2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-15

Ephesians 1:15-23

Today we celebrate, among other things, Jesus’ ascension. This is the end of the Easter season and the beginning of Pentecost, when the church begins to grow into itself. For the next three sermons, we’ll watch the Spirit of God dream the church into being. We’ll see what new life God creates. Today, Ascension Sunday and Memorial Sunday, we’ll dream a church that carries on the work of its ancestors in faith. Next week, on Pentecost, we’ll dream a church that becomes something new that it never had been before. On June 7, Trinity Sunday (which is also when w’ell change to our 9:30 worship time), we’ll dream a church that is united with itself and all God’s creation, but that does something very different from what anyone else does.

Today we’re celebrating the Ascension, when Jesus was taken up into heaven. This was the second time Jesus’ followers lost him: first when he died on the cross, and now as he ascends into heaven. We can imagine that the disciples felt some grief, some incomprehension, as we’ll see when Luke tells this story in Acts 1 next week. In the passage from the end of Luke’s Gospel, however, there is no sadness. Jesus’ followers go rejoicing to Jerusalem, giving thanks to God and looking forward to the coming of the Holy Spirit on them.

Maybe the disciples here thought of Elijah ascending in the whirlwind. The first hearers of this story most likely did think of that event. Elijah’s ascent into heaven was an old enough story that we can forget Elisha’s anguish at losing Elijah, and we only have to remember the confidence and power of the junior prophet. Elisha got what he asked for, the successor’s share of Elijah’s prophetic Spirit, and he wore Elijah’s cloak. The disciples got that from Jesus, too. As we’ll read next week, the Spirit that identified Jesus as God’s anointed came on them too, and Christ lived in them.

That’s how we carry on in someone’s absence. On this Ascension Sunday, this Memorial Sunday, we inhabit our ancestors, and they inhabit us. We inhabit our ancestors almost literally, in this building that none of us built and yet we have received it, passed on to us like Elijah’s cloak. The Church, of course, is far bigger than this building or any building that came before or will come after it. But preserving and celebrating this space is vital. We could start again without it, but this building is a container of who we are. Our ancestors consecrated this sanctuary, and it still symbolizes the connections that make us one with God and with them. We listen to their organ and sit in their pews, even as we say our prayers and sing our hymns (and a few of each others’).

We feel our ancestors’ Spirit in us. God, who is greater than time or space, connects us with our ancestors from here and everywhere. We honor their presence by carrying on in our bodies the good works they did and the lessons they taught us. We honor them by lighting candles and buying geraniums, but more, we honor them by living their highest values. Values of love for family, country, and God’s world. Neither we nor they completely live up to those values, but we seek to give the best we can, just as they did.

The best way to hold onto our ancestors’ values is to give them away: to live them as Jesus did and to teach them to younger generations. Elijah lived on because he shared his Spirit with the next generation to follow, namely Elisha. God sends the Spirit from person to person. Like this potter teaching his granddaughter to make a clay bowl, we have to share our Spirit with others. That sharing will take us to next week’s part of this sermon, when the church becomes something new that it had never been before.

First, take a look at the list of veterans and other memorials we’ve offered today. Think of the candle you lit, the geranium you gave, or the ones you would have done if you’d been able to. Then find someone at least ten years away from your age, preferably someone who didn’t know the person you’re thinking of. Take five minutes to tell about them. Tell what you valued most about this person. What value would they want someone else to share?

Then hold your ancestors and the one you just learned about (because they are now your ancestor too) in prayer as we gratefully receive this morning’s offering.