6th Easter Year A, May 29, 2011
Our Father’s God, To Thee
No country, no nation or people exists apart from its memory. We are who we are because of the shared memory of our past. We can walk upon
stones at ancient sites left behind by ancient Aztecs, Incas, or Egyptians, and see evidence of civilizations, but with no one there to tell us the stories of their memories of life on this earth, those peoples no longer exist for us, except as silent monuments.
Memorial Day memories
Memory keeps the past alive to us. So, when we set aside time to remember our past together publicly, as we do on Memorial Day here in America, we are doing two things at the same time: honoring the past, and enabling the future. By remembering, we bring our past to life in such a way that it becomes possible for us to be who we are in the present, as a nation, and we set forth who we intend to become in the future.
We remember that our country was formed by people of courage and boldness, who were unwilling to tolerate tyranny. Our collective “no” to king George was at the same time a “yes” to the craving of every human to be able to live freely, without oppression. We honor the memory of our past and we make it live for us in the present as we recall the sacrifice of those who laid down their lives for our freedom.
Tyranny did not end in 1776. Brave men and women have been called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice against the forces of imperialism in the First World War and against the horror of fascism in the Second World War. Our public act of remembering that cost and those sacrifices of the past tells us who we are in the present. We look at Libya and Syria and we see ourselves in their longings for an end to repression. We see no less in the desires of the Palestinians and Yemeni’s as well.
Worship as Memory
It is helpful on this Sunday of Memorial Day weekend to reflect on the power of shared memory. Public remembering is exactly what the church does in worship. We gather together to re-tell the story that forms us, so that we can continue to be shaped by that story. When we gather around the Lord’s Table, we pray, remembering all God’s gracious and mighty acts on behalf of his people.
What does that prayer remember, and therefore, what kind of people does that prayer remind us that we are? We remember the story of our beginning – Adam and Eve in the perfect garden. Recalling that story re-affirms that we were Created in God’s image; that we were made for God, every bit as much as we were made to be for each other. In our payer of memory, we reassert that being truly human means living consciously in the presence of God, and in harmony with each other and with the Garden-world he made.
Our communion prayer also remembers that we are people who have an inborn tendency to walk away from God in disobedience – we all do what they did: listen to the serpent, bite the apple, look for someone else to blame, and for a fig leaf to hide behind.
But our prayer at the Lord’s Table remembers that God never stopped taking the initiative to bring us back. We remember the Covenant God made
with Abraham, and the promise of a son to Abraham and Sarah – not just one son, but a promise of descendants through whom God planned, long ago, to bless all the people of the earth. That is who we were, and who we are now: people of the covenant-promise; people of the blessing.
Our prayer remembers the long history of God’s people as they journeyed from famine in Canaan to slavery in Egypt; from liberation across the Red Sea to the promised land across the Jordan River; from tribes to a kingdom, and from there to the misery of exile in Babylon. All along that tortured journey, we remember that God sent passionate prophets to speak the truth to us, even when we weren’t listening.
Finally, our remembering brings us to Jesus and the story of God’s final redemption. We remember Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice to set us free from the destructive kingdom of darkness. We remember his resurrection which broke open the tomb that had sealed our hopes. We remember his gracious words, “Peace be with you.”
Help with Memory: the Spirit of not-forgetting
Today, as we re-tell the story, we re-gather around that table in the upper room. We are formed by this memory: Jesus promised that he would send to us, his Spirit, who would be with us, and even in us.
18 “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you,” he promised.
More specifically Jesus said,
16 I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
We were made to walk with God in the Garden; to be with him. Now he promises to be with us, though is indwelling Spirit.
It is so interesting that Jesus calls the Spirit, the “Spirit of truth.” In Greek, the world “truth” comes from words that mean “not forgetting.” We live by not forgetting our shared memories – both as a nation and as the church. We are who we remember we were; our past shapes our identity in the present.
The Most Important Memory: “Love!”
As Jesus was at that table with his disciples on the night before his arrest, with this one last chance to reinforce the one most important memory, the one truth he knew was the most important, what did he say? Of all his parables, his sermons, or teachings, which one does recall?
15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
And what commandment did Jesus ever give? Only one. Just a moment earlier that night (in John chapter 13) he had said,
34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.
Sacrifice for the collective good
How should we live? As a nation, we know how to live now as we are guided by the memory of bravery and sacrifice, as the old hymn says, of the “faith of our fathers.” We will be people who bravely face the challenges of our times, even when they call for sacrifice from us. We will not live as merely isolated individuals, but we will be willing, just as they were, to risk our own well-being for the sake of our collective good.
How should we live? As Christians, we will live in the presence of the Spirit of Truth who reminds us of Jesus’ main point: “Love”.
Love in practice
We are formed today by our shared memory of that mandate. Our job is to put love into motion in every moment of our lives.
We will start every day loving God by giving thanks, by pausing at the very outset to read his words to us, to be silent before the Spirit of truth, and to present ourselves to him.
But we do not live as isolated individuals as a nation nor as a Church. We will “love our neighbors as ourselves” as we go through the day. We will watch the news of Tornadoes and floods as people who have been formed by the mandate of Love, and we will remember, and so we will respond.
We will listen to the stories of people who have lost their jobs in this recession and who have therefore lost their access to health care, and we will be moved to find solutions that work in the real world of budgets and politics based on the love mandate.
We will not turn our hearts away from people who are hungry, just because they live in less fortunate countries or have suffered under tyrannical
regimes, because we have been and are being formed by the memory of our Lord’s mandate.
On this memorial day of not-forgetting, as we celebrate our hard-won freedom, we will hear the same call to duty, to sacrifice, and to the collective good, and hear the mandate that makes us who we are:
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
“…that you love one another.”
For more on “Memorial Day and the Spirit of Sacrifice” see the fine article by By Bruce Epperly at Patheos here.