2 Kings 2:1, 2, 6-14
Ever notice how often clothing or references to being clothed appear in scripture. Relax, I do not intend to do an in depth recitation of all the times clothes, being clothed, shedding clothing and running naked are mentioned in the Bible, but suffice it to say, it happens, often. In the Old Testament Lectionary text for June 30, 2013, we find Elisha ripping his own clothing and picking up the cloak Elijah had dropped.
The prophet’s cloak was “an outward and visible sign of an inward, spiritual grace” a sacramental garment, a piece of cloth and yet more than a piece of cloth. The cloak differed little if any from the cloak of any man in Israel during Elijah’s time and the only power at work in this story is God’s.
Consider with me the story.
Two men, one older, one younger, the older mentoring the younger by the leading of God. Traveling back just a bit, we are reminded that when Elijah ran from Jezebel and entered a cave on Mount Horeb. There in that cave, Elijah met with God, not in the earthquake, wind or fire, but in a whisper. Immediately, after that Elijah as directed by God, found Elisha in a field plowing and called him to follow him. From that time until they were traveling from Gilgal. Elijah knew God was calling him home. He tried urging Elisha not to follow him to Bethel.
Why did Elijah do that? Perhaps even though we know from reading, ” When The Lord was about to take Elijah up in a whirlwind. . .” Elijah knew his time had come, but did not really know how this would happen. Perhaps, he wanted Elisha’s last memories of him to be as alive and breathing. Perhaps, he thought he might be struck dead by a heart attack or stroke.
Personally, I am not sure which is the better way to be present with someone you love at the moment of death or to be have your last memory be before that last expiration of breath. Elisha, however, determined not to leave Elijah, his spiritual father, even though Elijah tried twice to dissuade him from continuing to follow.
At the river, with 50 prophets watching, Elijah strikes the water with his cloak and the waters divide so that the two men cross on the bed of the Jordan. It is on the other side, away from the others’ eyes that Elijah stops.
Put yourself for just a moment into the heart of Elijah as he turns and perhaps places his hands lovingly on Elisha’s shoulders, patting them, squeezing them, as he tries to compose himself to speak. Here is the young man with a heart for God and the calling of a prophet, a young man he trained up in the faith, the boy plowing the field has become a man of God. Elijah loves Elisha like a son. He wants to give him something. He wants to offer him something to not only remember him by but to empower him to not waver from following God. And so, tears in his eyes, they sting don’t they? Elijah asks, his voice breaking, “Tell me what I can do for you before I am taken.”
If Elijah is stunned by Elisha’s request or if he considers it out of line or grandiose, he doesn’t say. Possibly, off in the distance, over Elisha’s shoulder as he embraces him one last time, he sees the chariot of fire and the gathering of a small tornado. He sees his future, because his reply, “If you see me when I am taken, it is yours.” signals Elisha to keep his eyes open to the power and glory of God as the whirlwind and chariot approach. Elijah reminds Elisha the Holy Spirit is the one who supplies all spiritual gifts.
Suddenly, as Elisha watches Elijah steps back and the whirlwind gathers him up as the chariot and horses of heaven follow him into the sky. In a sweep of the wind, in a thundering of hoofs, in fire that does not consume, Elijah disappears from sight. The shouting dissipates, Elisha stands alone.
Immediately, he tears his clothing in mourning. A quietness like a whisper descends, as he picks up Elijah’s cloak, the only tangible piece remaining of the older prophet. He carried it with him back to the Jordan and there he prayed, “Where is The Lord, the God of Elijah?” Striking it on the current, the waters divided and as Elisha passed through the divided river, I imagine him shrugging on the cloak and as he stepped onto the other side, accepting the anointing of God.
It wasn’t the cloak that made the prophet, it was God working through his mentor Elijah and passing on not the same portion but a double portion to Elisha.
What does this story have for me or for others in the 21st Century? For those like me who are older, I see a need to accept the fact that intentionally I must be shedding some of the physical trappings of this life and sharing the spiritual truths I have learned. I don’t have it all together, but one look at Elijah, cowering in the cave, depressed and discouraged and I know he didn’t either.
What he did have was a close relationship with God!
All of us, who are Christians, no matter what our ages, have a responsibility to live our lives and speak truth so that others, newer Christians, non-Christians, everyone has reason to ask us about the hope within us.
Too often we cling to what we have as if sharing it will somehow diminish us. Consider the aging lady who had played the piano at church for 50 years, who brought a younger woman along to take over after her skills declined. Or on the other hand, Consider the old retired pastor in the congregation, who ran off every preacher they called but remaining the one the congregation turned to for spiritual advise.
Time comes to drop the cloak, climb in the chariot and leave the work to others. It would be a shame if when that happened, there were no others to take up the work of God!
By the way, that is not likely to happen, since God is the one in control. But, wouldn’t we lose the joy of watching those we mentor shine? That would be a really hard goodbye!
Who has been an Elijah in your life?
Who is your Elisha?
But when I leave I want to go out like Elijah
With a whirlwind to fuel my chariot of fire
And when I look back on the stars
Well, It’ll be like a candlelight in Central Park
And it won’t break my heart to say goodbye
–Rich Mullins \ Elijah