Even if you know your bible well, this passage from the gospel of Mark (Mark 9:2-9) is odd. Elijah, as we see in our first reading (2 Kings 2:1-12), never died. He is taken into heaven and his status as a prophet is passed to Elisha. Elijah and Elisha are not the only prophets in the text. There is some of kind of prophet community in the background, a group that might resemble modern day monks or nuns. These prophets served a specific role in the ancient Israelite community but we do not know exactly what they did. They appear to serve as a liaison between God and the wider community. Some, like Elijah and Elisha, were recorded in scripture due to their special relationship with God. Others, like the company of prophets, remained nameless. Elijah’s relationship with God was so unique, he was taken into heaven. Over the centuries, an expectation developed where Elijah and Moses (who died but whose body is purposefully hidden) would return to announce the return of the Messiah. They are here in this story to announce that Jesus is exactly who God says he is. Jesus is God’s Son, the beloved, and the one in whom God is well pleased (see Mark 1). And because Jesus is unique in this way, everyone in invited to listen to him.
If Elijah is confusing to you, I invite you to read his story. He first appears in 1 Kings 17:1 (but start reading at 1 Kings 16:23). He shows up after King David has died and the kingdom of Israel has split into two. In the words of Everett Fox, “of all the figures that appear in Kings, none is as powerful, or mysterious, as the prophet Elijah. He appears as if from nowhere, mediates miraculous deeds, and inserts the word of [God] into the political events of the region…He is constantly on the move, argues wit God, and almost succumbs to despair.” Elijah is very human but also resembles Moses. Moses is the template that all future prophets (including Jesus) are compared to. Once we know Moses story (see Exodus – Deuteronomy), we will see the parallels with Elijah and Jesus. I invite you, when you can, to spend time with Elijah. You might be surprised by how much doubt, struggle, arguments, and hope are required in one’s relationship with God.
Each week, I write a reflection on one of our scripture readings for the week. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship Bulletin for the Transfiguration, 2/11/2018.