2 Kings 2:1-12, 2 Corinthians 4:3-6, Mark 9:2-9
It seems strange to realize that, for those of us in the U.S., we are rapidly approaching one year since the world was normal. I still remember my “last” Sunday, though of course I didn’t know it at the time. That is where we meet our people: with one foot in the “last” and one foot in the now, and all of the intervening months in the middle, a gap to be minded.
Transfiguration Sunday features verses that can be preached all as a one, or as separate pericopes.
In 2 Kings Elisha is living an in between time too. He is living the life of a not yet as he steadfastly follows Elijah to Bethel, Jericho, and the Jordan river. You could focus on Elisha’s loyalty and steadfast resolve, on the meaning of Bethel, Jericho and the Jordan (where finally the dust and frustration and heartbreak of the this world can be washed clean?), or on the loss of Elijah as he is whisked heavenward in a chariot of flames.
“You know that the Lord will take your master away from you,” say the company of prophets in Elisha’s ear. Around this time last year we began to know that our communities would change, we just didn’t know in what ways, or how devastating it would be, or how long it would all last. Have we remained steadfast? Have we continued to follow Jesus knowing that we would lose even him? How have your people been faithful? Tell them about it. How have your people torn their garments? It is ok, and fitting, I believe, to talk about that too, to be honest about our grief as we teach about Elisha’s. Suddenly the double measure and the mantle are upon him, suddenly his great teacher is gone. Suddenly he is the adult in the room. Many of us have felt this jarring and shocking, though expected, loss. How did we choose to go on?
Paul is writing to the church in Corinth again, in what is believed to be his fourth letter (rather than his second) and with a third letter somehow lost to the winds of time. Paul writes of a veiled gospel and of those who are perishing. When we pick our way, word by word, many things bubble up. When we take the lection as a whole section we realize that Paul is writing to a church that is being tempted by supposed super apostles, tempted by a different way of following Jesus and doing church. (You’ll have to skip backward a bit).
Super apostles sound alarmingly familiar: comfortably ensconced in their churches and their homes, ignoring a world that is perishing, concerned only for the feel good and polished side of following Jesus. Paul preaches of the same upended world order that Mary proclaimed and that Jesus delivered in the Beatitudes. THIS is the gospel message: following Jesus isn’t comfortable or easy. While the super apostles would open their church door and bring you in, telling you that you don’t have to worry about out there anymore because it is warm and safe INSIDE Paul speaks defiantly of service to the church, servanthood to the perishing world, service to the message of the gospel, and servanthood to a crucified and risen Christ.
All of that is so much work. Have we become super apostles? It is certainly easier to close our eyes and put our hands over our ears as the world roars and bleeds for justice and mercy and good news.
Finally, poor Peter, tossed under the bus every year with his inane comment about building houses for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. I too say strange things in my very human attempts to be helpful, or when I am overwhelmed or surprised.
The veil continues into Mark’s gospel from Paul’s letter, and from Elisha’s torn clothing – for me it is all the same fabric, the same garment. Bear with me.
Elisha tears open his robes when his beloved master is carried off to heaven, he then very sensibly picks up the mantle that Elijah left, smacks the water and carries on with the ministry entrusted to him. Paul writes of a veiled gospel, one to be un-veiled, one to be torn open. And the tension mounts as Peter, James and John witness the human veil of their teacher torn as Jesus is transfigured on the high mountain, briefly appearing with Moses and Elijah as God speaking from the clouds, LISTEN TO HIM in an epic rending of the human ways that the band of three needed to frame the personhood of Jesus.
To be transfigured means, literally, to be changed, to be transformed. We have certainly been changed over the last year, I am not certain that we (I) have been transfigured or made into something better than I was before. If anything I, (we?), like the three disciples and like Elisha, have experienced the destruction of the fabric that we thought was our whole world. The way we live on a daily basis has been changed and we have had to change along with it. We have lost beloved teachers, leaders and spiritual guides. Is there an invitation for us to be transfigured? For us to be changed as we pick up the pieces of a this strange new world?
These are my thoughts for you, dear preachers. I strive to offer even a single helpful word.
Alicia Hager resides in West Michigan and is a Postulant to the Sacred Order of Priests in the Episcopal Church. Alicia enjoys spending time with her daughters and her husband, is bonkers about her cats, and blogs at astrawberrypointe.wordpress.com.
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