2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14


Resurrection Threatens Death Every Day

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2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14


Resurrection Threatens Death Every Day

The Rev. Charles Hoffacker

The prophet Elijah
makes an awesome exit from this life.
He is carried to heaven in a whirlwind,
transported by a fiery chariot
with fiery horses!


This breath taking scene
may cause us to overlook
what else takes place
in today’s first reading.
There is a lot going on,
much of it far from obvious.

This story of Elijah and his successor Elisha
echoes an earlier story from Scripture,
namely Moses and his successor Joshua.
Moses leads the Exodus out of Egypt,
but Joshua is the one who, after forty years,
finally brings Israel across the Jordan River
into the Promised Land.

Centuries later,
Elijah and Elisha reconnect with this Joshua story,
part of the foundational saga of their people.
They travel from Gilgal,
where Israel crossed the Jordan under Joshua,
to Bethel,
which is mentioned repeatedly
in accounts of the occupation of the land.
From there they travel to Jericho,
the city that fell to Joshua
as the first great victory of the occupation.

Then they go to the Jordan.
Elijah strikes the river with his mantle,
the water divides,
and the two of them pass over
on dry ground,
thus replicating in miniature
the original Jordan River passage
under Joshua.

What Elijah does at the Jordan
echoes what Joshua did there long before,
and what Joshua did at the Jordan
echoes what Moses did at the Red Sea.
In each case,
the Lord makes for his people
a way where there is no way.
Where once there was water,
they move ahead on dry ground.

It’s not that history repeats itself.
But certain patterns appear
by which deliverance happens.
By recognizing these patterns,
we gain grace and strength
for the struggles of our day.

For the Lord God has not retired,
and still has work to do
in cooperation with his people.
The Exodus is not over.
The victory of Easter still unfolds.
As the hymn declares,
“God is working his purpose out,
as year succeeds to year.”  1
And as another hymn answers,
“no arm so weak
but may do service here.”  2


Certain patterns manifest themselves
by which deliverance happens.
These patterns occur inside Scripture.
They also take place in our time
and include events
uncomfortably close to us.
All history
is under the judgment of God.

On March 25, 1911,
Frances Perkins met friends for tea
at a splendid townhouse in New York City.
Suddenly they heard outside the shouts of people
and the sirens of fire engines.
A big fire had erupted in a ten-story building
only a short distance away.
That building housed the Triangle Shirtwaist factory,
where hundreds of young immigrant women
toiled in crowded and unsafe conditions.

Frances Perkins soon saw people in panic
on the upper floors of that high-rise,
trying to escape the smoke and the flames.
They were locked inside the building,
unable to reach an exit.
As Perkins approached,
she saw one worker after another
plummet to the sidewalk.
The death toll that day
was one hundred forty-six.

There was history behind
this horrible event.
Two years earlier,
some twenty thousand young women
who worked at Triangle and other clothing factories
had filled the streets in protest,
demanding better pay, reliable schedules,
and safe working conditions.
The factory owners fought back.
Picketers were harassed, beaten,
and taken to jail.

These protesters found unlikely allies
in a group of wealthy women
known as the Mink Brigade
who carried protest signs
and bailed strikers out of jail.
Many of the companies reached settlements
with their workers.
A notable exception was Triangle.

When the Triangle fire occurred,
public outrage reached the boiling point.
A group of leading citizens called a public meeting
a week later at the Metropolitan Opera House.

Frances Perkins was in the audience that day.
She took the message she heard there
as a personal call to action.
As  her biographer Kirstin Downey has put it,
“Workplaces needed to be made safer and more humane,
but [Frances Perkins] had already lost her innocence
about the ease with which these changes might occur,
and she realized a lifelong commitment was needed.”  3

Or to put it only a little differently,
March 25, 1911 was the day
that the New Deal was born.

Now to an event
even more uncomfortably close to us.

Earlier this year,
an eight-story commercial building in Bangladesh collapsed,
resulting in a death toll of more than eleven hundred people.
The building housed several garment factories
employing thousands of people
and manufacturing apparel for several western brands.

This structure was not built to be a factory.
The day before the collapse,
inspectors found cracks
and requested evacuation and closure.
Yet garment workers were forced to return
the following day;
their supervisors announced
that the building was safe.

In response to this catastrophe and others,
activists around the world
have joined with unions to demand
that apparel companies sign
the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh.
This legally binding agreement requires
independent inspections by trained fire safety experts,
mandatory repairs and renovations financed by the brands,
and a central role for workers and their unions.
Forty-three brands and retailers
have already signed on to this agreement.

Major exceptions include Gap and Wal-Mart.
And so yesterday
labor rights advocates took part in an
International Day of Action to End Deathtraps.
Activities such as picketing, distribution of flyers,
and  civil disobedience
took place at Gap and Wal-Mart stores
in many communities
around the nation and the world,
including Washington, D.C.


March 25, 1911,
the date of a catastrophic fire
in New York City,
became the birth day of the New Deal.
Our Church includes Frances Perkins
on the calendar of saints,
honoring her as a public servant
and a prophetic witness.
She and others struggled magnificently
to build a gracious society
in the image of a gracious God.

A century later,
April 24, 2013 became the date
of a catastrophic fire in Bangladesh.
What will grow out of this tragedy?

The Lord has not retired,
and still has work to do
in cooperation with his people,
those who call themselves believers
and those who do not.

The Exodus is incomplete
so long as any wait to be delivered.

The victory of Easter still unfolds;
resurrection threatens death every day.

As the hymn announces,
“God is working his purpose out
as year succeeds to year.”

And as another hymn answers,
“no arm so weak
but may do service here.”

1.  Arthur Campbell Ainger, “God is working his purpose out.”

2.  Jane Laurie Borthwick, “Come, labor on.”

3.  Kirstin Downey, The Woman Behind the New Deal: The Life and Legacy of Frances Perkins–Social Security, Unemployment Insurance, and the Minimum Wage (Anchor Books, 2009), 36.  My description of events around the Triangle Shirtwaist fire is based on Downey, 33-36.

Copyright 2013, Charles Hoffacker. Used by permission.