Old Testament: 2 Kings (2:1-12)
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.
The Response: Psalm (50:1-6)
1 The Lord, the God of gods, has spoken; *
he has called the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting.
2 Out of Zion, perfect in its beauty, *
God reveals himself in glory.
3 Our God will come and will not keep silence; *
before him there is a consuming flame,
and round about him a raging storm.
4 He calls the heavens and the earth from above *
to witness the judgment of his people.
5 “Gather before me my loyal followers, *
those who have made a covenant with me
and sealed it with sacrifice.”
6 Let the heavens declare the rightness of his cause; *
for God himself is judge.
The Epistle: 2 Corinthians (4:3-6)
If our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
The Gospel: Mark (9:2-9)
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. 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.
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
Each year on this Sunday before Lent begins, we hear one of the gospel accounts of Jesus’ transfiguration. Christian piety has often approached this narrative as something extraordinary: as a dramatic break from Jesus’ and his disciples’ daily life; and, to a certain extent, it is. But, at a deeper level, what the gospel writers are portraying here is a scene in which the supporting cast – namely, Peter, James, and John – gain a brief insight into what has been there all along. They get to see, from another perspective, who Jesus really is: a fellow human being, but one in whom God is revealing the divine self all the time, just not in such a dramatic way. They, in a sense, wake up to a more profound reality and see the ordinary in a new light.
A similar thing happens to the prophet Elisha in today’s first reading. He has been Elijah’s protégé, apparently for years. He has deep respect for his mentor. He has watched as God’s great spokesman has boldly challenged those who have been ruling Israel, all too often making themselves rich and powerful to the detriment of the ordinary people. Elijah’s role in these great struggles has been prominent, but it has still appeared to be outside of and apart from “the main action.”
It is only now, as Elijah is being dramatically being taken away from Israel, that Elisha finally sees what has been there all along. As a whirlwind takes his master away, Elisha calls out, “Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” He suddenly realizes that what has actually protected Israel for so many years has not been its political leaders or its military might, but this prophet: the man who dared to speak the word of God that the nation’s leaders did not want to hear.
Our second reading strikes a similar theme. St. Paul responds to critics in Corinth who claim that his gospel is “veiled,” as he puts it. He replies that his message is only veiled or hidden from those who have not been paying attention. In his and his companions’ ongoing role “as your slaves for Jesus’ sake,” he has been proclaiming all along “Jesus Christ as Lord.”
In all three readings, the eyes of the observers are opened to see at last a reality that has been there all along – and one that continues to be there for those who are willing and able to see.
Many years ago, I was visiting an elderly woman who was lamenting the fact that her children and grandchildren rarely went to church. In her opinion, it was God’s fault. God, she said, needs to be doing something. God ought to be performing some miracles like those described in the bible. If God would just start doing some of those kinds of things, people would believe in him and start living the way that she thought they should. We need some powerful miracles again!
While her explanation for the changing place of the church in our contemporary society seems, at first, to be a little unusual, I’m not sure that her understanding of the relationship between faith and miracles is very different from that of many other people. I suspect that there are a lot of other men and women around who think pretty much the same way. They view the great, dramatic events described in some parts of the bible as irrefutable proofs of the presence and power of God. And they seem amazed that other people at the time could have witnessed those events but remained unconvinced and unchanged.
For folks like her, the so-called “miracles” came first, and they led people (or even forced people) to faith. But maybe the opposite is closer to the truth. Maybe it was people’s faith, or we might call it people’s openness to a greater reality, that enabled them to see the miracles that had actually been there all along.
What greater reality or more profound reality might we be able to recognize around us each day, if we have the eyes to see? Where might that transcendent and empowering life that we call God be at work in the people and events that we tend to take for granted?
When a group of Israelis and Palestinians in the Middle East, or of Unionists and Republic-supporters in Northern Ireland, or moderate Republicans and Democrats in Congress commit themselves to work together for the greater good, might not the God of reconciliation be sitting there at the table with them, giving them the humility and courage and determination to accomplish their common goals? When nurses and doctors in our hospitals and technicians and researchers in our labs struggle to find new ways to alleviate human suffering, might not the God of healing be standing at their side, inspiring and guiding them in their discoveries? When men and women and children, whose ability to provide for their own daily necessities is never in doubt, leave their comfort zones to go out and serve those who face major, daily uncertainties, might not the God of compassion be walking right along with them and supporting them in their work and in their voluntary commitments? There are miracles around us every day; the only question is whether or not we are willing and able to see them. – and maybe even be part of them.
A century ago, G. K. Chesterton wrote about the psalms and about their authors’ sense of God’s presence and miraculous work in the natural world. As an illustration, he asserted that, when the psalmist watched a sunrise, he or she heard the voice of God telling the sun to “get up and do it again!”
As we prepare this week to enter once again into Lent, the church’s great season of renewal, this seems like a perfect opportunity for us to join with the psalmist in opening the eyes of our minds and our hearts to the greater and more profound reality that is always around us and in which we live. And it seems like a perfect opportunity for us to join with the psalmist in calling on God to “get up and do it again”: to get up and in and through us, show yourself to be the God of reconciliation and of healing, of discovery and of new possibilities, of love and of compassion, so that, like Jesus’s disciples, the people of our time might look at the world around them in a new way and might join in proclaiming to God, “Lord, it is good for us to be here!”