Grasp

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Abbey Lincoln is one of my favorite Jazz artists. Martin Smith, a teacher of mine, introduced me to her music at Sewanee a couple years ago. She’s just wonderful… Listen to the words of one of her songs:

Throw it away, throw it away.
Give your love, live your life, each and every day.
And keep your hand wide open. Let the sunshine through,
‘Cause you can never lose a thing, if it belongs to you.”

I found myself humming this tune this week as I reflected on today’s lectionary readings. At first I didn’t see the connection…

*****

Elijah is a truly intriguing figure in our Biblical stories. Elisha had been his faithful disciple for a while. He was utterly dedicated to Elijah. And, when Elijah tells him to wait there while he goes to Bethel, Elisha can’t imagine being separated from him. “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” Then, the other prophets come out and tell Elisha “Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?” Elisha can’t stand it. “Yes, I know,” he says. “Keep silent.” I can’t talk about it.

And again the scenario repeats itself when Elijah tells Elisha to wait while he goes to Jericho. “I will not leave you,” Elisha says. And, again, prophets come and tell him that “today the Lord will take your master away.” “Yes, I know,” he says. “Keep silent.” I can’t bear to think about not having him here. I can’t imagine what it would be like…

And yet again! Elijah tells Elisha to wait while he goes to the Jordan. “I will not leave you,” Elisha says to Elijah….

But here the pattern is broken. Elijah and Elisha walk to the edge of the water, and Elijah rolls up his mantle and strikes the water. The water parts and the two of them walk over to the other side of the Jordan River.

And, Elijah and Elisha share a deeply moving conversation about leave taking, about change, about Elisha’s life without Elijah being there…about seeing and experiencing life in a different way. Elijah’s departure was no quiet slipping away somewhere. Rather, it was a grand theophany, a Divine manifestation of fiery chariot and flaming horses swooping down with Elijah ascending into heaven…and it had a wonderful soundtrack! [Hum Chariots of Fire!!] It was an unbelievable assumption of the prophet into the Heavenly realms.

What a fascinating dynamic between Elijah and Elisha in today’s text. Especially on this Sunday, this Last Sunday after the Epiphany. For over three months, we have focused our common prayer—in one way or the other—on the Incarnation. Waiting for it, celebrating it, experiencing the Light of Christ spreading throughout the world. And, now, this Sunday is a liminal space, a space and time of transition where we pivot from celebrating the Incarnation to realizing its purpose. From here, we step into the space of Lent in anticipation of the death, burial, and resurrection of the Incarnate One.

So what is it about the dynamic between Elijah and Elisha that resonates with this day? For me, I think it’s the dynamic of grasping…of holding on to what has been…fearing what might come when life changes…when the unfamiliar or frightening comes. And the unfamiliar will come…

Elisha can’t imagine his life without his master. “As long as the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.”

But, notice what happens: Elijah takes his mantle, rolls it up, and slaps the surface of the water at the River Jordan.

And, he and Elisha cross through the water (do you feel the metaphor) and Elisha witnesses a Divine vision and learns a new way of being in the world…

Jump to the Gospel. We see a master and a disciple sharing an encounter. Jesus has taken Peter, James, and John up the mountain. They have experienced their own theophany, with Jesus being transfigured before them “his clothes became a dazzling white, such as no one on the earth could bleach them.

Look who shows up! There, standing next to Jesus is Moses and…..Elijah. He’s done it again…Elijah’s always popping into critical moments.

And in response to this divine transfiguration, Peter…..grasps.

“Rabbi, it’s good that we’re here with you… Let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

Let’s keep this moment intact. Let’s freeze it right here… “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” Don’t leave us…

After the cloud overshadowed them, telling them “This is my Beloved: listen to him!” …..it was over. Moses and Elijah return to the heavenly realm and the disciples are left standing there looking at Jesus.

They start down the mountain, and Jesus tells them,

“Don’t tell anyone about this until after the Son of Man has risen from the dead.”

Risen from the dead? Dead? Who said anything about dying?

Peter and the disciples can’t imagine their life without Jesus. Who of us can’t understand their desire to build a house in that sense? Let’s pull together a committee, start a capital campaign, get a contractor, make a plan…build a house…whatever it takes to keep Jesus here…Here! Like this!

But that cannot be…

The unfamiliar will come…the frightening….

The disciples must learn a new way of being with the Lord. They must lean into a new space as they realize they cannot control. They cannot grasp.

St. Luke’s account of the Transfiguration is deeply profound, I think. Mark is so abrupt… In St. Luke’s account, after they came down from the Mountain, they are swamped by people looking for help. And the disciples begin arguing with one another about who is the greatest. They are grasping, trying to hold on to organization and structure…

And the text says, in the midst of all this, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.”

Wow. The disciples have a lot to learn about who Jesus is, and how they relate to him, how he will live in them…

We have a lot to learn about who Jesus is, and how he relates to us, how he will live in us….

Unfamiliar days are coming…. Grasping isn’t going to help. But we realize that Jesus lives in us—belongs to us—in a way beyond our ego, beyond our urge to control, to retain, to maintain…beyond our yearnings for things to stay….the way they are and have been….

We can sense that something is coming, yet Elisha’s words become our own: “Yes, I know. Keep silent.” I don’t want to talk about it…

Given all this, maybe Abbey Lincoln was on to something:

Throw it away, throw it away.
Give your love, live your life, each and every day.
And keep your hand wide open. Let the sun (Son!) shine through,
‘Cause you can never lose a thing, if it belongs to you.”

Fr. Stuart Higginbotham
The Last Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B
2 Kings 2:1-12; St. Mark 9:2-9
February 15, 2015

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