It Is The Lord!

“When Elijah heard the tiny whispering sound, he hid his face in his cloak and went and stood at the entrance of the cave” (1 Kings 19:13).
 
Today’s Lectionary presents us with two of the most dramatic yet nuanced theophanies in the Bible. Elijah the prophet and Jesus teach us how to know to find God in our lives.
 
 Elijah encounters God on Mount Horeb. He is told to prepare for God passing by, and he knows that the contact with be in passing, mediated in some way, as it was for Moses in the burning bush, since direct interface with the timeless eternal God is not possible from our limited, time-dependent dimension. It was believed that no human being would survive such an encounter.
 
Elijah experiences three manifestations of awesome power — a rock-crushing wind, an earthquake and fire – but God is not in any of these. What follows is a “tiny whispering sound,” and because Elijah is truly a prophet he actually can hear this and recognize that it is the sound of God passing by. Still, he wraps his face in his cloak to protect himself from any glimpse of glory and steps to the entrance of the cave.
 
In today’s Gospel, the disciples encounter Jesus on the lake during a furious storm. Jesus’ ghostlike appearance suggests that this could be a post-resurrection story inserted into the narrative. Matthew uses a series of lake crossings to indicate how Jesus prepared his disciples exist in two dimensions as they were transformed by faith from earthly to transcendent life in Christ. They would learn to see their risen Lord and even “walk on water” as the church made its way through the storms of history.
 
 What would it be for us to encounter God and the risen Christ? Our own faith grows from more miraculous or literal expectations to a layered process of discernment. Isn’t this the meaning of Elijah’s grasp of God’s presence as a tiny whispering sound? It says that we know God in this life only with faith. Faith comes with discipleship, which is about learning to see and hear in a new and deeper way. Our encounters with God will be mediated by the people we serve and love, by the signs all around us of grace at work in acts of mercy and justice. Our faith in Jesus is to trust his living presence in the sacraments, in the community, and especially in our own daily experiences of joy and suffering as part of life.
 
If you have helped a brother or sister, not with force or power but with a word of compassion, you have encountered God in a tiny whispering sound. If you have grasped a friend by the hand who was sinking in despair, you have encountered Jesus. If you have dared to step out of your own security to help another, you know how to walk on water.  These powerful scriptural images contain promises and become real in action. 
 
Behold, today the living God is passing by and the risen Christ is revealed to his church.