In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen
Good evening, everyone. I want to start by acknowledging the elephant in the room: the overturning of Roe v. Wade yesterday. Because of the division in our nation, for some of you this is a great victory, while for others this is an outrage. And this court decision will affect some of us more than others. It will, of course, disproportionately impact poor families, particularly people of color. And because the “legal framework” for Roe v. Wade has been overturned, the rights to contraception and same sex marriage, among other rights, are now in question. I know for me at least, I feel a mixture of fear, anger, grief, and even numbness, because the things that I thought could never happen, keep happening.
Our scripture today invites us to take a difficult journey with Elisha, the disciple of the very-similarly named Elijah. When we retell this story in Sunday school, we often focus on Elijah’s spectacular ascension in the whirlwind. But what we neglect to talk about is his disciple, Elisha, who at the end of the day decides to take up the old prophet’s mantle, even while still grieving his teacher’s loss.
In many ways, we are all like Elisha. As disciples of Christ, we have just marked Christ’s dramatic death, resurrection, and ascension. And now, on the other side of Easter and Pentecost, we have to learn how to live in this new season, what the Church calls “ordinary” time.
The story begins with a strange, meandering journey, which everyone – including Elijah, Elisha, and the crowd of fifty or so prophets that follow them — knows will have a tragic ending. Elijah himself keeps reminding Elisha that he doesn’t have to stay and watch Elijah be taken away, that he doesn’t have to take Elijah’s place as the prophet of Israel.
Is Elisha being tested? Or is Elijah giving his younger student a gift, a way to opt out from being his successor? After all, being the prophet of Israel is not the most rewarding job – the hours aren’t great, and the pay is virtually nothing. But Elisha stays committed, accompanying his teacher on this final journey. Is this because he feels called by God? Or is this because he loves his teacher and wishes to follow him to the bitter end? Maybe, it’s both.
In verse 8, we see one of the last miracles that God performs through Elijah, as Elijah rolls up his mantle, or cloak, and hits the waters of the Jordan river, parting it for him and Elisha to pass through. With this story’s original audience, we are reminded of Moses parting the Red Sea in Israel’s exodus out of Egypt. Later, Moses’s successor Joshua, mimics his teacher, as he parts the river Jordan so that the Israelites can pass through and enter the promised land. In the Old Testament, water is a symbol of life, death, and chaos. Elijah’s parting of the river Jordan is a reminder of where his power comes from: The LORD, the God of Moses and Miriam, who loves and liberates his people.
Once they cross and have parted ways with the other prophets, Elijah asks Elisha if there’s anything he can do for his disciple before he goes. Elisha asks for “a double portion” of Elijah’s spirit. This is likely a reference to the ancient Israelite inheritance rights for the firstborn son. Elisha is already considered Elijah’s successor and is asking for some of his prophetic power. Cryptically, Elijah says this will be “a hard thing,” perhaps because he knows that it’s not his power to give. But he does say that it is possible if Elisha watches God take Elijah away.
In the strangest part of the story, we see a fiery band of riders separate the two prophets, as Elijah is taken up in a whirlwind. While there’s a lot of details we could unpack here, I think what the story is emphasizing is God’s power to defy death because Elijah is not only spared a physical death, but, as we will see, he lives on in the work of his successor.
In the next scene, we see Elisha, grieving his teacher as he travels back to the river Jordan. Echoing Elijah’s earlier action, he strikes the waters with the mantle and calls on God. As Matthew Henry, the 17th century biblical scholar, writes in his commentary on 2 Kings, “what will it avail us to have the mantles of those that are gone, their places, their books, if we have not their spirit, their God?” Even more incredible than Elijah’s ascension in a fiery whirlwind, is Elisha’s taking up his teacher’s mantle and calling on God in spite of his grief.
The truth is that every period of history has been full of both unique and ordinary evil. In Christ’s own time, Christ himself, the Light of the World, was turned away, despised, ignored, beaten, and executed. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus tells a would-be-disciple: “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Yet, unhoused and ridiculed as he was, Christ triumphed over the forces of evil and oppression.
Friends in Christ, on this ordinary Saturday in this extraordinary time we ask ourselves: how can we take up Christ’s mantle? How can we, as the inheritors of the Holy Spirit, follow in the footsteps of Christ, turning our back on the ways of the world and testifying to God’s death-defying, death-destroying love? Amen.
 “The Enormity of this Decision cannot Be Overstated,” Boston University School of Public Health, 25 June 2022, https://www.bu.edu/sph/news/articles/2022/the-enormity-of-this-decision-cannot-be-overstated/
 “’Roe v. Wade’ Repeal Raises Questions About Other Constitutional Rights,” All Things Considered, NPR, 25 June 2022, https://www.npr.org/2022/06/25/1107663904/roe-v-wade-repeal-raises-questions-about-other-constitutional-rights
 Gina Hens-Piazza referenced in Sara M. Koenig, “Commentary on 2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14,” Working Preacher, https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-13-3/commentary-on-2-kings-21-2-6-14-4
 Koenig, “Commentary.”
 David Zucker referenced in Song-Mi Suzie Park, 2 Kings, Wisdom Commentary Series. Edited by Barbara E. Reid and Ahida Pilarski, (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2019), 15, EBSCOhost.
 2 Kings 2:9
 Koenig, “Commentary.”
 Park, 2 Kings, 11-12.
 Matthew Henry, “2 Kings 2:13-18,” Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible (1706), https://biblehub.com/commentaries/2_kings/2-14.htm
 Luke 9:59