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2/11: Ascending Flame and Descending Love

Last Epiphany, February 11

2 Kgs. 2:1-12Ps. 50:1-62 Cor. 4:3-6Mark 9:2-9

Elisha, though a prophet by election, is formed under the direction of a human master, Elijah. Election may be hidden in the mystery of an eternal now, but its working in time takes time, requires the slow process of learning, tasks repeated under the eye of a teacher, and the deep stirring of emotion intrinsic to such intimate instruction. Every teacher, however stoic, thinks: Do you love me? Elisha loved his teacher, and so their parting at the end tore his heart to pieces.

“As the Lord lives and you yourself live, I will not leave you” (2 Kgs. 2:2). Three times he repeats these words, at Gilgal, then Bethel, then Jericho. And yet the departure is imminent, the loss inevitable, to which a chorus of prophets give twofold witness: “Do you not know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?” (2 Kgs. 2:3, 5). Elijah, moved by the love he gives and receives, asks what gift he may bestow on his beloved disciple. “Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you” (2 Kgs. 2:9). In gospel fashion, they love each other until the end.

Just before their separation, Elisha says, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit” (2 Kgs. 2:9). Elijah pledges to do so provided “you see me as I am being taken from you” (2 Kgs. 2:10). Then, as they walk and converse, a celestial chariot and horses engulfed in flame descend and take Elijah up in a whirlwind. God once spoke out of a whirlwind to his servant Job: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding” (Job 38:4). Job put his hand to his mouth in fearful silence. Elisha puts his hands to his robes and tears them in sorrow. Silence and sorrow pierce the hearts of all those who see the tempest of God. And yet this remains a story about love.

Jesus takes Peter and James and John with him to a high mountain. He is transfigured before them, shining as no earthly being. Elijah and Moses, characters embodying the Old Testament dispensation of law and prophecy, appear with Jesus and then disappear. The Father bears witness to the Son: “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him” (Mark 9:7). Finally, Jesus stands alone. There is light, fear, and silence. “As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead” (Mark 9:9). The fire of chariots and horses, the fire and smoke upon holy mountains, the white light suffusing the garments of Christ, all witness to the light of the World. This light in his divinity is wholly other than what we are, and yet he deigns to be among us.

Lift up your eyes and your hearts. Go up to Jesus, up to the expanding heavens. Be where he is upon the heights, and from there behold his coming. “Sing to God, sing praises to his name; lift up a song to him who rides upon the clouds” (Ps. 68:4). The majestic Son of the Father is where the Father is, riding upward, and we go with him. From this height of glory, the Son descends to orphans, widows, the homeless, and prisoners (Ps. 68:5).

Jesus is dazzling light, a storm in the heavens, a chariot of fire. He is also the tender compassion and the righteous judgment that give life to this suffering world. Look up to him, and behold his coming.

Look It Up
Read Psalm 113:6.

Think About It
Enthroned on high, God stoops to behold in love.


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