Tuesday, February 6, 2018
Watching Until The End
There is a supernatural character to Elisha's decision to accompany Elijah, his prophet-master, until he is taken up by God in the chariot of fire. In Sunday's first lesson, we will hear Elijah say to Elisha several times, "Stay here!" but each time Elisha says, "As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you." First, they stop in Bethel. Then, they head to Jericho. Finally, they cross the Jordan. At each stage of the journey, Elijah urges Elisha to stop. Twice, people whisper to Elisha, "Do you know that today the Lord will take away your master from you?" and twice Elisha responds, "Yes, I know; be silent." Yet Elisha perseveres to the end, asking a double-portion of Elijah's spirit as an inheritance.
There's also an ordinary, everyday quality to Elisha's journey. Not only is he pursuing the double-portion, but he's also waiting and watching and walking with someone he loves as that someone approaches the end of his life. Sure, Elijah's end comes with a chariot of fire and a divine whirlwind, but the reality is the same: Elijah is going to leave this life, and Elisha is not willing to look away. How many people do we know who make that same journey?
It is hard to wait and watch at a hospital bedside. It is excruciating to camp out in the bedroom of a loved one while she struggles to breathe, hearing the haunting gurgle of fluid in her throat that she doesn't have the strength to clear. It can take hours or days or weeks. Everyone assures us that it is ok to step away, that we must take some time to take care of ourselves. And we may sneak off for a shower or a few hours of sleep, but we never really leave. Even the one we care for in those moments would tell us that it is ok for us to go, that everything will be alright, that she wants us to get on with our own life, but our quiet, gentle response is the same as Elisha's: "As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you."
There is a holiness, a noble faithfulness, to waiting and watching as someone dies. Like Elisha, we are not motivated by the inheritance, but we know that we will get something from the journey. It's nothing tangible. Those sorts of things will be taken care of in the estate. The thing we receive is as powerful yet invisible as the double-portion of a prophet's spirit. The double-portion of the estate would go to the firstborn son, but Elisha--no blood-relative of the senior prophet--does not stand to inherit anything more than Elijah's mantle, which he picks up in verse 13 and wields much as his master did. Instead, the double-portion we seek is the connection of kinship, the love between one who waits and one who is waited upon. And for us, like Elisha, the journey is exhausting, but the journey itself is the reward.