words shared at a memorial service for the father of a dear friend. May they provide hope and peace to any who suffer the death of a loved one....
The human capacity for memory is one of our greatest gifts. Yet, we live in a time when college educated people do not know basic history. One of our most dread diseases is Alzheimer’s, which afflicts over 5 million citizens. In a way, Alzheimer’s is a symbol of our culture. To lose one’s memories is to lose one’s identity. To live in a time of corporate memory loss only compounds the problem. Who are we, as a people, if we have no memory?
The ancient Jews were a people of memory. The stories of heroes from the past are a major part of their sacred text. Beginning with the Torah there are numerous narratives which focus on people.
Ancient Jewish prayers usually include memories and exhortations to remember. “God, remember how you saved our Fathers, now visit us with the same salvation!” Remembering is at the heart of the Jewish faith.
Christians, as disciples of the Jew Jesus, have a memory meal--Last Supper//Eucharist--as the central act of worship. Each time we gather, we, too, remember God’s saving deeds culminating in Jesus’ death and resurrection.
To remember is to bring to mind again. It is to ‘recall’, literally to call back to consciousness that which is buried within. In English, if to ‘dismember’ is to cut up into pieces, then to “re-member” is to bring the pieces back together in a whole and complete unity.
The death of a loved one is a personal tragedy for those who survive. Left behind, they grieve his absence and feel the loss. All they have now are memories--a bitter sweet gift. For the very memories which bring us joy for what we had, also sharpen the pain for what we have lost. Memories, ironically especially the best memories, create a deeper sense of what was and is no more.
In the Christian faith, however, the “re-membering” has a deeper, more powerful meaning. For resurrection is the ultimate “re-membering.” God has promised that someday we will each be ‘brought back’ and pieced together as one. The resurrection of Jesus is God’s victory over death. His resurrection is the sign that our hope is not in vain. If God raised Jesus then it is reasonable to believe resurrection is not wishful thinking but a reality.
The remembrance of heroes past, therefore, contains an anticipation for the future. Those who died in God, will live again. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Jesus, Peter, Paul. Sarah, Rebekah, Ruth, Judith, Mary, and Mary Magdalene. Those names from the past will be our neighbors and friends in the Kingdom to be revealed. Dying is a fleeting moment of transition. Death has no power over those who belong to God.
If we remember God’s promise and trust Him, then the bitterness and pain of loss is not without hope. And we know, God remembers us. He never forgets! And His remembering has the power to give life and renew love.