Thirty-four years ago, tonight, an Elisha moment.
In the Second Book of Kings in the Hebrew Scriptures, Elijah has been teaching Elisha and the time has come for Elisha to start out on his own, but Elisha doesn’t want to know about it. Elijah tells him three times, “Stay here” and three times he says to Elijah, “As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you.”
Elisha’s friends tell him twice that Elijah is to be taken away “Do you know that the LORD is going to take your master from you today?” “Yes, I know,” Elisha replies, “but do not speak of it.”
Elisha realizes that the time has come for him to take the lead, that the initiative is now with him, and he doesn’t want to let go.
Taking the initiative has sometimes been painful, sometimes rightening.
On this night in1989, it was a wonderful summer evening. The countryside around looked perfect, the view across the sea to the Mourne mountains was something from a picture book.
At about 11 in the evening it was still daylight, the last of the people had gone home and I was left standing in the parish hall with the two churchwardens. They were cousins, big countrymen of few words, who called me ’Mr Poulton’, (seven years later one of them still called me ‘Mr Poulton’, he could never quite adjust to the idea that a clergyman might be addressed by his Christian name).
Standing there, I realized that I was 28 years old and I was on my own in looking after this small rural community. I remember feeling almost a sense of fear and panic at about what I was taking on and a great sense of loss that I would no longer be with the rector who had been so kind and helpful during the previous three years.
My feelings would have been no more than a tiny fraction of what Elisha would have felt when Elijah was gone. But what happens to Elisha has always been a lesson in getting up and getting on with things. “He picked up the cloak that had fallen from Elijah and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. Then he took the cloak that had fallen from him and struck the water with it. “Where now is the LORD, the God of Elijah?” he asked. When he struck the water, it divided to the right and to the left, and he crossed over.
The company of the prophets from Jericho, who were watching, said, “The spirit of Elijah is resting on Elisha.”
Elisha might have stood, as I did in June 1989, and felt bewildered and lost that he had been left by himself. Elisha might have made numerous excuses as to why he couldn’t continue.
Elisha does not sit and ponder, he takes the cloak of Elijah and he gets on with work. It is a lesson for which there has often been cause upon which to reflect.