A reflection on 2 Kings 2:1-12 and Psalm 50:1-6 for Transfiguration Sunday, February 14, 2021.
Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. 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. 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.’
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. 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.’
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. Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. 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.
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.’ 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.’ 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. 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 Kings 2:1-12 (NRSVA)
The mighty one, God the Lord,
speaks and summons the earth
from the rising of the sun to its setting.
Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty,
God shines forth.
Our God comes and does not keep silence,
before him is a devouring fire,
and a mighty tempest all around him.
He calls to the heavens above
and to the earth, that he may judge his people:
‘Gather to me my faithful ones,
who made a covenant with me by sacrifice!’
The heavens declare his righteousness,
for God himself is judge
Psalm 50:1-6 (NRSVA)
The Transfiguration represents a moment when the veil between heaven and earth is parted and we see what really is.
Much of the story of Elijah’s parting and Elisha’s following is an expectation of a transfiguration moment. The characters in this telling are all prophets. They are known and recognised for having moments when they see beyond.
Clearly, in this account, Elijah knows that today is the day he will depart. Elisha also knows this. Indeed, the entire company of prophets knows this and repeatedly reminds Elisha of the fact.
They know what is about to come.
Yet there is something beyond their prophetic insight that occurs beyond the parted Jordan river. This is not prophetic insight. It is beyond mere vision.
This is transfiguration. A chariot of fire. A whirlwind connecting heaven and earth. Elijah ascending. Elisha screaming in recognition of what he sees: “Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!”
Elisha knows this is more than the prophetic visions he has seen in the past. The ‘company of prophets’ expected more. Elijah expected this to be more than his last day on earth.
In essence this is the veil pulled away – momentarily – and the connection between heaven and earth revealed. The essence of transfiguration.
As our Psalm reminds us, God ‘speaks and summons the earth’. He ‘calls to the heavens above and to the earth’. The ‘heavens declare his righteousness’.
And like God did with Elijah, gathers the ‘faithful ones’.
What do you imagine a moment of transfiguration to be like? What is the difference between this and a vision?
When have you known heaven and earth to be one? How separate do you see these two realms?
Pray the Lord’s Prayer. How do you see heaven and earth connected here?