Bibliography: Finding Christ, Finding Life: Memory
There was a movie released several years ago about a teenage boy named Marty who hung out with an older scientist friend. The scientist had created a time machine out of an old Delorian, and without meaning to, Marty climbed into the Delorian and found himself in the time of his parent’s teenage years. Marty was faced with the need to recreate events in that past day and the task of returning to the present, and by the way, faced a very different future.
You may remember the movie. It was Back To The Future starring Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd.
This week at the box office, there is a new release of an old classic by H. G. Wells, The Time Machine. In that story another scientist who has created a time machine goes forward in time hoping to find great advances but doesn’t like what he finds at all. I haven’t seen this remake but I seem to recall the scientist returns to his own era, disappointed about the future and his inability to change it.
Humanity is fascinated with the concept of time. Perhaps it is because it is an element we cannot change.
I would imagine each of us have wished for a time we could have gone back and did something differently, taken back words we have said, or spoken up at a time we didn’t.
When we are young, we think adulthood will never get here. We long for the day we can be old enough to make our own decisions and be on our own. We wish to jump into the future.
But when we are older, it seems like time is speeding down a track and picking up speed with each passing day. We wonder where time has gone. So many parts of our life seem like only yesterday. We don’t know where the time has gone.
Time has us trapped. We cannot go back when we want. We cannot go forward when we want. Time it would seem is an element over which we have no control and cannot change.
The church, too, has focused its attention on the attribute of time. Sometimes, when everything else about life is so chaotic, when so many elements of life are out of control, there can be comfort in the unending cycle of time. To everything, there is a season, and a time, and a purpose under heaven. Time remains steadfast and constant.
One aspect of time involves recalling events of the past and considering their relevance for the present. Another aspect of time includes speculating on the future, attempting to understand how events of the past and present impact the future. There is concern about what the future will be. What hope can we have for tomorrow?
One way in our personal lives we have dealt with the element of time, the precariousness of what time holds for us in the future is through story telling. By telling a story we can bring to life events that happened in our past. We can see those events happening again. Often, in our story telling it seems like the events happened so recently. In a way, we have managed to circumvent what we cannot change, time.
But its more than that.
When we retell stories, they bring to life memories, and they help to recreate in us who we are. Those stories bring to life influences of who we have become - and also the people we are going on to be.
There’s a children’s story that’s not too old I use to read to my boys, that’s based upon this ritualizing of past events that happens in story telling.
In the story, a Mother rocks and sings to her baby son. The words that she sings are these:
“I’ll love you forever.
I’ll love you for always.
As long as I’m living,
my baby you’ll be.”
As the child grows, how this event of rocking and singing takes place changes slightly, but some elements of this encounter between mother and son remain the same. There is always rocking - a physical symbol of the love between this mother and son; and there is always this song - the verbalization of the love between them.
And then one day, the roles have reversed but the ritual is the same. It is the son who holds and rocks the mother and sings the song because the mother has become the one who now needs cared for. Yet the message of love that flows between them has been preserved in this ritualized memory that they share in this song:
“I’ll love you forever.
I’ll love you for always.
As long as I’m living,
my mother you’ll be.”
It was a story my children wanted me to read to them over and over again when they were little.
In our own family, I guess we’ve kind of done this same sort of ritualizing of our experiences. I guess they kind of laugh at me sometimes, but there are certain situations - family vacations, holidays, sometimes just magical moments that just seem to crop up out of nowhere - in which I want for my children for these to be magical memories. I know the day is coming when Mike and I won’t be here anymore, and when that day and hour comes when we’re no longer here, I hope and pray that there are enough magical and loving moments in their memories to sustain them during our absence.
So sometimes I even turn to them and say,
“When Daddy & I are old and our minds are gone - and sometimes they think that’s already happening- remember today. Make a memory. Remember how much we love each other right now. Remember how much we care for one another how much we hope for the best of what life has to offer for you.”
Make a memory.
Not long ago I shared some thoughts from Von Unruh’s book, Finding Life, Finding Christ, who says that memory is one of those gifts God has given us to address our doubt and keep us safe at times when we are ready to give up on our faith. Von Unruh draws our attention to the Israelites wondering and complaining in the desert. They repeatedly give up on their faith in God to sustain them. Quite frankly, I’ve always been puzzled by their lack of remembrance of how awful things were in Egypt when they cry out to go back there to their evil slave and task masters.
Certainly from that time on, God’s people have found ways of ritualizing and remembering the faithfulness of God. We certainly need ways to remember God’s promise to love us forever and always, because we don’t remain faithful to God in our promise to do the same.
The experiences of the Israelites in the wilderness are an example of faded faithfulness. In this letter to the Philippians, Paul speaks of ritualized ways in which the community of faith at the time - the Jews - remembered and reenacted God’s faithfulness to them.
