Sunday before Lent – 11th February 2024 – Rev Alison Way

11th February – The Sunday before Lent.

2 Kings 2:1-12 and Mark 9:2-9

May the words of my mouth, and meditations of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight – Our Lord and our Redeemer, Amen.

We find Elijah and Elisha on the cusp of something really significant for both of them. An ending and a new beginning. For Elijah an ending of his earthly life – Being swept up to Heaven in a whirlwind, and for Elisha the beginning of his time as a prophet – asking Elijah for a double share of his spirit to enable him to do what was before him. We are also on the cusp of something significant with Lent starting on Wednesday and something different coming along in parochial matters as I move off to pastures new at Easter and the parishes enter a new phase with further parishes to work with on the horizon. In view of all this change and new things coming along, against the worrying backdrop of world events and the potential for escalating conflict rather than increasing world peace –  Let’s see what we can learn from Elijah and Elisha’s journey.

We find them on the start of their journey from Gilgal to Bethel to Jericho and the river Jordon – This in total is about 35 miles (so very likely to have taken more than a day to do especially in view of what unfolds on the way!). Let’s think about each of these places and what is significant about them!

So the start was Gilgal. Gilgal was very significant – it was the first place that the Israelites camped after they had crossed the red sea and escaped from the Egyptians. They set up 12 stones taken from the river Jordan – (so it was a place of stones). From here Joshua set out with the people into the promised land. The stones were there as a big reminder of how God had saved his people, and God who acted on behalf of the people.

The spiritual meaning of Gilgal is rolling or rolling away or separation. God had rolled away their past, and the rule of Egypt over the people of God, and separated the people into a closer relationship with him.  Our Lenten fast will culminate in Easter, with another kind of rolling away for us (of the stone on the tomb) a physical sign of resurrection, which is how God has saved all people, and the way God wants us to understand especially how our lives should be separated via seeking the living God, as living sacrifices in our worship of God.

The next place Elijah and Elisha went too, was Bethel which means house of God. This is the place where Jacob had an amazing vision in a dream – of the stairway resting on the earth and the angels going up and down it. God made big promises to Jacob. When Jacob awoke he named it Bethel as he had had such a strong sense of the presence of the Lord.

In those days people would go to Bethel to ask questions of God and it speaks to us of the Lord’s presence. This is something we also really need in changing and challenging times ahead to live desiring and seeking the presence of God and being guided through the Holy Spirit. Attending to our spiritual disciplines in Lent (particularly prayer, worship and bible reading) would be such a good thing.

The third place listed is Jericho. What happened at Jericho? Walls came a tumbling down in the days of Joshua. This was the site of the first battle the people of God had as they entered the promised land. Remember this was 40 years on from the events at Gilgal – after years of nomadic wandering as the people of God. At Jericho we are watching the evidence of people walking by faith – not relying on our strength but leaning into God’s love for us. Really important in the times we are in at the moment that we lean into God’s love for us. We were talking about living by faith in Alpha this week, it has made me think how important it is for us to follow God’s prompting (and especially no matter how much it may not make sense to us at the time!). I have often described this as letting go and letting God – especially helpful when we really aren’t sure of the next step. Our most important action is to trust our God who loves us so much.

The final place Elijah and Elisha travel to is the river Jordan. What happened here – well two things – the start of Jesus ministry and his baptism. Baptism by baptism I add some holy water from the river Jordon to the font as we mark another Christian’s new start. Also what happened here was another miraculous parting of the waters – this time enacted by Elijah not Elisha so they could cross.

As we move towards Lent and remember Jesus’s walk and his journey of teaching, worship, praying, sacrifice and resurrection, we see the way God has saved us today (a little different from the exodus event for the people of God). We know the call of God comes to us through Jesus love for us. Elijah experienced this really dramatically at this point as he ascended into heaven.

This lent let’s spend the time recognising our lives as living sacrifices, seeking the presence of God, walking in faith and wondering at the length God went to through the saving love of Jesus Christ.

Let’s follow the call of God where-ever it may leave us in these changing times. Amen

References: Bible Study on Elisha’s journey by Ian Gordon.