Readings: 2 Kings 2:1-12 (Elijah and Elisha); Mark 9:2-9 (The Transfiguration)
On Friday evening my daughter and I watched a movie called Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, based on the book of the same name by Jonathan Safran Foer. The story centers around a boy named Oskar Schell whose father died in the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City. That happened nearly 14 years ago -- what Oskar called “the worst day.” It was perhaps the most traumatic event to happen in our country, as we watched the Towers collapse and more than 2000 people die.
The movie is very emotionally intense, and I would not recommend it for young children. But I can tell you that Oskar was very close to his dad and loved him very much. His dad used to create elaborate expeditions for him to find objects throughout the city. After his father died, Oskar found a key in a vase in his father’s closet with the name “Black” written on the envelope. The rest of the movie is about Oskar’s quest to contact every person with the last name of Black in the city of New York to find the lock which the key will open. The movie flashes back to Oskar’s wonderful memories of his father as well as the terror of the day his world came crashing down around him. Oskar’s quest to find the lock for the key is his attempt to make sense of what has happened and keep some kind of connection to his father.
We had another story in our readings today about someone losing a man who was very close to him, almost like a father. It is the story of Elisha whose teacher Elijah was taken away in a chariot of fire, leaving Elisha to carry on without him.
Elisha had followed his master from the moment they met, when Elisha was a young man, plowing his father's field. He was completely devoted to Elijah, as we saw in our skit. When Elijah wanted his young student to stay behind as he was coming to the end of his earthly journey, Elisha refused. He insisted on accompanying his master to the very end. And he makes a bold request of his master – to receive a double share of his spirit. Elijah tells him that if he can see him being taken up into heaven – if he can withstand the pain of that vision – then he will indeed receive Elijah’s spirit. And sure enough, after he watched his master swept up into heaven by the chariots of fire, he is able to perform miracles and spread God’s word even more powerfully than Elijah.The other story we heard today was about another amazing experience – Jesus taking some of his disciples up on a mountain so that they could catch a glimpse of who he really was – the Son of God. The disciples don’t know it then, but they will not have their teacher with them for much longer. After they come down from the mountain they will be starting on the journey to Jerusalem and, finally, to Jesus’ death at Calvary on the cross. It will be what Oskar would call “the worst day,” when their world will come crashing down around them.
But at this moment they are caught up in the sheer amazement of what and who they see. Elijah – the prophet of old, along with Moses – the giver of the Law, join Jesus there on the mountaintop. And then a cloud overshadows them and they hear the voice of Jesus’ heavenly father – extremely loud and incredibly close: “This is my son, the Beloved. Listen to him.” It’s that voice which will echo in their minds much later as they watch their beloved teacher writhing in unimaginable pain on the cross. Perhaps even Jesus hears that voice in his memory as he is feeling forsaken and abandoned by his heavenly father. That memory would be both a comfort and distressing to him.Oskar, too, had a memory of his father’s voice that was both comforting and distressing at the same time. When his father was still in the Tower, he called home and tried to speak with his son. But he was only able to leave a series of messages on the answering machine. For over a year his son replayed the recordings of his father’s anguished voice, the sound reminding him how much he loved the sound of his father’s voice, but also reminding him how much he missed him.
Maybe you know a little of how Oskar felt. When we lose someone we love, it feels like our world comes crashing down around us. We don’t know how we are going to go on without them. The feelings of grief, anger and sadness can become unbearable. And sometimes it’s not until we are on our quest for a long time that we find the peace and connection we were looking for.Elisha was fortunate in a way – he was able to tap into his master’s spirit nearly immediately. He was able to carry on his work and step into his new role as a true prophet, no longer an apprentice. The disciples were also able to tap into their master’s spirit. In fact, Jesus made sure of it. By breathing on them after the resurrection, and later by sending the Holy Spirit to them in wind and fire, they were able to step into their new role, no longer disciples (meaning students), but apostles (meaning “sent ones”), doing the work that Jesus had been teaching them to do.
Oskar, too, has his father’s spirit, although at first he doesn’t realize it. Even as he is grieving, he boldly approaches every person with the last name of “Black” on his list and he meets over 200 people who share with him their own stories of pain and loss. By the end of the movie, Oskar is able to overcome some of his worst fears and find his father’s power within himself. I won’t spoil the ending, but there is a final amazing moment in the movie where Oskar’s spirit soars, like a phoenix rising out of the ashes of grief.Each of us is at a different place in our journey. Some of you are very young and may have not yet experienced the death of someone you love. I will tell you something my daughter shared with me she learned from watching the movie – to tell your parent or grandparent or teacher or whoever it is that is important to you – tell them that you love them and why they mean so much to you. And remember when you do eventually lose someone you love – their spirit never leaves you. It may take a while to discover how and where that spirit is within you, but Jesus has promised to accompany you on that journey. You will not be left to be on your journey alone.
Oskar found this out in surprising ways. All during his quest he is being followed, watched, cared for by someone who loves him very much, even though he doesn’t know it until the end. And along the way he is accompanied by a surprising person who comes into his life and helps him find his way.Elisha, the disciples, Oskar . . . and you. Your quest lies ahead of you. You have been given a key, and as you seek the lock for which it fits, you will find yourself unlocking moments of grace along the way. And remember – Jesus goes ahead of you, preparing the way for you, never abandoning you, always accompanying you. Even though we cannot see him, his spirit is with us, his life and his love are with us. They are as close as the bread in our hand, the wine on our lips. May God bless you on your journey. Amen.