I had never paid a whole of attention to the prophet Elijah of the Hebrew Bible, but that changed recently. With Kerry and some other UU ministers I participated in a discussion of the passage in Matthew 17 where Jesus and a few of his disciples are out on a hike (mountain climbing, apparently) and suddenly the disciples see that Moses and Elijah have joined Jesus. The disciples offer to construct huts for the three of them.
Then the choir’s anthem on April 7, “Voice Still and Small” (SLT #391) refers, I’ve always assumed, to the passage in 1 Kings 19 where Elijah hears “a sound of sheer silence.” Was that God? Elijah had been instructed to “go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” That event, by the way, was preceded by Elijah’s slaying of 450 prophets of Baal, a rival to the God of Israel.
On Saturday and Sunday evenings, April 6 and 7, I was among the Wayne Oratorio Society singers performing Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. At one point we in the chorus were the bystanders near the cross from which Jesus was hanging. We sang: “He calleth for Elijah” and then “Wait, wait, and see, if Elijah cometh to save Him.” He didn’t. (Matthew 27) But what’s Elijah doing in the New Testament? And why should anyone celebrate Elijah, anyway?
At Passover, an empty seat is left in case Elijah shows up. Why would one expect Elijah? Elijah himself reportedly did not die but went – alive – to heaven: “As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven.” 2 Kings 2:11.
On May 7 (my brother’s 80th birthday) the Oratorio Society will start rehearsing Mendelssohn’s Elijah. By the time of our performances (October 19 and 20 at the Wayne Presbyterian Church, October 26 at the Washington National Cathedral), I should know more about this prophet. Indeed, I may be tempted to share some of that knowledge with you. For now, you can learn more about Elijah in 1 Kings 17-19 and 2 Kings 1-2.