worked to bring attention to those without a voice throughout Africa as well as in Haiti after the devastating 2010 earthquake there.

In this composition, Jeremy captured two young people from Kiev, Ukraine standing in front of a wall mural at the entrance to St. Michael’s Church and Monastery.  It depicts the glories of the heavenly host as standing in sharp contrast to the two very modern (post-modern?) young Ukrainians who look otherwise occupied and very much less than impressed.  Although the Transfiguration is a text that brings attention to Christ’s heavenly glory, I do not know of a better composition for visually juxtaposing the glories of the heavenly which, though always with us, seems somehow to leave Christians today asking bizarre questions about what is “relevant” in our message and proclamation to a modern world that seems equally otherwise occupied and less than impressed.

Devotional Reflection:

The whole scene in this photograph reminds me of the tension felt in John Updike’s “Seven Stanzas at Easter” where, in reference to Christ’s glorious resurrection, Updike performs the tension between modern skepticism and the faith encouraged by the gospels when he writes of “a sign painted in the faded credulity of earlier ages.”

In this photograph by professional photographer Jeremy Cowart we see an entire wall mural that stands at the entrance of the Church and Monastery of St. Michael’s in Kiev, Ukraine.  And the tension in the photo’s composition is palpable.  There are two young people, a man and a woman, who could serve as Ukraine’s new Adam and Eve emerging out of years of Soviet oppression, but also having to leave the garden of Eastern Orthodox belief (because many leaders in the Orthodox Church colluded with the Soviets) in order to take their place in the modern world.  Behind them stands their history as a Christian nation, perhaps now nothing more than “a sign painted in the faded credulity of earlier ages.”  And at the entrance to a golden-domed church and monastery, the division between Church and World couldn’t be more strongly felt.

In the gospel of Mark, Jesus’ Transfiguration fills Peter, James, and John with awe-filled fear.  Peter, speaking for the group, says: “Rabbi, it is good that we are here.  Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (Mark 9:5)  The desire to remain in the presence of the holy is a desire felt by many modern day disciples of Christ.  There at the entrance to a glorious house (tent) constructed as a monument to the holy, monks and priests in Kiev remain within while the modern Ukraine marches on outside, otherwise occupied and seemingly unimpressed by living in such close proximity to an expression of the holy.

Jesus’ transfiguration, however, blurs the lines between heaven and earth; the holy and the secular.  In his transfiguration Jesus makes manifest his heavenly glory that is always present, yet hidden most of the time.  In this fitting finale to the season of Epiphany Jesus shows forth his glory to three of his disciples.  The only fitting response is attested to by the Father who says “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”  And the temptation to remain on the mountaintop in the presence of this divine glory is exposed for what it is- a temptation.  The only response appropriate for disciples of Jesus is to listen to his word that gives life.  The only action appropriate for disciples of Jesus is to then descend the mountain back into the World with a message of heavenly glory that is not relevant to the World as it is, but is relevant to the resurrection that would follow.  That heavenly glory is also our future.  It is the future of those two Ukrainian young people.  The resurrection of their nation is nothing in comparison to the resurrection of all flesh that is coming.


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