On one of the shelves in my study is an old pocket bible. It belonged to the first person for whom I took a funeral. He died without next-of-kin, and the care home where he was a resident asked if I would like to have it, otherwise it would just be thrown away. It turns out that I am the fourth owner: the bible previously belonged to the chap’s father, who was called Fred. Fred in turn received it from the Tabernacle Sunday School ‘on his promotion to the bible class’ in 1903.
As humans, it’s natural to pass things on. In fact, much of the time we can’t help but pass things on. Some of these things are good and healthy. Sadly, some aren’t: we need no reminding in the current season of what can pass between one human and the next.
Whilst most of us will have mementoes and keepsakes from people we’ve known and loved, often the things that ‘pass on’ to us are less tangible, but far more important. I have very few physical objects to remind me of my late mum, but the unseen things she gave to me – unconditional love, a listening ear, the value of gentleness, a love of music and books – are with me all the time, and have changed my life for the better. I hope that I can likewise pass these on to my own children, and maybe others too.
In today’s reading we see something else pass on from one human to the next – this time, it is the Spirit of God. The great prophet Elijah’s life and ministry is coming to an end, and his young protégé Elisha is about to take over the reins. As the two prepare to part ways, Elijah asks him one last question: ‘what would you like from me?’ Elisha’s answer is unusual but inspiring: ‘A double portion of your spirit.’ God is obviously pleased with this answer, as Elisha inherits exactly as requested.
Now whilst we must admit that the circumstances of this story are unusual – not many of us get taken up in a whirlwind to heaven – nevertheless, the process by which the Spirit ‘transfers’ from Elijah to Elisha is not so strange as we might think. It was the common practice of the early church to commission new leaders by laying hands on them, and likewise, the ‘laying of hands’ has typically characterised the Christian ministry of healing too. Whilst the Spirit is always a gift of God and cannot be bought, enhanced or manipulated by humans, the Spirit can be conferred prayerfully and under God’s direction between one human and the next. After all, the Spirit’s purpose is to glorify Jesus and when we pray for healing, or commission new leaders, Jesus is glorified.
Take a moment today to give thanks for those who have blessed you, who have conferred God’s grace to you, whose friendship and leadership have helped you grow in the spiritual life. And perhaps, reflect too on who you might in turn be able to bless. Pass it on!