Circumcision was one of those ways of remembering. It was a physical sign of the covenant God had made with the children of Abraham. But there were other ways. Paul identifies himself as a Pharisee. A Pharisee was a devoutly religious person. They followed many aspects of ritualized worship. There were cleanliness rituals of washing and purification. There were food rituals and highly religious meals that were truly worship services. The Passover feast is one of those. It was a highly significant meal for the Israelites who escaped slavery in Egypt. It is a highly significant meal for all Jews and it is the meal Jesus and his disciples shared together on the night he was arrested and gave himself up for us.
It is the highly significant meal Christians have transformed following Christ instructions to us to, “Do This In Remembrance of Me.” We participate in this ritualized memory of what Jesus has done and means for us - which has come out of this evening he had sharing the Passover feast with is disciples, participating in the Lord’s Supper.
The church, in embracing the constant of time, and a time and season for everything, relives the life of Jesus each year over the course of time. Important events of the gospel stories are marked and celebrated on certain days each year. Again, they are ways in which memory, and ritualization come together in time to reinforce and strengthen us in our faith in God’s love for us. The day approaches when the church recalls and celebrates the event of this last meal Jesus had with his disciples.
Holy Week is about remembering the last week of Jesus life leading up to his resurrection on Easter morning. On Thursday of Holy Week each year, the church remembers and recalls the last Passover feast Jesus celebrated with the disciples.
Remembering all these events, events that have reminded us of God’s faithfulness down through time...stories in the Bible that have told us of God’s love for us that we retell, recall, and relive...bring to life for us again the spirit of that love that surrounds us and fills us anew.
Now Paul was really speaking words of warning. In fact he even denounces those holy and religious ways he use to live as a Jew. He wrote to address division between Jews and gentiles who continued to have difficulty dealing with their prejudices with one another, trying to define amongst themselves who were the real Christians.
But can’t you hear the personal desire and longing in Paul’s voice when he writes:
“All I want is to know Christ, the righteousness the comes from God and is based on faith. All I want is to know Christ and to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings and become like him in his death, in the hope that I myself will be raised from death to life.”
Its an invitation from Paul to live a life of faith. Its an invitation to take the stories from the Bible and let them come alive inside of us. Its an invitation for ritualized events in the life of the church such as regular worship attendance and participation in other special worship times like Advent and Christmas, Holy Week and Easter to bring memories of God’s faithfulness to us from the past alive for us today.
But Paul, I think, issues us a caution and further invitation. Remember Paul discards all his old ritualized, religious ways. They are like garbage to him. Because they were not filled with the love of Christ.
What Paul invites us to was a radical change for those very first Christians, and I believe a radical change for us as well. Because Paul, in seeking to know Jesus and experience the power of his resurrection, must let the knowledge of God’s love change him and who he is to become.
It means the memories of God’s love throughout time - recorded for us in the Bible, lived in Jesus, his life and resurrection, even the times we have felt God’s presence in our lives....
The ways in which we bring those events alive today when we gather together, to worship and pray together, to participate in the acts that enact and reenact God’s grace in us -the Lord’s Supper and Baptism...
They are only rituals we go through, unless we allow them to change who we are, unless they tell us of our future, unless they change and direct who we will become. They must change how we interact and treat one another, how we get along and care for those who are different from us, how we live and prioritize our lives. Its all about how we live out these memories and events, not just how recall them and participate in them.
Again Paul calls us to “experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings and become like him in his death, in the hope that we will be raised from death to life.”
To become like him...
Next week is Holy Week, a special time to recall and relive the story of the last week of Jesus’ human life - the deepness of his love for us, the extent to which he was willing to go, his desire for our own life.
Are our desires the same as Paul’s? If so, Holy Week hold’s an invitation to us. How will we go back to the past and let those events change and impact our future?
I invite you not to miss a night of Holy Week beginning next Sunday evening at 7. I invite you to be praying, asking God to use this time of remembering to change who you are and the person you will be. It’s a time when God can make us more like Jesus.
I want to leave you tonight with one picture of my future I have projected for myself based upon my Christian memories of the past I have. To tell you the truth, I’m not sure which is the result of the other. Did my Christian memories bring about the future I see for myself, or is it my desire for such a future that has influenced the memories I recall and claim? In any event, I’m not really sure it matters.
Perhaps, it is a future you can see and have seen as well. If it helps you, I invite you to claim it as your own. There’s nothing theological about this, nothing necessarily biblically based. It’s just an image I have.
In this image, I have died and left this world. I enter heaven looking around, discovering all that there is, finding my way in the future into which I have come. Suddenly, I see Jesus, waiting for me. He stands with his arms open and outstretched. I run into his arms and he hugs me, holding me tight.
We sit down together, his arm around my shoulder, my head on his, and I am crying. I have wanted this moment for so long.
He wipes my tears away...and now taking into consideration what we have shared this evening, there is a new addition to this image I have of Jesus when I one day will meet him in heaven. Maybe he begins to rock us, Jesus and I, back and forth, back and forth, just slightly...and perhaps, slowly and quietly, just maybe, he might begin to sing. I don’t know the words he will sing, but this is their message:
“I’ll love you forever,
I’ll love you for always,
As long as I am,
My child you’ll be.”
In Jesus name, Amen.