When we look back and reflect on our lives we often use pictures, letters, or music to help us remember key events. When we remember we often experience feelings or emotions so real it’s as if the event happened yesterday. Maybe it’s photos from your child’s first birthday party, your wedding video, or the watch your deceased grandfather wore. We use a variety of different methods to help us remember the important events in our lives. It can be difficult to remember things, some of us have worse recall than others, but certainly none of us have perfect recall.
Some memories aren’t that important, but many are sacrosanct, we regard them as truly precious. Some memories we wish we could erase forever and others are more complicated. We want to keep the memory of a departed loved one, but would prefer to erase the memory of the pain we endured when they died. Memories are complicated because they often trigger deep rooted emotions. Sometimes a memory can trigger an emotion we felt 20 years ago when we were teenagers, yet others can actually trigger fear of the future.
So, with so much trouble remembering, processing and knowing what to do with the memories we have, what do we do with memories that aren’t ours to begin with?
Now, I don’t mean something out of the movie “Inception” where a spy has implanted a foreign memory into your brain. What I mean to ask is this: what do we do with memories of events that are part of our shared human narrative but not events that we, in 2012, have actually been witness too?
We encounter this throughout our story. Much of our attempt at ”progressing” as a human race (something we don’t do well) has been linked to our attempts to remember. After the Nazi Holocaust of the Jews (and others) we said ”never again!” and all sorts of programs and attempts were and are made to ensure that the stories are never forgotten. After the Rwandan genocide we said ”never again”, but atrocities are still happening and no matter how much we ”remember”, time and distance separate us from a reality that seems far away and we easily ”forget”. The further we get from an event in time, geographical proximity or personal proximity, the easier and more convenient it is to forget and not carry on the legacy of remembrance. Jesus told us we will never see an end to the poor or war, but it is still our mission to help to the marginalized and to promote peace.
This idea of perpetuating memory is nowhere more important than in the story of Christ Jesus himself. His life, death and resurrection was the most important event in history. It was a turning point in the human story. Good once and for all triumphed over evil – forever (and ever, Amen).
This event however is somewhat meaningless if we don’t remember it. God helped us by giving us the Scriptures that testify to the whole of God’s story as it relates to His creation. Centrally it tells the story of the events of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. He helps us further by chasing after us. But even as those who accept the free gift of salvation, those who call ourselves disciples, our duty and our struggle is to make the memory of scripture our own and to testify to its authenticity so that the whole world might hear the good news of Christ’s actions on the Cross.
So far as we know, Jesus stopped having a human presence on earth a long time ago. So the events of the Cross and the resurrection happened a long time ago and the people that experienced it first hand, such as his Mother Mary, Mary Magdalene, John, the Romans guards, Jews and Gentiles, are long gone from earthly existence. The original apostles and disciples – all faithful witnesses to the life of Christ – are gone from our view, but the responsibility they bore, as recorded in Matthew 28:19-29 to make and baptize disciples, did not die with them.
It is the duty of the church to carry the torch all corners of the world where God is working. In essence we, the Church, are the custodians of the apostolic memory. Regardless of your view, whether you follow Sola Scriptura, Scripture+Community, or Scripture+Tradition, we are all making our best attempt to communicate the apostolic witness of God’s truth.
But, how do we authentically communicate the truth of the Gospel as witnesses to an event that happened 2000 years ago. By definition a witness is someone who ”witnesses” and event: that is, someone who sees an event and reports what happened. None of us fits this description, so how do we communicate the gospel message as memory to a skeptical world? How do we keep the memory of it fresh for others and alive for ourselves? How we answer these questions has implications for not just evangelism but for discipleship as well. If we don’t keep our own memories intact, then we won’t be equipped to communicate the truth to anyone with authenticity. We can’t give what we’ve forgotten.
How do we make the apostolic memory part of our own story, or put a better way, how do we truly understand how we fit into God’s story? How do we present those memories as if we were talking about something that happened to us yesterday? And most importantly, how do we do it without changing, warping, or distorting the Gospel?
Answering these questions is the responsibility of individual disciples and the of the churches to which they belong.
What do you think? What do you do?