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Remembering

As we enter November, our thoughts turn to remembering. This year we will specifically think about the centenary of the ending of the First World War. I have spent some time at the primary school thinking about remembering in preparation for the school service at the War Memorial on the 9th of November. The young folks are quite inspirational in the questions that they ask and the understanding that they seek.

What role does remembering play in us humans? Many of us can feel like we are trapped in the past. Some will replay the events long gone, over and over again. Some can never forget, and some can never move on. It is strange that we should set aside time to remember, to re-live past horrors.

It is Saint Paul who instructs us to set aside time to remember when Jesus shared bread and wine with the disciples for the last time. “Do this in memory of me”, are the words we hear as we prepare to share in the Lord’s Supper. Along with those words we must hear the other events of that night: “on the night of his arrest”, and “the night in which he was betrayed”. Remembering can take us back to the pain of the past.

Father Richard Rohr tells us that “nothing just goes away in the spiritual world; all must be reconciled and accounted for.” Perhaps a journey to the past is our spiritual attempt to reconcile and account for the past. Until we do that spiritual work, we remain slaves to the past and fearful of the future. When James and John ask Jesus if they can have the seats on his right and left, Jesus asks them if they know what they are asking: “Are you able to drink the cup I drink, or be baptised with the baptism that I am baptised with?” Surely, we can only reply ‘yes’ to that if we have done some preparation for the task ahead.

There is a Buddhist meditation called tonglen which we did one Sunday morning when we looked at the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu’s book ‘The Book of Joy’. It is quite counterintuitive. We are asked to breathe in the suffering, pain, disgrace, shame of our world; to breathe it in, rather than deny it or run from it. And then to breathe out healing, pleasure, good reputation and joy. We breathe in the things we try to avoid and breathe out the things we try to cling to. It is a form of sending and receiving which we can find in so much of Jesus’ teachings. It is a way of being willing to take on the pain of others who we know are hurting and giving to them whatever we feel will ease their pain, whatever will enable them to stay present with the sorrows and losses and disappointments of life.

As a church we do much that tries to practically relieve the suffering of others, but we also have to feel that suffering too. Remembering, perhaps, takes us into that memory where we feel and remember our own pain and connect to the pain of others. Saint Augustine of Hippo put it like this: “What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like.”

When we break bread and sip from the cup we do this in memory of the one who was betrayed, arrested, beaten and brutally killed on the shameful cross. We relive the past, hoping that God will help us reconcile and account for our past pains and injustices. We do so in the belief that that reconciling, and accounting is our resurrection, freeing us from the past and giving us the courage to say ‘yes’ to what the future may bring.

With every blessing in our remembering,

Chris