1st Scripture Reading: 2 Kings 2: 1-12 & Psalm 50 (v.1-6)
We start out this morning, Transfiguration Sunday, with a reading from the second book of Kings: the story of the ascension of Elijah. So we have two very interesting accounts to discuss today: the ascension of Elijah and the Transfiguration of Jesus.
In this Old Testament reading, we get a peek into the spiritual traditions of another age. First of all, we note that Elijah was a spiritual teacher – a master in his own right. Elisha was his student, devoted and faithful, who refused to leave his master’s side, even when specifically ordered to do so.
We might also have noticed that wherever Elijah was heading, several stops along the way, there were prophets – other spiritual leaders who clearly knew and respected the Master Elijah.
Seems to me that alongside the legalistic, formal traditions of Judaism there also existed a mystical, deeply spiritual tradition that too often perhaps we lose sight of.
Following along the story, Elijah orders Elisha three times to stay back while he goes forward to his ascension – his date with his destiny. While acknowledging that he understands that his Master will be leaving him, Elisha steadfastly refuses to be left behind.
This reminds me of the story of Ruth and Naomi – a story of steadfast love that refuses to abandon the loved one. Out of that story came only good things, and we see in the story of Elisha’s faithful love that good things also happen.
So the Master crosses the Jordan, with his student, using the power invested in his rolled up mantle to part the waters of this mighty river. He then asks Elisha what he would like the Master to do for him before he leaves. Elisha asks for a huge thing: he asks for a double portion of the Spirit of Elijah. Wow! What an audacious thing to ask for from your Teacher! Elijah says as much, and then tells Elisha that if he sees the ascension, if he sees Elijah being taken up, then the request will be granted him. If he does not see it, then it will not – he will show himself as worthy of Elijah’s mantle if he sees it, and as unworthy or not ready if he does not see it.
The emphasis on seeing is deliberate. There is a lot of emphasis on seeing in the teachings of Jesus too. “Let those who have eyes to see…” In other words, if Elisha has achieved a level of spiritual awareness that allows him to see certain things clearly, then he has earned the right to succeed his Teacher.
Now Elijah is lifted up, and Elisha watches until he disappears, crying out in his grief and distress. But let me read you a little bit more of this reading. (2 Kings 2:13-15) Elisha picks up the mantle of the Master, and uses it to cross back over the Jordan, where he is acknowledged as the successor to Elijah by the prophets assembled there. I have an artist’s rendering of what Elisha might have seen that I found on Google. You can see many many images there if that interests you.
Hymn/Spiritual: “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”
2nd Scripture Reading: 2 Corinthians 4:3-6 & Mark 9:2-9
So after the ascension of Elijah, Elisha assumed his teaching mantle and went on to teach and perform miracles of his own. But what happened to Elijah? Where did he go? And how is it that in the account of the Transfiguration of Jesus he appears with Moses, talking with Jesus on the mountain?
But what did Jesus say shortly before his own ascension? “In my Father’s house are many mansions. I go to prepare a place for you.” The idea of mansions evokes images in my mind of great houses on a beautiful, tree-lined street. But I know that no such place has ever been proven to exist. Jesus used a lot of images to convey ideas and concepts that are difficult to describe to people who have never been exposed to such thoughts.
What we do know from recent scientific discoveries, is that there are probably more worlds out there that might be habitable than we used to think. And that’s just on the physical, astronomical plane of our present level of understanding. We are also learning that there may be something called parallel universes, or alternate realities or dimensions – both presently beyond our ability to measure or even visualize. The Creator is not limited by our very limited ability to see or understand.
Which is why the image of what we can see is such an important spiritual concept. As we saw in the story of Elijah’s ascension, if Elisha’s spiritual sight had not been sufficiently developed, so that he could see the Ascension of Elijah, he would not have been permitted to carry his mantle and become his successor.
So Jesus took Peter, James and John with him to the mountain top where they saw him transfigured – made radiant with white light – and heard a voice say, “This is my Son, the Beloved…listen to him.” Peter, James and John were part of Jesus’ inner circle – students who had been with him for some time. They were spiritually developed enough to witness this amazing event, and to even see that Moses and Elijah were there and talking to Jesus.
Moses and Elijah are described often as “Ascended Masters” – great teachers, prophets and voices for God. They had been gone a very long time by the moment of Jesus’ transfiguration. One has to wonder, where do ascended masters hang out? And why do they seem to be accessible to those “who have eyes to see”? If it was important to Jesus that there be witnesses to this amazing event, to tell of it but not until after his own ascension, then why? What are we meant to learn from this?
Perhaps the apostle Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians can shed a little light onto this great mystery. He says that the truth is “veiled” from those who are perishing – those who are not learning to see that truth. He points to Jesus as the great Master who has come to shine the Light of God onto all of us, and to show us the way out of the darkness and into the Light of forgiveness and love.
And we are coming to know that this Light is something real – it is the framework on which our physical reality is formed. Our great artists thru the ages have shown us that they see this light around great spiritual beings and depict it in the shape of halos and auras – particularly around events of great spiritual significance like ascensions and transfigurations.
We are talking here of great spiritual teachers and prophets of many traditions, as we remind ourselves that the One God is creator of all that is.
But what does this have to do with us? Paul goes on in this letter to say this: “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away: see, everything has become new!”
One of the most important spiritual teachers the world has ever seen is our “ascended master” Jesus the Christ. When we spiritually invite his being to shape and transform us, then we too are transfigured – and we hold a lot more spiritual light!
Hymn # 115 MV “Behold, Behold, I Make All Things New”