Increase and multiply upon us thy mercy; that, thou being our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal….
In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Parents have an intimate awareness of the passage of time when it comes their kids. When Julie and I became brand-new parents, I remember feeling a bit annoyed when empty-nesters would remind us, as if imparting some sage wisdom, that “they grow up so fast!” That is, until I woke up one morning and it was the first day of school all of the sudden and I exclaimed to myself, “they grow up so fast!” It must be a sacred mantra. Anyway, I’m sure that someday I’ll get to utter it to some unsuspecting new parent who will find it annoying until they too receive the epiphany and join the club.
But, while parents may have an intimate acquaintance with this reality in their own way, every human being knows deep down that time, history -- whatever you want to call it -- doesn’t need our help to keep going. It happens all by itself as the passage of time continues its unstoppable march. And this fact alone is main source of all our regret, our lament, and our dread. The past is lost to us forever as soon as it becomes the past; our memories are the only residue it leaves behind -- and we know how reliable those can be.
And this has always been our situation. “Vanity of vanities,” the Preacher laments in the Book of Ecclesiastes, “All is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:2). For:
What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; and there is nothing new under the sun. [...] There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to happen among those who come after. (Ecclesiastes 1:9-10)
Then the Psalmist joins in too with his acceptance that “we are like a puff of wind; our days are like a passing shadow” (Psalm 144:4). We live in a world full of “things temporal,” as our Collect calls them, which is just another way of saying that everything around us in subject to time. And that includes us as well. We are included among these temporal things: our lives are bound to the passage of time and all of its forces of loss, decay, and ultimately death. We grow up so fast.
But this was not how it was supposed to be. The thing that makes human beings unique among the rest of earth’s creatures is that we have been given a share of eternity. Though our bodies regrettably toil under the dominion of time, they are nevertheless formed by the “intellectual souls”  that we received from God. We are spiritual creatures with material bodies -- a “little lower than the angels” (Psalm 8:6). This is what makes us what we are -- what defines us as human beings made in the image of God: that we have been given a spiritual existence as creatures endowed with souls. And since our spiritual existence is a gift from the God who is pure Spirit, this existence is likewise eternal. So every human being is immortal because our souls are immortal.
But when it comes to our bodies, this is regrettably not the case anymore; and the fact that our bodies clearly not immortal is simply the tragedy of death, which Christians understand to be the tragedy of sin. From the beginning, our disobedience to God has not only ruptured our unity with God, but has also ruptured our unity with ourselves. Sin actually damages us. There was never supposed to be a separation of the soul from the body at any point in human life because we were never supposed to die. And this separation of the soul from the body is simply what death is for humans. Human bodies have became bodies of death. They are now included among “things temporal” now we have to live out our damaged lives in a world that groans under damage of its own.
This is where our prayer to God in our Collect this morning returns again. Here we are, surrounded by temporal things as those who are bound to time ourselves. But we also have retained our spiritual nature and the immortality of our soul. And so the whole game is that we “so pass through things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal.” We’re caught in a bind, in other words. We may be the inhabitants of this world that’s under the captivity of time, but we are not so imprisoned by it that we are unable to hold onto things eternal. It is at least possible, it seems, that we can actually pass through the time, through the decay, by grasping onto eternity.
In our Old Testament reading from 2 Kings, we find that Elisha is becoming increasingly aware that his time with Elijah is coming to an end. Something that he doesn’t want to think about very much. Elijah first tells him to “tarry here” and stay behind, since God has called him to go elsewhere. But Elisha refuses, “as the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” And as they journey together to the places where Elijah has been called, Elisha is asked by the sons of the prophets whether he knows “that today the Lord will take away your master from over you.” He dismisses them, just as he dismissed Elijah’s request that he stay behind: “Yes, I know it; hold your peace.” This exchange between Elisha and the others is repeated at their first two stops together.
