Bishop's Lectionary Reflection
Last Sunday After the Epiphany, Year B
February 14, 2021
Throughout the Season of Epiphany, we have been focusing on the ever-unfolding revelation of Jesus Christ as Lord, both to the Jews and to the Gentiles. Themes of light and transformation have been prevalent. These lessons for the Last Sunday after the Epiphany (and before the beginning of Lent) cast light once again on the transfigured and transforming power of the Holy – through the prophets and especially through the Savior Jesus.
2 Kings 2:1-12
Elijah, next to Moses, is probably one of the greatest prophets that Israel has seen. In this lesson, his earthly life is coming to an end and it is time for a transfer of power. His apprentice, Elisha, follows Elijah, hoping to receive this transfer faithfully. We also see that Elisha is struggling to let go of his master and mentor. He does not want the parting to happen. Twice, prophets try to prepare Elisha for Elijah’s parting, and he commands them to be silent. When we love and trust something so much, it’s hard to let go. We watch Elisha follow Elijah to Bethel, then Jericho, then the Jordan. At the Jordan, Elijah takes his mantle (a symbol of his leadership), rolls it up and strikes the waters of the Jordan so that they part, enabling him and Elisha to pass through on dry ground. Of course, this reminds us of the parting of the waters for the Israelites at the Red Sea! At the end of the journey, Elijah finally turns to Elisha and asks what he may do for him. Elisha requests to receive a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. This may seem unusual to us, but surely Elisha wants this so that he may lead with the authority that Israel enjoyed under Elijah. Elijah instructs Elisha that this will be granted if he sees Elijah departing. These words may perhaps indicate that the granting of this wish may not be entirely in Elijah’s control but may be dependent on what is revealed to Elisha and what Elisha is able to see and to receive. In triumphant imagery of chariots and horses, Elijah is assumed into Heaven. Notice, that Scripture does not tell us that Elijah dies, but that he is assumed. Nowhere else in Scripture do we read of a human being assumed into Heaven. Some scholars believe that this places Elijah beyond the constraints of time and space, thus enabling his return before the coming of the Messiah (but that’s another subject entirely!). Whatever the extraordinary circumstances of Elijah’s departure, Elisha watches it and in the end tears his clothing in grief. His master and mentor is gone. One era has ended. Another begins.
How does one stay faithful in the face of the unknown? Elisha is certainly challenged to do this. We are as well. Our life’s circumstances, even today, present a trajectory that leads to a place we do not know. Often we can see the end of one set of certainties, but we don’t yet have a glimpse of the next set. St. Augustine, in his Confessions, speaks of the constancy of God even in the passage of time and circumstances. Time, Augustine says, is part of the created order, and God is not bound by time. Neither is Elijah. Our only response is to be persistent (as Elisha was persistent in following Elijah) and to wait in silent watchfulness. In the passage of time today and the unfolding of our circumstances, where is God constant for you? What is He revealing to you?
Psalm 50 highlights the definitive certainty of God. God alone is God. He calls the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting. Time passes, but God is constant. His magnitude cannot keep silent. He rages. He is consuming. All the Heavens will declare the righteousness of His cause. He gathers his followers and seals them with a covenant. Since God alone is God, we must listen to him. If we want a rightly ordered life, we must listen, respond, worship and constantly renew our relationship to God. We must accept once and for all that either God is everything or He is nothing.
Either God is, or He isn’t. That’s the bottom line. If He isn’t, then we are doomed. If He is, we must strive to be in relationship with Him, giving Him ultimate control so that He can rightly order our life. Where are you holding onto something that is better given into God’s control?
2 Corinthians 4:3-6
In this section of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, Paul juxtaposes the darkness and blindness characteristic of unbelievers with the light, the unveiling and the revelation of the Gospel for believers. Believers are given vision, sight, light, glory and images of God while unbelievers are prevented from seeing this glory, which remains veiled and which leaves them in blindness and darkness. Light overpowers darkness and gives knowledge. Darkness blinds, but light shines forth.
Where does darkness cling to you and blind you? What prevents the light from shining forth to give knowledge?
Everything we read in this Gospel should make us think of Moses. Moses went up a mountain to encounter God. Here, the disciples are on a mountain with Jesus experiencing their own divine encounter. Moses’s face was transfigured after his prayers with God and was shining white. Likewise, Jesus is transfigured in His own prayerful encounter with His father. Moses and Elijah are there as well. Both the Law and the Prophets come together to mark this convergence of time and this presence of the Holy. And then there’s that cloud which completely overshadows those on the mountain. We are reminded of these words from Exodus: “By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night.” (Exodus 13:21-22) Just as God directed the Israelites under the leadership of Moses, He directs the disciples here on this mountain. From the cloud that overshadows them, the voice comes that tells them that Jesus is God’s Son and that they should listen to Him. All of Salvation History is heading toward one point – that God is present in the world, transforming and transfiguring all to be His own.
God was present to the Israelites leading them out of bondage. He is present to the disciples, pointing the way to Jesus. He is present to us also. We may not literally see a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. We may not visibly see the transfigured Christ on the mountain. But even today, God is taking the ordinary and transfiguring it so that it points to Him. Can you see it?
O God, who before the passion of your only-begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness form glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.