To Be Transformed And Transfigured
2 Kings 2:1-12 2:1 Now when the LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. 2:2 Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; for the LORD has sent me as far as Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel. 2:3 The company of prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the LORD will take your master away from you?” And he said, “Yes, I know; keep silent.” 2:4 Elijah said to him, “Elisha, stay here; for the LORD has sent me to Jericho.” But he said, “As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they came to Jericho. 2:5 The company of prophets who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the LORD will take your master away from you?” And he answered, “Yes, I know; be silent.” 2:6 Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; for the LORD has sent me to the Jordan.” But he said, “As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them went on. 2:7 Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. 2:8 Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground. 2:9 When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.” Elisha said, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.” 2:10 He responded, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.” 2:11 As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. 2:12 Elisha kept watching and crying out, “Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces. 2
Oxford Languages defines transformation as a thorough or dramatic change in form or appearance, and transfiguration as a complete change of form or appearance into a more beautiful or spiritual state.
- In today’s passage on the last Sunday after the Epiphany—also known as Transfiguration Sunday, we get to see a transfiguration as we witness a transition taking place. God is transferring spiritual leadership from one esteemed prophet to another. One season of ministry is ending and the next has not yet begun. In the “in-between” time, we are challenged to consider several theological themes: what is time to God and how do we faithfully respond to the unknown?
- Elijah, God’s instrument for a time is going away. Everyone knows that change is coming; it is stated clearly three times between vs. 1 and 6. The question is will God’s Spirit remain with God’s people, in this case Elisha, when the one who had been the messenger of the Spirit is gone.
- Early Christian theologian and philosopher Augustine addressed this in his writings when he suggests that time is part of created order and therefore, God’s activity and presence is not subject to time and space.1 In fact, God operates outside of ordered time as we know it. God may be right on time, but God is not bound to it. On the other hand, we operate squarely in the present. Neither the past or the future are options for us. We necessarily live between what has been and what will be.
- How do we remain faithful when like the characters in this story, we can see the end of one path but not so clearly the beginning of the next? How do we become transformed and transfigured?
- In our reading, we find at least two possible ways: persistently and silent attentively. 1. We see Elisha persisting in accompanying Elijah regardless of the times he is told to stop. Finally, Elijah says well if you stay to the end, then maybe you’ll get what you are asking for.
- We also hear Elisha calling for silence in response to the questions from the company of prophets. In the transfiguration text typically read on today, where Jesus in flanked by Moses and Elijah and his clothes become dazzling white and there’s a voice from heaven (Mark 9: 5-6), Peter is confronted by the unknown and things that he had a hard time wrapping his brain around. Perhaps like Elisha being told that his beloved mentor and teacher was being taken away that day. In the midst of his uncertainty about what he was witnessing, he starts to say things that just aren’t helpful. Elisha, on the other hand, calls for silence.
- Elisha is gifted for his faithfulness and allowed to experience God traversing the boundaries of endings and beginnings. He discovers that God’s Spirit remains and rests on him (v. 14).
- Sometimes we worry that The Spirit will leave us. The reality is the Spirit stays with us whether we are coming or going.
1 Allen, W.M. Loyd, “2 Kings 2: 1-12/ Theological Perspective” in Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vl. 1, p. 436. 3
- This story, along with the other passage in the lectionary calendar for today from the gospel according to Mark, highlight the timeless presence of the Spirit throughout history—from Moses to Jesus, to us as Jesus told his disciples that if they would simply wait for it, they’d be clothed with power from on high at Pentecost. (Luke 24: 48-51). Christians have laid claim to that promise ever since.
- It also highlights the transformation and transfiguration that happens in community. Prophets speak twice but what if Elisha heard it differently the second time, in a new place down the road? More time had elapsed and with it perhaps came a new perspective. We gather Sunday after Sunday, though with the passing of time, we are different from week to week. We pray and open our ears to God’s voice. We tell and retell the stories of the Bible’s heroes and heroines. We proclaim the promises of God and we let the Word mold and shape us in these cycles of prayer and silence. In these ways, our worship has the power to transfigure us, preparing us for times of challenge and disruption. In those times we draw upon the reservoir of faith built up over time.
- In the end, Elisha is transformed—transfigured by the journey that has ended with Elijah being whisked away as he stands watching with the company of prophet. We are being told something special is about to happen, not only for Elijah but also Elisha.
- Through all the seasons of life, God is with us on the journey through the significant and the seemingly insignificant moments of our lives. God is with us in community. We need only be persistent in following where God leads, silencing the voices that challenge our peace in following.
- Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, Comin for to carry all of us home. Amen