Today over lunch, I sat with a friend who is grieving the loss of a family member and I was reminded of an account in the Old Testament that I had shared with an old friend several years ago after reading it and being struck by it. That old friend had also been grieving a loss at the time and when I shared the story with her it brought her tremendous encouragement, so I shared it today with my new friend and it encouraged her as well. So I'm going to share it here now so that I never forget it and so that it is here if when you or I ever need it.
In the Bible, we find an account of a man by the name of Elijah, who was a prophet of God from 871-854 BC. He was bold and the stories about his life detailed in the text are dramatic, to say the least. (I would encourage you to check it out.) Elijah had a protege with a similar name: Elisha. When the time was near for Elijah to depart this life and move on to the next, he knew it was coming and so did Elisha... and so did many others. The text said that as Elijah traveled (and Elisha refused to leave his side) other prophets in both Bethel and Jericho commented to Elisha, "Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?" To which Elisha responded, "Shut up!" Okay, perhaps the wording in the Bible is closer to, "Yes, I know. Be quiet!" Elisha, it seems, was grieved and panicked. He didn't want Elijah to leave him and he wasn't sure if he could fill his (very big) shoes.
Here is the account that I want to remember from the second chapter of 2 Kings:
6 Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.”
And he replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them walked on.
7 Fifty men from the company of the prophets went and stood at a distance, facing the place where Elijah and Elisha had stopped at the Jordan. 8 Elijah took his cloak, rolled it up and struck the water with it. The water divided to the right and to the left, and the two of them crossed over on dry ground.
9 When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?”
“Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” Elisha replied.
10 “You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah said, “yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours—otherwise, it will not.”
11 As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. 12 Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his garment and tore it in two.
13 Elisha then picked up Elijah’s cloak that had fallen from him and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. 14 He took the cloak that had fallen from Elijah 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.
15 The company of the prophets from Jericho, who were watching, said, “The spirit of Elijah is resting on Elisha.” And they went to meet him and bowed to the ground before him.
That might seem like a strange story to share in a time of grief, but here is why it should bring encouragement. This story reminds me that I do not own any other person on this earth - their physical presence is not mine to control, demand, or cling to. What I do own, is what they leave behind in my heart, mind and soul. Their "cloak."
When someone we love or admire departs this life for the next before we do, it becomes painfully clear that we have no claim on their physical presence with us. But no one can take away what they left behind for us...
Elisha was left with Elijah's cloak.
And God used it to encourage and empower him to do what came next. He used it to assure him that he wasn't alone. He used it to confirm to others that Elisha had, indeed, received a great and powerful gift by being close to his mentor.
When we are left with the "cloak" of another, may God help us to recognize it and accept it for the powerful gift it is. May God, by his grace, use it to encourage and empower us to do what comes next. May God use it to reassure us that we are not alone. May God use it as a testimony to others. And May God use it to continue the impact and legacy of the one we dearly love.
The flipside of this lesson for me is to be aware of the "cloak" that I am daily fashioning to leave behind for others. How can I live to intentionally weave a cloak that will last and bring encouragement and comfort even when I have moved on? May we regularly ask ourselves that question and may it spur us on to deeper relationships, higher character, and contagious joy and faith.
Dedicated to the "cloak" of Bryce Alexander Hill. He wasn't ours to keep. But he left us so much that no one can take away.
Carla Ritz. Proof positive that God uses cracked pots!