SERMON BUILD for
Service in Commemoration of those whose lives have been affected by Alzheimer’s and Other Memory Disorders.
TRANSFIGURATION SUNDAY 2 KINGS 2: 1-12
Now when the LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. 2Elijah said to Elisha, "Stay here; for the LORD has sent me as far as Bethel." But Elisha said, "As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you." So they went down to Bethel. 3The company of prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha, and said to him, "Do you know that today the LORD will take your master away from you?" And he said, "Yes, I know; keep silent."4Elijah said to him, "Elisha, stay here; for the LORD has sent me to Jericho." But he said, "As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you." So they came to Jericho. 5The company of prophets who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha, and said to him, "Do you know that today the LORD will take your master away from you?" And he answered, "Yes, I know; be silent."6Then Elijah said to him, "Stay here; for the LORD has sent me to the Jordan." But he said, "As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you." So the two of them went on. 7Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. 8Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground.9When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, "Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you." Elisha said, "Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit." 10He responded, "You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not." 11As 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. 12Elisha kept watching and crying out, "Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!" But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.
I knocked hesitatingly on the door to Pastor William Day’s room. He had just arrived from assisted living to the medical floor and was assigned to my wing. He welcomed me warmly: his grip strong and his voice clear. His thick grey hair was neatly combed, a bit unusual for someone on my floor. In fact he seemed perfectly healthy, if not gregarious. Within minutes we were swapping stories of ministry, his drawn from some 40 years in the parish, mine from exactly one at seminary. A Methodist, he had served nearly everywhere one could imagine up and down the east coast. And then I found myself in the waning days of World War II as the newly ordained Pastor Day had received news of his first parish assigned. He wasn’t telling about something that happened long ago in the past – he was living it out in the present. I was a classmate of his at seminary receiving the good news of his assignment and impending marriage. He was very excited. She was a lovely woman from a good family.
So I had this choice – did I go along for the ride wherever this train of thought might lead or gently try to bring him back to the present. To the small but room filled with a few photographs of a wife who could no longer care for him or the children and grand children who adored him or the framed note of thanks from his last parish for his blessed service there. Then it occurred to me – if the past is where he wanted to, then that is exactly where we should be. “Tell me about the wedding,” I asked. And that is exactly what he did.
It was the farewell tour of a sort for Elijah with his prophet heir-apparent, Elisha, in tow. Every town they approached Elijah would gently suggest that Elisha stay put while he would go forward. But Elisha could not let Elijah go. Couldn’t bear the thought of the bonds of friendship being severed. So Elisha followed Elijah to Bethel, to Jericho and finally to Jordan. And in each town a whole company of prophets would go out and meet them, reminding Elisha that that day, his master would be taken from him. As if he needed anyone, especially some fifty-odd people, to remind him of his private fear. And as they entered Bethel and Jericho and Jordan Elisha must have wondered, had to have wondered: “Would this town be our last time together? Would this town separate us and leave only the memories of what was?”
A few weeks later I found myself once again knocking hesitantly on the door to Pastor Day’s room. Time for another visit. “Who are you?” he asked, turning his wheelchair to face the door. Almost reflexively I looked down at my nametag. “Hey, Pastor Day,” I said. “It’s Chaplain Spencer. We met a few weeks ago when you were transferred here.” A confused look took hold of his face. “I was?” he said. And then quickly added: “This is my room.” I looked around for something, anything, to move the conversation forward, saved finally by the framed pictures on the night stand next to his bed. “Well,” I said, “Mind if I come in? And look at that! Tell me about those beautiful grand children - are they yours?” And so he did.
The time had nearly arrived for Elijah. We read: “When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, "Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you." Elisha said, "Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit." Elisha wanted the greatest gift to be passed on. To be able to remember and put into practice in his own life all that was in Elijah’s life. "Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit," he asks.
Even as Alzheimer’s and other memory disorders such as dementia peel away memory and recognition and eventually functioning, the legacy of the years remains. Love, experience, treasured memories, the innumerable ways in which one life touched, shaped and formed another, these things live on; continue in the child, the spouse, the friend and neighbor. They become a legacy that no disease can tarnish or take away.
Pastor Day’s daughter called: she was coming to visit. The summer heat had given way to a beautiful day and Pastor Day and I met her outside. She wanted to wheel him around a bit and spend some time with him. To walk and talk and remember. It didn’t occur to me until much later what it must be like for her, never knowing if the next visit would be the one in which he could no longer recall her name or who she was. It didn’t occur to me until much later if each visit was filled for her with fifty voices in her mind: “Today he will be taken from you.”
More than memory, more than love, more than life itself, something else binds us together against the forces that seek to tear us from one another: time and distance, Alzheimer’s and dementia, even death itself. That priceless treasure is God’s promise for us in and through Christ Jesus, our Savior. Through God’s gift of grace in Christ, we know that as nothing separates us from the love of God. Likewise: we know, trust and believe with our whole hearts that nothing can separate us from one another, bound together as we are in Christ. As memory fades and years add upon years until death comes, we are still bound together in Christ. Through Christ we live in the promise that the day shall come when all that diminished us will fade, when all that leaves us broken and fearful and sad shall fade. When God’s reign of love and peace will rule in its fullness and together we shall arm in arm and hand in hand stand before our God and rejoice forever whole again.
Thanks be to God! Amen!