“They Are With God and God Is With Us”

II Kings 2:1-12

Transfiguration of the Lord Sunday

As you may have noticed, today’s lectionary lessons are thick with “thin places”; moments in life when the veil between this world and the next becomes so thin that you could almost step right through, over to the other side.

Which Elijah is reported to have done, in today’s scripture passages, not just once, but twice; coming from the Other Side, in this morning’s lesson from Mark, to meet with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, and, in our lesson from Second Kings, going to the Other Side; swept up to heaven by the Spirit of God; a more dramatic home going than we are likely to experience, but, in almost every other way one can name, a departure very much like the way death will someday come for us all.

Take, for example, all of the holding on and letting go which accompanied Elijah’s departure in today’s lesson from Second Kings; Elijah repeatedly encouraging Elisha to let him go, and Elisha repeatedly telling Elijah “No”; a beautiful snapshot of the same kind of holding on and letting go which is so often a part of our own experience as death draws near, for ourselves, and, for those we love.

As death draws near, we, like Elijah and Elisha, rarely know when, or how, to stop holding on and start letting go.  To start letting go too soon can feel like we’re giving up too early, but to hold on too long can mean waiting too late to have those conversations about life and death which can be so helpful and healing, for the one who is leaving and the ones who remain.

Last fall, on my last visit with my mother, about a week before she died, as I prepared to return from Georgia to Jackson, I took her hand in mine, and, holding on as tightly as I could, I let her go; telling her how thankful I was for her life, and that the next time we saw one another it would be over on the Other Side, all of which was a way of both holding onto her and letting go of her; not at all unlike that awkward, uncertain holding on and letting go Elijah and Elisha were stumbling their way through in this morning’s lesson from Second Kings, just before Elijah was swept up and carried away into the nearer presence of God in a moment of profound wonder, and unspeakable mystery.

Which is another way our death, and Elijah’s departure, are alike.  While death may come countless times every day throughout the world, the spiritual transition of our own death remains, for us, as great a mystery as Elijah’s uniquely dramatic ascension.

The truth is, most of what we say concerning the spiritual dimension of death and dying is not what we know with certainty, but, rather, what we choose to believe.  For example, I told my mom I would see her on the Other Side, but, I cannot say with certainty that that is the way things will be, in the next life.  Do human relationships transcend this world?  Will we know one another?  What we choose to believe about such questions is what we hope to be true, but how much can we say with certainty?

Perhaps the most we can say with absolute certainty is that there will come a day for all of us, when, like Elijah, we will cross over to the Other Side.  Someday will be the last day, not because God has assigned us a certain number of days to live, or  pre-ordained a particular day for us to die, (a mistaken idea based on a literal interpretation of Psalm 139:16) but, rather, because death is as inevitable a part of life as birth.

And, then, suddenly or slowly, tragically or naturally, sadly or gladly, we will step into, and through, the thinnest thin place of all; the veil between this world and the next becoming so thin that, like Elijah, we will go on over, into the nearer presence of God.

Concerning that moment, when Elisha finally had to let go of Elijah, perhaps the most we can say with certainty is that, in that moment, Elijah was with God, and God was with Elisha.

Just as the most, and best, we can say, when those we love pass from here to there, is that they are with God, and God is with us.