Revised Common Lectionary: 2 Kings 2:1-12; Psalm 50:1-6; 2 Corinthians 4:3-6; Mark 9:2-9
Narrative Lectionary: Transfiguration, Luke 9:28-45 (Psalm 36:5-10)
The prophet Elijah was taken up in a whirlwind to heaven, but not without Elisha tagging along for the journey beforehand in 2 Kings 2:1-12. Elijah keeps trying to tell Elisha to stay behind, but Elisha refuses to. First, they go to Bethel, where the prophets there tell Elisha that Elijah is going to be taken up to heaven. Elisha basically says, “Yes, I know. Shut up.” The same thing happens when Elijah goes to Jericho—he tries to get Elisha to stay behind, Elisha refuses, the prophets in Jericho tell Elisha what is going to happen, and Elisha tells them he knows and to shut up. Then they go on to the Jordan River, and Elijah tells Elisha that God is sending him on, but Elisha says he will go with him. Elijah strikes the Jordan with his rolled-up mantle and the waters part, and they cross over. Then Elijah asks Elisha what it is he wants Elijah to do for him before he leaves, and Elisha requests a double-portion of his spirit. Elijah tells him that he is asking for a difficult thing, but he’ll see when he is taken up whether Elisha’s request is granted or not. And then Elijah is taken up in a whirlwind. A chariot of fire pulled by horses separates Elisha from Elijah, and he can no longer see Elijah. He tears his clothes, a symbol of rending and mourning, as Elijah was taken, and now Elisha will carry on Elijah’s mantle.
Psalm 50:1-6 describes God in the heavenly realm, calling out to the earth. Before God’s presence is a devouring fire, similar to what is seen in the chariot of fire in 2 Kings and also common in ancient descriptions of the heavens and heavenly beings. God calls the forces of heaven and earth to witness as God judges the people, based on the covenant made with them.
Paul writes of those who are unable to experience the light of the gospel of Christ because of their unbelief in 2 Corinthians 4:3-6. The same God who declared “Let there be light” in the beginning has shone in their hearts the love of Christ Jesus, the glory of God. However, the gospel is veiled for the unbelievers. The god of this world, the ways of this world, makes it difficult for unbelievers to see, experience, and know the gospel of Jesus.
Peter, James, and John accompany Jesus up a mountain in Mark 9:2-9. While they are on the mountain, Jesus is transfigured. His clothes appear dazzling white—an unnatural brightness—and Elijah and Moses appear with Jesus, talking with him. Peter doesn’t really know what to say because he’s afraid, but he says what he thinks he is supposed to. He’s glad to be there, and suggests making tents for Jesus, Elijah, and Moses: shrines to each of them. But a cloud overshadows them, and a voice declares, “This is my Son, the Beloved: listen to him!” (A similar voice declared Jesus as the Son, the Beloved, at his baptism). When the three disciples looked around, there was only Jesus, and Jesus ordered them not to tell anyone about what they had seen until the Son of Humanity had risen from the dead.
The Narrative Lectionary follows Luke’s account of the Transfiguration. Luke gives many more details than Mark, adding that Moses and Elijah also appeared in bright clothes. Luke also records that Moses and Elijah spoke with Jesus about what would happen in Jerusalem and his “departure.” Peter, James, and John apparently were about to fall asleep but managed to stay awake (contrasting how the same three fell asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane later on). Peter, as in Mark’s account, declares its good to be there and suggests making three dwellings. The voice from the cloud tells them to listen to the Son, the Chosen One. In Luke’s account, they are simply speechless after all this, and don’t tell anyone what happened. The Narrative Lectionary continues with what happened the next day: a large crowd met Jesus, Peter, James, and John. A man brought his son forward to Jesus, a boy possessed by a spirit that made him shake and foam at the mouth. The other disciples were unable to cast the spirit out. Jesus, sounding frustrated, said, “You faithless and perverse generation, how long must I put up with you?” Jesus rebuked the spirit, healed the child, and gave him back to his father. While everyone was amazed at what happened, Jesus pulled the disciples aside and warned them that he was about to be betrayed into human hands, but they didn’t understand, and were afraid to ask him about it.
The psalmist praises God in Psalm 35:6-10, for God saves human beings and all creatures. God’s righteousness is like mighty mountains, and God’s steadfast love stretches to the heavens. People find refuge in God, who is the fountain of life, the source of all light, in which we see everything. God satisfies the hungry and thirsty, and grants salvation to those who are faithful.
The Transfiguration is an event that is hard to describe—even the gospel writers are limited by human language and most of us are reading a translation, giving another layer of separation from the writer’s intention to convey that experience of the disciples on the mountain with Jesus. All we know is that somehow, the disciples understood and experienced Jesus in a way that they hadn’t before—in a way that was more divine than human. Peter misunderstood the intention for them to simply witness, and wanted to do something about it, but God’s voice boomed down, saying, “listen to the Son.” What do we do with what we cannot comprehend? Do we keep busy trying to find answers? Do we trust in God and do the work of God in this world? Or, as hard as it can be at times, can we be silent, listen, and wait for God to reveal to us what has been hidden from our understanding?
Call to Worship (from 1 Corinthians 13:12-13)
For now we see in a mirror, dimly,
But then we will see face to face.
Now I know only in part;
Then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.
And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three;
And the greatest of these is love.
Come, let us worship God,
Who is Love, and will reveal all to those who are faithful.
Prayer of Brokenness/Confession
Holy One, we confess that we fear what we do not understand. We are afraid of what comes to an end, because we cannot perceive a new beginning. We are afraid of death. We are afraid of the unknown. Sometimes we ignore our fears, and sometimes we are immobilized by them. Guide us, Holy One, into the way of faith. Help us to move forward despite our fears, knowing You are with us. Grant us a curiosity to ask helpful questions and to sit with the answers we receive, or to patiently wait when there are none. May Your Wisdom help us to comprehend Your presence, even when we do not know what lies ahead. Holy One, may we know, first and foremost, that we are not alone, and that You will never leave us or forsake us, for You made us in Your image, and You delight in us, and You love us. In the name of Christ, whom You sent for us, and who guides us on, we pray. Amen.
Blessing/Assurance (Psalm 139:1-14)
O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.
Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.
For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.
God of Steadfast Love and Mercy, help us to pull back the veil to notice how You are at work in our lives and in the world around us. Help us to find Your secret notes for us in the turning leaves and new buds and shoots. Guide us to find Your hidden messages in the snowprints of Your creatures and the dripping icicles. Lead us to the knowledge of Your love in the care and compassion of our neighbors and friends, and help us to share Your love messages with others in our own acts of mercy and forgiveness. You are at work, in us and through us and around us; help us to reveal Your works to the world. Amen.