Finally, they come to their third destination across the river Jordan, which Elijah parts in a reenactment both of Moses’ parting of the Red Sea and Joshua’s parting of the river Jordan himself. But while he and Elisha have gained quite the following by now, they are the only ones who cross to the other side. So, at this point, note how insistent Elisha has been on remaining with Elijah. He has “passed through” a number of things in order to “hold onto” his remaining time with his beloved master, even passing through the Jordan River that was miraculously parted by Elijah’s mantle. But at last, the time has come for them to part ways forever. “When they had crossed, Eli′jah said to Eli′sha, ‘Ask what I shall do for you, before I am taken from you.’ And Eli′sha said, ‘I pray you, let me inherit a double share of your spirit.’” Elijah may be about to depart from Elisha’s presence in a chariot of fire -- his presence with him is yet another temporal thing that must come to an end like everything else -- but there are some eternal things to be grasped here. Elisha asks Elijah to give him “a double share” of his spirit -- a spirit that, as I said at the beginning, is not bound to time but persists forever. And thus he can hold onto the spirit of Elijah even as Elijah himself is about to be taken from him.
And Elijah said, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it shall be so for you; but if you do not see me, it shall not be so.” Elisha’s request can’t just be fulfilled right then and there. He must hold on even further, for he must be there to see Elijah depart with his own eyes in order to receive the double share of his spirit.
And as they still went on and talked, behold, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Eli′jah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. And Eli′sha saw it and he cried, “My father, my father! the chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” And he saw him no more.
What the example of Elisha gives us in our reading today is a model for the entire Christian life. His unwavering devotion to stay with Elijah until the very end is what it looks like to “pass through things temporal” in order to “not lose the things eternal.” Again, the challenge of our damaged existence after the Fall is that we are constantly being pulled towards death and decay. And not just in the sense that our bodies are always aging as we move closer to the end of our earthly lives. Recall that this very process of decay is itself a punishment of death. It was not supposed to be this way. But now that we inherit this basic rupture between our souls and our bodies, our struggle is to resist the pull of all these other temporal things that can make the rupture even worse. When we give in to our attachments to these things that are passing away, we give in to death and damage ourselves all the more. Sin makes the rupture worse.
But like Elijah, Christ has given us a “double share of his spirit” -- which we could interpret in a number of ways. For instance, since Christ was fully God and fully human, this “double share” could be thought of as the twofold gift of both his perfected humanity and his divinity; it’s through his body that we are reborn as a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17) and it’s through his divinity that this “new creation” is none other than our entrance into the life of God. Or, we could think of the first part of this “double share” as the liberation from the bondage of death that Christ has won for us -- which is what makes it possible for us to pass through things temporal at all -- with the second part being the final blessing of seeing God face to face. Just like Elisha looked upon Elijah’s ascent into heaven on a chariot of fire.
Either way, the promise of the Gospel is simply that we are on our way to being restored to our original unity with God our with ourselves. The passage of time and its power of death and decay are no longer our masters, for Christ himself has passed through them once and for all, from death to life. To imitate the example of Elisha is therefore to imitate the example of Christ. For like Elisha, Christ also passes over a body of water in today’s Gospel reading -- did you catch that? But unlike Elisha, the disciples are not passing over with him. And in fact, the reading makes a point to note that Jesus even “meant to pass by them.” Their hearts were still hardened, unfortunately, and so they did not remain with Jesus as Elisha remained with Elijah. They chose to stay behind in their lack of understanding and thus for a moment became just some other things that Christ intended to pass by on his own journey to go where God was calling him. And the disciples should have been there right behind him.
So do not let your hearts be hardened. Resist the fixation on these temporal things that, like our mortal bodies, will one day pass away. Hold on to the eternal things, instead. But know that we cannot hold on to them by our own power; we must plead with God to “increase and multiply upon us his mercy”; like Elisha, we must ask for a double share of the spirit. And thanks be to God that Christ has freely given it to us and answered our prayer, even now. So come to this altar and hold on to Christ -- the ultimate eternal thing. May it strengthen us for the rest of our days as we “count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus [our] Lord” (Philippians 3:8). Amen.
 St. Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologiae. I, Q. 76, A. 1.