The Last Sunday after the Epiphany, 11 February 2018

II Kings 2:1-12
Psalm 50:1-6
II Corinthians 4:3-6
St. Mark 9:2-9

Background: Transfiguration

The Feast of the Transfiguration has enjoyed a great deal of movement, being celebrated on various dates throughout the various regions of the church. It has been so from the ninth century onward until it was made a feast of the church on 6 August by Pope Callixtus III, in honor of the victory of the West at the Siege of Belgrade in 1456. It may be that papal connection that moved some of the reformed churches that kept the feast to move it to the Last Sunday after the Epiphany. Regardless it enjoys a place there or in August in both the Lutheran and the Anglican Calendars. The Readings for the Last Sunday after the Epiphany differ from the readings for the proper day, but the themes are similar. The Roman Calendar is strict in its observance of the feast and its lectionary on 6 August. The Eastern Church observes it as one of the Twelve Great Feasts of the calendar. It is the second of the Three Feasts of the Savior in August (the first is the Procession of the Cross, 1 August, and The Icon of Christ Not Made by Hand, 16 August). In Orthodoxy it is called the Small Epiphany that is of a similar nature to the Great Epiphany, the Baptism of our Lord.

First Reading: II Kings 2:1-12

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.

This is a classic tale designed to describe the departure of a holy man, and the anointing of a replacement. The tale moves from location to location, from Beth-El to Jericho, from Jericho to the Jordan, and in each place prophetic acolytes clue the audience and indeed one of the characters himself into what was about to happen. The movement to the Jordan places both Elijah and Elisha at a place and with an event the replicates the Reed Sea event, and thus ties them both into the holy history of Israel. In the second verse we have a strong statement of loyalty – it is surprising that it is not used as often as the Ruth-Naomi text in speaking to human commitment and loyalty.

Elisha knows that which is needful for him and asks for it – a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. Elijah isn’t so certain about this request, but waits to see if the aspirant will be privileged to witness the ascension of the great prophet. And so it is, with the horses and fiery chariot appearing to both men. Thus, in a foreshadowing of Jesus’ being raised, Elijah is also brought up into the heavens. Though he asked for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit, Elisha is left holding only half of the prophet’s mantle – enough, however, to begin his ministry.

Breaking open II Kings:
1.      Why does Elijah drag Elisha on a long journey?
2.      Why is the River Jordan significant?
3.      Does Elisha receive a mandate for ministry on his own?

Psalm 50:1-6 Deus deorum

     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 psalm begins with a repetition of God’s name, “El, Elohim, YHWH”. It is as if the psalm wants to accentuate the focus of his praise and make the audience aware of who is their God. The liturgical translation misses the point here. What follows, however, is the reciting of a theophany that shows for the God of Israel in beauty and glory. The elements that we noticed in the Elijah/Elisha story are here – glory, consuming fire, raging storm. Some call this a prophetic psalm, for apart from the glorious first verses, the remainder goes on to hear God’s prophetic voice. Our selection, like Peter, James, and John, wants to wait a moment and observe the beauty of holiness.

Breaking open Psalm 50::
1.     What is the beauty of holiness to you?
2.     Where do you see God’s glory?
3.     With what sacrifice have you sealed your covenant with God?

Second Reading: II Corinthians 4:3-6

Even 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.

We are acquainted with being veiled in the body of the Hebrew Scriptures. In a way Exodus 33 reminds us of an opposite situation in which Moses desires to see God’s face, but is kept from that by being veiled from its glory by God’s hand. Being shielded from glory and truth, or, as Paul sees it here in Corinthians, being blinded to glory and truth are port of his argument. Paul sees the “god of this world” shielding those who would follow Christ from the truth of Christ’ light. His contrasting themes of light and darkness are an effective accompaniment to today’s Gospel.

Breaking open II Corinthians:
1.     Was there a point in your life when you were blind to the Gospel?
2.     When was it revealed to you?
3.     What is its light to you?

The Gospel: St. Mark 9:2-9

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.

We are in the midst of things, “after six days.” (which is curiously elided from our liturgical text). Significant events have preceded this one (The Confession of Peter, and the Passion Prediction) and others will follow (Passion Week itself). So this theophany comes at a midpoint where the disciples are in need of some understanding. They follow in a train of mankind that have been brought up to a high place to experience God, or to know God’s intent. Elijah, Moses, and indeed Jesus himself are brought up to high places to give both perspective, revelation, and in Jesus’ case temptation. So now the disciples follow in that train. We have already known Jesus in a transfigured (metamorphose into the form of a human being). Philippians 2:6-11 makes it clear when the quoted hymn talks about Jesus being in the form of God emptied himself. Having only known Jesus in his human form, these disciples will now see him in another form. The appearance of Moses and Elijah is to tie this appearance to all of the appearances that God has given God’s people in the past. Now there is something new and different in the glory shown to them. The temptation is to stay, to only observe and react to that form, but Jesus will have none of it. Indeed he calls for silence, but that is only because the full revelation is not complete yet. The epiphany on the cross has yet to be made. When we look away from the glory do we see “only Jesus?”

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.        What are the various ways in which you see Jesus?
2.        Which of them do you like the most? Why?
3.        How does Jesus yet need to reveal himself to you?

Question: Having seen glory what are we now called to do?


1.   Elisha is granted two things – a double portion of the spirit, but half a mantle. What have we been granted?

2.   Paul wants us to remove the veil imposed by the “god of this world” and to see the light of Christ. Where have we seen that light?

3.    Is Jesus’ silence related to that of Mary who pondered? What do we need to meditate on upon coming down from the mountain? 

4.   What is the light our community needs to see?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday. 

O God, who before the passion of your only-begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2018, Michael T. Hiller


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