By Barbara Klugh
2 Kings 2:1-12; Psalm 50:1-6; 2 Corinthians 4:3-6; Mark 9:2-9. Go to www.lectionarypage.net to read or print the weekly lectionary text. Sometimes God seems to be working behind the scenes. Not so in this week’s readings. God takes Elijah up to heaven by a chariot of fire, God calls on heaven and earth to witness his judgment upon his people, and God transfigures Jesus into radiant glory on the top of the mountain.
The Last Sunday after the Epiphany is often called Transfiguration Sunday because our Gospel reading always tells the story of the Transfiguration, a further revelation of Jesus as God’s Beloved Son.
2 Kings 2:1-12: Like the books of Samuel and Chronicles, the books of Kings were originally one volume. The books of Kings cover about 400 years and 40 kings, from the death of David and the united kingdom under Solomon’s reign, to the divided kingdom after Solomon’s death— Israel to the north and Judah to the south. The narrative continues through the fall of Israel to the Assyrians in 721 BC and the fall of Judah to the Babylonians in 586 BC. During this troubled time, God raised up prophets, most notably Elijah and Elisha, who called the people repent from unrighteousness and return to faithfulness to God.
This week’s reading, Elijah and Elisha are on the move, and it is near the time for Elijah to be taken up to heaven. Three times Elijah tries to leave Elisha behind, but Elisha says, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” Elijah strikes the water of the Jordan River, and the water divides, and they cross on dry land—an echo of Moses parting the waters of the Red Sea.
Elisha asks to inherit a double share of Elijah’s spirit, which is the share of the eldest son. Elijah knows that this is something only God can give, and tells Elisha that if he sees him being taken up, the request will be granted. And Elisha does see the chariot and horses of fire and Elijah ascending in a whirlwind to heaven. Elisha cries out, “Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” In his distress, he tore his clothes. The lectionary stops here, but then Elisha picked up Elijah’s mantle and struck the water, saying, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” The water parted, showing that Elisha had indeed received his mentor’s spirit, and Elisha “went over” to his vocation as Elijah’s successor.
Thinking of mantles, click here to read “Putting on the Mantle of Christ,” the sermon Daniel preached six years ago on the Last Sunday after the Epiphany. This Sunday will be Daniel’s sixth anniversary as our rector at Grace.
Psalm 50:1-6: Psalm 50 is a prophetic liturgy that was observed at the Israelite New Year festival. God brings his people to judgment for their lack of fidelity to the covenant. The people were making offerings and going through the motions of worship but without grateful hearts or recognition of their total dependence on God. It encouraged the whole congregation to repent of their sins and to renew their covenant with God.
Our selection of the psalm is the introduction. Shining with glory and accompanied by fire and storm, God summons the heavens and the earth to witness the judgment of his people. God commands, “Gather before me my loyal followers, those who have made a covenant with me and sealed it with sacrifice.”
2 Corinthians 4:3-6: Paul wrote his Second Letter to the Corinthians c. 56, one to two years after First Corinthians. Much of this letter deals with the pain of leadership. Paul needed to defend his ministry and his authority as an apostle—from unjust criticism, misrepresentation, and outright rejection. Yet we also see Paul’s unshakable faith in his God-given mission that carries him through hard times. We’ll read again from this letter on Ash Wednesday and half a dozen times in the season after Pentecost.
In this week’s brief reading, Paul responds to the Corinthians who accused him of failing to make the gospel clear and of being less than competent for not winning more converts to Christ. Paul says if his message is veiled, it’s because some people have allowed themselves to be blinded by Satan. They would rather worship the “god of this world” than expose themselves to the light of Christ who is the image of God.
Paul message points to Christ, not to himself. He considers himself a slave for Jesus’ sake. “For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness.” Paul wants the Corinthians, and us, to know that the light of God’s glory still shines in Jesus Christ. This light can shine in us, too, if we open our hearts and let the light of Christ warm us and transform us.
Mark 9:2-9: In the previous chapter, Peter confessed to Jesus, “You are the Messiah, “ and Jesus told of his impending death and resurrection.
Jesus led Peter, James, and John up a high mountain by themselves. “And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.” And then Moses and Elijah, representing the law and the prophets, appeared talking with Jesus. Peter, perhaps wanting to prolong the moment, wanted to make three dwellings, one for each of them. “Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’ Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.” As they came down the mountain, Jesus told his disciples not to tell anyone about what they had seen until after his resurrection.
Some people have had a transformative mountaintop experience, when the veil between heaven and earth was briefly pulled away, giving them a glimpse of the kingdom of God in a mysterious and profound way. That’s a wonderful gift. But all of us are called to listen to God’s Beloved Son as we travel the path of Christian discipleship—sometimes stumbling, sometimes taking a detour, sometimes on the mountain, and sometimes in the valley of the shadow. Confess, repent, return. Day after day after day we begin again. And God always welcomes us with open arms.