Summary: Our history matters - that’s why God establishes memorials - so we’ll remember what he’s done for us.
By Rev Heather Cetrangolo
Lately, when I look in the mirror, there are a few things that bother me.
I notice that my top lip has a particular dip in it that is exactly like my mother’s. I also have a slight overlap in my front-two teeth just like she does.
I’ve noticed that I have the exact same forehead as my Dad’s Mum, and that my hair is starting to resemble my Dad’s long frizzy hair that he had in the 70’s.
And sometimes, when I’m being cheeky, I do this thing with my mouth that my grandmother on my Mum’s side does.
And it’s not only when I look in the mirror. Every now and again I catch myself in the middle of a passionate speech about something that is only moderately important, and I notice that I’m overreacting and I think, “I just sounded exactly like my Dad.”
And when I’m at kid’s club and eighteen kids arrive, and Annette has to leave suddenly, which means I have to cook … I noticed myself kind of panic and rush around in a manner that strongly resembles my mother.
And the problem with all of this, is that it totally ruins the promise I made to myself as an adolescent, that I was not going to be like my parents … that I was going to be my own person.
I’m realizing that we are all, whether we like it or not, a product of our family background. And I mean, the examples I’ve just given are pretty trivial. What about the more serious stuff, like patterns of behaviour. We often find ourselves caught up in behaviour that is generational. Even though we vow not to be like our parents we end up just like them. It’s interesting that we use the language of ‘cycles’ of violence and abuse in the home … of generational alcoholism …
None of us are born as a clean slate. We come with a history … oftentimes a history that we sense in our spirit, but that we don’t fully know about. I was talking to a woman yesterday who’s younger brother said to her, “I always had this feeling that something was missing in our family and I could never explain it.” It turns out, that when he was a baby he had an older sister who died in tragic circumstances, and the parents had decided that they would never tell him about her. So, he had a sister who he never knew about … but somehow, he could sense it.
A couple of years ago I was watching an interview on TV with a young woman who was conceived by an anonymous donor. This meant that her mother who raised her was not her biological mother. And by law, donor children do not have the right to know the name or identity of their donor parents. And this young woman was angry about it. And during the interview she began to cry tears of anger as she said, ‘who decided that I can’t know anything about my family history? What if there is a history of breast cancer on my mother’s side? This might be information that could save my life!’
She was angry because she didn’t know where she came from … her family’s story had been stolen from her at conception … and she said that it is as though there is a part of her that she can never understand because she doesn’t know the stories that went before her.
We like to think of ourselves as self-determining. But in fact, our identity is never entirely up to us. We are shaped by what has gone before.
Jewish people know this very well. Jesus knew this. This is why at a Passover meal with his friends he commanded them to remember him. Because Jewish people understood that the generations are connected, that blessings and curses even can flow from one generation to another, just as the sin of Adam has been passed on to each one of us …
And this is why God commands them to remember their history, and to teach it to their children. And he gives them specific ways of doing this. In today’s story, after the Israelites passed through the Jordan river, God gave instructions to the people to set up twelve stones out of the river, as a memorial that he had parted the waters for them to pass through. They then celebrate the Passover, a reminder that God had delivered them out of Egypt.
And God says this at ch 4:21
“When your children ask their parents in time to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel crossed over the Jordan on dry ground. For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you crossed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we crossed over.”