Special things are worth remembering. Birthdays. Christmas. Easter. We remember when someone special dies. The way we remember often involves certain rituals. We have birthday cakes and family celebrations. We remember our loved ones with crosses in cemeteries or sprinkling ashes in significant places. These things serve us well. They draw us back to remember what matters.
ANZAC Day is probably the most culturally important day in Australia. Each year the nation stops and remember those who served during World War 1, and thereafter. Every town has a monument. Just over 60,000 Australians were killed during the years of combat. Is it any wonder they have been remembered?
Spanish Flu hit Australia the following year, 1919. Approximately 15,000 people died from the outbreak. The number is on par with those of WWI and yet there are no monuments.
Peter Hobbins mentions Harriet and Henry Ottaway in an article questioning why we fail to recognise the victims and heroes of Spanish Flu. Harriet’s headstone mentions her brother death in the war but is silent on her own suffering at the hands of Spanish Flu. Hobbins goes on to write about the voluntary serving of churches, civil leaders, nurses and the Red Cross in caring for the suffering while personally risking infection, as was the case for Harriet. Yet their stories go untold.
What we remember and celebrate shape us. The ANZAC spirit and mate-ship are ingrained into the Australian psyche.
Remembering and the Bible
Joshua tells the story of God’s people crossing the River Jordan during flood. They aren’t master bridge builders; instead God miraculously intervenes for them. Joshua instructs the leaders to collect 12 stones from the riverbed. The stones form a monument. Here’s what Joshua says:
‘In the future, when your children ask you, “What do these stones mean?” tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.’Joshua 4:6-7
Joshua gets it; what we remember and celebrate shape us. In creating this memorial he is continuing to draw God’s people to the fact that their identity is based on his continuing intervention.
As followers of Jesus we need ‘12 stone’ memorials. We need reminders God has made us his children, stories proclaiming what Jesus has done for us, and narratives that prompt us to be his servants in our world. Why? Because we’re prone to forget (or maybe it’s just me).
The Jesus Meal
Jesus sweeps non-Jewish believers in him into a Jewish history. So, as a Gentile Christian I can say that my identity as one of God’s people is based on his continuing intervention. It wasn’t my ancestors who crossed the Jordan but I have been brought into the story through Jesus. In other words, I share in Joshua’s 12 stones because of Jesus. I have a memorial.
But Jesus doesn’t leave it there. He instituted a memorial meal just before he was arrested and sentenced to death. Jesus calls us to the Communion table to remember him. While there are different theological views on the significance of Communion, I think everyone could agree that Communion is always an invitation to encounter Jesus.
If the Lord’s Supper leads us to gazing at our own navels without meeting Christ then we’ve missed the point entirely. It is an act of active remembrance to partake of Communion. That’s the beauty of the memorial meal; it requires active participation.
Finding Our Memorials, Stories & Heroes
A pastor friend of mine reminded his congregation that their church was to be a movement rather than monument after completing a building project. It’s a good message in the context it was given. After a busy season it’s normal to need a rest, but if rest turns into lethargy, or worse pride in the achievement and a stagnation, there’s a serious problem. The pastor’s message was timely.
On the flip-side, we need our memorials, our stories and our heroes. They root us into the story of God. Hebrews 11 is the Bible’s list of heroes of the faith. All of those listed are deeply flawed. Neither God, nor the writer are ignorant of their flaws but what is celebrated is faith. Do we simply overlook flaws? Here’s Tim Challies’ thoughts:
‘If we want to have heroes, and the Bible seems to make it clear that we can and should, our only option is heroes who have sinned. And I believe we can laud those heroes for their faith, even while acknowledging their weaknesses. As one man wisely noted, even the best men are but men at their best.’
It’s the intersection between faith and flaw in our heroes that leads us to discipleship. You see, it’s in seeing Jesus in the midst of our hero’s weaknesses that we can be invited to meet with Jesus. We aren’t called to hero-likeness but Christ-likeness.