I heard a sermon Sunday that made me stop to think.
Glenn Martin filled in at the pulpit of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Duncanville while Dr. Mike Oden is “vacationing” (preparing to move). Glenn grew up in this congregation. He’s a year away from a masters degree from Brite Divinity School at Texas Christian University. I’ve sung with him in the choir for several years, and been privileged to play bells with him — he’s a good musician on the bells, and he can make saves in an astounding number of ways. So I was interested in what he had to say just because he’s a friend.
It was a good sermon, even were he not my friend. He threw in some good historic references, which always gets my attention.
For the Memorial Day weekend, this is Glenn’s sermon:
May 5, 1868, General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic issued general order number 11 specifying May 30 to be designated for the purpose of placing flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. This was the first official recognition of Decoration Day or what we now know as Memorial Day. Unofficially, the practice likely began years earlier in a number of places as communities recognized and honored those who had fallen in war.
Some even attribute such a memorial service to Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg. Do you remember the reason the President was there? There had been a battle at Gettysburg on [in July], and on November 19, 1863, and President Lincoln had come there to dedicate a portion of the field as a cemetery. How long has it been since you thought of the some 260 words of Lincoln’s Gettysburg address which he would have delivered in about two minutes?
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow, this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us, the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us; that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
My topic for today is remembering. That, in and of itself, deserves some attention. What do I mean by remembering? It is not so much the mental exercise of recalling factual details such as what you had for lunch yesterday or if you went to the grocery store on Monday or Tuesday. The kind of remembering I’m getting at is much deeper than that. It is the kind where you essentially choose to re-experience something or participate in a kind of reenactment. Reminiscing after the death of a loved one is a good example of this kind of remembering. We tell stories, stories that we have likely told many times before. Stories that those who are reminiscing with us may be able to tell as well as we can. Our intent is not to convey new information. In some way, we are reliving or re-experiencing that story.
There is a formal word for this kind of remembering. The word is anamnesis. It derives from Greek, big surprise for those who know me. The prefix means to go up or to come up; the root of the word is the word for mind; quite literally then we have the idea of coming up to the mind or as we say it, remembering.
Why do we remember?
First, it allows us to stay connected with our past. This seems pretty obvious. I wonder though if there might be something more to staying connected with our past than just the obvious. Do you ever tell your children or grandchildren stories about your parents or grandparents? Do they necessarily need to have known all the people in the story?
We occasionally talk of history and I know there are some people in this room that are history buffs. I don’t personally put myself in this category. There are elements of history that I find quite fascinating and a few topics that I have researched in much greater detail. For me though, this has largely been a result of my interest in that other topic and researching some of its history was a natural part of exploring that topic. The history buffs I’m talking about seem to exude history. If you were to ask them about the Civil War for instance, they can tell you about military history, economic history of the time period, distinctions between the North and the South, things that were going on in the church, and even world events of the time. Not only can they tell you details of these different kinds of histories, they can even suggest ways in which these details relate.
Every once in a while, someone will talk about “what really happened.” I understand what they are getting at when they say that but is history what really happened or might it be more of what we remember of what happened?
Why do we remember? The first reason is that it allows us to stay connected with our past. The second reason is that it allows us to better understand our present. Here again, this is fairly obvious though perhaps not quite as obvious as the first reason.
I think it is reasonably safe to say that most of us believe the idea of cause and effect. We even have sayings about it. For example, “What goes up must… come down” or how about “Look before you… leap” Exactly.
Have you ever thought of tracing cause and effect backwards? This thing over here was caused by such and such. But that was the result of this other event. And that event needed these other things to happen for it to occur. Some of you are interested in genealogy. This is a perfect example of cause and effect. We wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for our parents. Our grandparents had to be here for our parents to be here. Our great-grandparents had to be here before our grandparents could be. You get the idea. What was the very first cause? Science tends to point to the Big Bang. I don’t think this is the first cause at all. I am not advocating for or against this particular theory, I just don’t think the logic holds that this would be first. If all the matter currently in our universe were contained in this alleged singularity, what caused it to go bang? Even my question suggests a prior action of some sort. It seems much more reasonable to me to locate the beginning point in God. This is a separate thought however and we’ll have to leave it for another time.
Remembering gives us a way of understanding and interpreting our past so that we can then understand better why things are now the way they are. Consider for a moment people who get amnesia. The cause of the amnesia isn’t really important for the illustration. Some of you have already recognized the Greek origins of this word too. There is same root for mind that I mentioned earlier plus the prefix “a” meaning without so we have without the mind. People with amnesia have lost that connection with their past. They have lost their sense of story and have the question of who am I. Did you note the tense of the question? It isn’t “who was I” as it would be for the past tense; it is “who am I.” Very much the present tense, it suggests our self-identity is linked to remembering our past and where we have been.
The third reason we remember is that remembering allows us to look ahead to the future.
Today is the tomorrow we wondered about yesterday and tomorrow will then become the today we wonder about now. In much the same way that we understand our present in light of our past, we similarly perceive the upcoming future as our past plus the actions we take. Here is that cause and effect thing again. I’m not going to dwell too long here. I want to move to more of a practical example from our faith.
Let’s summarize quickly. I’ve said that we remember for 3 reasons.
1. It allows us to stay connected with our past
2. It allows us to better understand our present
3. It allows us to look ahead to the future
More importantly, remembering allows us to see God.
The scripture I chose for today was in the context of the Passover. The Israelites were to remember this day when God delivered them from bondage in Egypt. Every year, they would celebrate the feast of unleavened bread and reenact the story.
For us, this story is part of the past. It is also part of the past that we recognize that Jesus added to this narrative. We remember it every Sunday. Because we do remember it every Sunday, this story is part of our present. Jesus was celebrating the Passover with his disciples. While they were eating, Jesus took the bread, gave thanks, and gave it to them saying “This is my body. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way after supper, he took the cup saying “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” You remember the word anamnesis that I mentioned earlier. The Greek word we translate as remembrance here is this same word. It is as though Jesus was saying that we should experientially reenact, relive, and remember every time we come to communion.
The apostle Paul further states in 1 Cor 11 that when we eat this bread and drink this cup we proclaim the Lord’s death until he returns. This addresses both the present and the future. I know a number of you took Dr. Mike’s class on Revelation. The marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19) also addresses the future.
In remembering, we can recall God’s mighty deeds. We can be assured of God’s continuing and abiding presence with us. And we can anticipate a future with numerous possibilities.
I started off recalling some of the history around Memorial Day. In 1971, federal observance of Memorial Day was changed from May 30 to the last Monday in May. Hooray for 3 day weekends.
By 2000, a number of Americans had lost the sense of the true meaning of the day. In an effort to reeducate and remind us, the National Moment of Remembrance resolution was passed. It asks that at 3:00 p.m. local time, for all Americans “To voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a Moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to Taps.” Since we are Christians, I will give you another alternative to consider. Place commemoration of the day under the auspices of God and share a communion service with whomever is with you and remember. Thanks be to God.
Nota bene: I said it made me think. That’s why I’ve asked Glenn for permission to post it here, to keep me thinking, and maybe make you think, too. For example, Glenn lists three reasons remembering is valuable. They parallel the tactic business consultants use to get businesses to think ahead — look back at what happened in the past, consider the condition of the company today, then look ahead to see what is in store for the company, and think about how the company can face challenges identified.
What do you think about remembrance, and remembering, and Glenn’s advice?