Monday, November 12, 2012



A Sermon preached at the Church of All Saints, New Eltham on
SUNDAY, 11th NOVEMBER, 2012 

*   *   *

Remember me when I am gone away
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you planned;
Only remember me: you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve;
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than you should remember and be sad.

So wrote the 19th cent poet, Christina Rossetti.  Memory is one of our most important and cherished faculties.  The loss of ability to remember, or ignoring the past, can so easily be a cause of pain - and danger.  “Mem'ries,” sang Barbra Steisand,
“may be beautiful and yet
What's too painful to remember
We simply choose to forget
So it's the laughter
We will remember
Whenever we remember...
The way we were...”

Memories can cause pain, especially if they recall past hurts.  Events from long, long ago, can exert immense influence on the present for the past has the power to control life now.  But our memories can trick on us.  Over time they can become selective; particular past events haunt us in a way that can continue to cause pain. 

Memories of teenagers causing havoc to the extent the doors of my old church being locked when services began continued to haunt my some of previous congregation for many years long after the problem had passed.  Memories of communal violence have led to endless cycles of war: the ethnic cleansing that went on in the Serbian region of Kosovo was the direct result of the living memory of Ottoman atrocities in the 14th cent.

Personally we are all affected by our memories – sometimes for good but at times creating a sense of fear or leaving us with buried hurts and anger.  Such can be the extent of this that, unless addressed, the lives of some are blighted.  We all need to notice what we tend to hold as a living memory and the effect that has on the way we live now.  Do the memories we cherish enable us to live with greater freedom and joy, or do they have the opposite effect?   Too often memories haunt us and disable us and It’s for that reason that one of the most important of the Healing Ministries is that known as the ‘Healing of Memories’.  Memories of past hurts need to be addressed and the maelstrom of unresolved memories connected with child abuse remind us of the devastating effect that such memories can have unless they are properly addressed and dealt with.

Today we particularly remember those who have died in two World Wars and those who have been killed in the many wars and uprisings that have blighted our world since then.  And we do this in the context of the Eucharist.  Week by week, and in many places day by day, it is the same.  The Eucharist is what we celebrate because it is what Jesus told us to do “in remembrance of me”.  But the actual word Jesus is recorded to have used, “anamnesis”, means much more than simply recalling a past event.  The word carries an understanding that, in ‘doing this’ the past becomes present.  We, literally if you like, re-member; bring the scattered members back into one.

Most of us will know that the Eucharist developed out from the Jewish Passover meal: that celebration of the liberation of Israel from their slavery in Egypt through what has become known as the Exodus.   That yearly ritual, mirrored in the weekly Sabbath meal, celebrated for more than three thousand years, has become rooted in the psyche of not only the Jewish people but also provides hope for all who sense they are oppressed and long for their liberation.  As one Jewish thinker has written: ‘Moses, …is writ large on the heart of our people from generation to generation and whose influence on our national life has not ceased from ancient times to now.  … (E)ven if you managed to demonstrate …  that Moses … never lived, … , this would not diminish by one iota the historical reality of the Moses ideal – the one who led us not only forty years through the Sinai desert, but thousands of years, through every the desert we have crossed from the Exodus from Egypt to the present.’
(‘Moses’ by Ahad Ha'Am)

So in celebrating the Eucharist week by week – and, indeed, day by day for our Faith in this remembrance must be recalled in our everyday lives – we are affirming our belief that there is a path to life along which we can be led.  Then one movement that matters is from whatever enslaves us to freedom.  Such freedom can only be gained at a price and many of us are not willing to travel that way towards liberation.  Instead, we are trapped by memories that haunt us and hold us in a life that is controlled by the past.

And so the importance of constantly ‘doing this’, of celebrating this Eucharist, of constantly re-enacting this event, is to enable us to make present the memory of the whole of the dynamic.  Not just the Passion and the Suffering and the Death but also the rising to new life through it all.  By making this offering central to what it means to be a Christian we seek to avoid choosing only those memories which don’t challenge us to move through the pain of the past into our own place of freedom, our Promised Land.  For, as Barbra Steisand sang: “Mem'ries may be beautiful and yet What's too painful to remember We simply choose to forget.”

Some years ago I was fortunate in being invited to attend a wedding in a remote village in Upper Egypt.  As part of the street celebrations, in which the whole community joined, there appeared the story-teller, that ancient craftsman whose task is to rehearse the story of the people from generation to generation lest the memory fade.  The communal memory was enlivened and the past made present so that the people knew the story that made them who they were.  That’s why we read the scriptures – to remember the story that enabled a faith and has inspired individuals, cultures and civilisations.  A story out of which the saints live and out of which we find our identity.  We are a people for whom suffering, passion and death is not an end but a movement into life.  And, if we want our faith to grow – if we want it to become part of who we are and how we approach life and not just something we do for an hour on Sunday – there needs to come a time when we claim this communal memory as our own. 

Today’s Eucharist, like every Eucharist, proclaims the memory of an event that continues to inspire.  Not the pious recalling of a long-ago event, but the living affirmation that God seeks to bring us to wholeness.  That is our Faith, a faith that has sustained the Jewish people through centuries of oppression and which has inspired Christians since the day Jesus said, “Do this is remembrance of me”.  The faith that, in spite of suffering and death, God will lead us through if we trust in his love.  “Jesus did not instruct us to repeat the Passover meal,… .  He instructed us to enter into his ‘hour.’ … (the) “hour in which love triumphs” and that we share his hour if we “allow ourselves, through the celebration of the Eucharist, to be drawn into that process of transformation that the Lord intends to bring about.” (Pope Benedict: World Youth Assembly. Cologne.  2005)

To remember the past is, we hope, to learn from it for, as one writer has said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  On this Remembrance Sunday, as we call to mind the sacrifices of women and men and in the face of continual violence around the world, we not only recall the tragedies that led to so many deaths, nor simply recall their lives and our loses.  Rather we are invited to remember the past “allow(ing) ourselves, through the celebration of the Eucharist, to be drawn into that process of transformation that the Lord intends to bring about.” 


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