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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Who We Are

What a marvelous season it is in the Lord’s Church. We stand today on the hem of Easter, still basking in the afterglow of the Resurrection. Not but a week ago we praised and celebrated the anastasis of our Lord. We baptized three new believers and welcomed them into our fellowship; we took the Lord’s Supper and participated in the breaking of his body and the spilling of his blood. Everything about Easter and what we did last Sunday morning was about remembering. We remember the sorrow of the crucifixion and the joy of the resurrection; we remember the Last Supper that the Lord shared with his disciples. Surely the fellowship of the saints in this place will remind our new believers of the commitment that they have made and the love and hope that comes with being born again! You see, everything about our worship, especially Easter, has some element of remembrance in it – we include our voices and hearts in the great story that has been playing out for thousands of years, lifting our eyes to the same heavens that our forebears gazed into to see the glory and splendor of God.
We remember. But it is not just that we remember last Sunday morning; in fact, many here can not remember beyond the nap they’re taking right now. Some have a hazy recollection of the events of the previous week, while others still can remember the very details of seven days ago as though they were the present. The various qualities of our memories tend to make us devalue it. In fact, remembering anything in our society is quickly becoming a non-essential quality. Consider that no longer do you need to remember phone numbers – you have names listed in your phones. No more do you need to remember calendar events – your palm pilot or smartphone will remind you of everything you’re doing. Even students are losing the necessity of memory – when Wikipedia is available, why should students take notes? Google has even revolutionized the sermon – soon laptops will be as plentiful as Bibles in the sanctuary. The irony of all of this is that we remember less and less in an age when everything is preserved, archived, and catalogued.
This is not a condemnation of computers or of our cultural forgetfulness. However, I encountered such a contrast to that cultural proclivity recently that I’m still not sure I fully appreciated it. Along all the roads, sidewalks, and paths in Greece stand little shrines. These are mailbox-sized objects filled with candles and icons of the Eastern Church. Each of them stands at a place where something memorable happened to someone. No one necessarily died, but something happened at that spot that a Greek wants to remember always. In our travels we must have seen thousands of the little shrines, each of them a milestone in the life of someone I will never meet. I have to wonder what happened there – was it a near death experience? Perhaps it was an epiphany, or maybe it was a breakup. What was more important than the shrines to me was the sense of collective memory about the place. Everyone wanted to remember; the cultural identity of the people was bound up in recalling the momentous events that had brought them to where they are. I was jealous. I come from a place where yesterday is outdated and worthless. I come from a generation who cannot put World War II, Korea, and Vietnam in chronological order. I come from a people with no memory.
Why is memory so important to the Greeks and not to us? In fact, now that I think on it, is memory really not important to me? Heavens no! I want to remember, I want to retain a piece of myself from yesterday so that I will be connected with the deceased and can teach the next generation about those who have gone on before. So we find ourselves in this land wanting so desperately to hold on to memories while at the same moment losing all of it in the name of progress and convenience.
We hear something in our souls like memory. We see images of lives we have not lived in our minds and we subconsciously agree that they are right and true and, in a way, that we were in fact there. Plato calls this trait anamnesis. He bases it on a non-Christian idea concerning the pre-existence and pre-cognition of the soul before birth. His explanation of memory is collective; since we have experienced things in a community of spirits before inhabiting the world, we all recall certain things that draw us to one another. Without disrespecting the bountiful scholarship done on Plato even today, I must consider only one aspect of such a philosophy to be true. It is the sense of community that binds what communal recollection we have. I would go even one step farther to claim that the history of God, the very Gospel itself is our collective memory, that we share with all humanity the both the stain and the childlike memory of the fall. More than that, we all bear with us the mark of the Creator. Theologian Bultmann calls this the “faint recollection of Eden.” Maybe this is a collective unconscious; perhaps this is a shared human feeling of regret that things are not the way that they should be. We hear a cry to fulfillment and completion in our ears and souls. The telling of the story of God moves in us and, as that pulpit prince Fred Craddock says “the message of the text is like a seed; it carries its own future in its bosom.”
Then let us remember together, you and I. Let us recall the passages long entrenched in our memories and relive the Genesis narrative. Let us stand before Pharaoh and demand that we be let free. Let us wander in the wilderness with our people and mourn our unfaithfulness to God. Let us look at the book called Joshua and read of a memorial to our God. In chapter four the Lord commands the Israelites to erect a monument to commemorate the long-overdue crossing of the Jordan by God’s people. This is no Washington monument, nor is it the 9/11 memorial; this is a crude pile of rocks on the bank of the river. However, the significance of that pile of rubble is of even greater magnitude than these. The purpose of the monument is to allow parents to tell their children of the great and mighty thing that the Lord had done at that place. When generations had passed and the elements had weathered that pile of stones, there would still remain enough rock there to move a child to ask his family who erected that pile, and why. In that most teachable of moments that child would hear a story of faithlessness, redemption, trust, and deliverance. In that moment the child and the family alike would share a collective memory of an event they had not seen. They would then be as we are – participants in the story of God.
We remember. The monuments in Greece must be something like this. So that when a child sees his father pause his gaze on a little shrine he may wonder and ask what has happened here. The candles that burn and the icons that lend a riot of color to that little glass box stand to tell the story as much as they stand to recall it. That is the purpose of our monuments of faith – they tell the story as much as they cause us to recall it. Paul wrote to his Corinthian friends concerning the Lord’s Supper, saying that whenever we eat the bread of remembrance or drink the cup of the same, we are proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes again. That is our remembrance – that we might proclaim his death and resurrection with every action and word and thought. Our recollection of Easter, of the Eucharist, of Baptism, all are reminders of this great and epic story of which we are a part. So let us remember today. Let us proclaim with our worship that we serve the crucified and risen God. Let us reach into that story of humanity, that love story between God and his Beloved and hear in our souls the meter of the tale. It is for this reason that we sing, and it is for this reason that we baptize. It is all for the glory of God, that his story might have such an effect on us that we proclaim him, memorialize him, and tell our children our journey with him to this place.
Let us not forget, friends. Let us remember our God and his faithfulness to all generations. Let us build monuments of faith to our God such that our children will inquire into our hope and joy. Let us never forget the things that the Lord has done for us, whether on Easter Sunday or any other.
We Remember.

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