Why do we remember, what do we remember and what difference does it make?
In churches and cenotaphs all across the country today people will pause to remember the signing of an agreement in 1918 which ended the war which ravaged Europe. Had it also been a commitment to long-term relationships of trust then who knows what kind of Europe we might have been living in now?
What do you want to remember today? Why do you want to remember and what difference will it make?
This morning’s parable seemed rather incongruent when I read it earlier this week. I wondered about ignoring it, but it’s one of those parables that leaves lots of unanswered questions. Matthew’s Jesus tells the story of ten young girls, probably very young girls since girls tended to be married at about 13… Their act of service was to wait for the bridegroom and accompany him to the celebration, their lamps shining brightly. Unsurprisingly, some of these giddy girls forgot that there might be quite a wait and didn’t bring any spare oil with them. The others had clearly been in the Girl Guides and came “prepared”… Nevertheless they all fell asleep with their lamps lit so when it was announced that the bridegroom was on his way, they all had to top up their oil lamps. There wasn’t enough oil to share so half of the girls went off to find some more. They were still out when the bridegroom arrived so they were excluded from the party.
The consequences of not remembering seem rather extreme. The ones who forgot were themselves forgotten.
This isn’t a comfortable story. It follows on from the description of the desolating sacrilege, the time of great suffering after which,
“the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from heaven
and the powers of heaven will be shaken…
and all the tribes of the earth will mourn.”
An apt description of the desolation of war, I would say.
So, be prepared, be ready, for the Son of Man, who is coming at an unexpected hour.
Jesus then tells a story of faithful and unfaithful slaves, of wise and foolish bridesmaids. Men and women, slaves and young girls, all are caught up in the birth pangs of a new way of living…
What we read is dis-membering, dividing people from one another, separating them as sheep and goats on the day of judgement. It seems harsh and frightening…
And yet, Jesus’ ministry was all about re-membering; pulling together the fragments of our understanding to form a greater whole, a more connected view of the world where each of us belongs and has a purpose and a value. Jesus’ passion was to connect people to the God whose love reaches deeper than all that threatens to tear us apart.
Yesterday I was privileged to listen to Mark Vernon talking to the CRC about spirituality and the inner life. At one point in his talk, Mark referred to how he understood Jesus’ sense of apocalypse. Far from seeing it as the end of the world as we know it, he suggested that Jesus was probably referring to an internal apocalypse, the end of one type of understanding and the beginning of something completely different, an inner transformation of our values and priorities. Such a conversion might well separate us from our neighbours, as one chooses the deep inward path whilst another remains on the well-trodden road. It can be dangerously disorientating when we start to travel inwards on a journey which will naturally lead us out to the greatest possible love for one another, to give our lives in the service of others.
This story can’t be a moral judgement on young girls who didn’t think to bring extra oil since Jesus chose unprepared fishermen and sent them out to baptise and preach good news.
We need to remember the horror of war because it dis-members us as human beings, separating loved ones, dividing the world into allies and enemies, teaching young men, even boys, how to kill one another.
It is such a shocking part of human history that we must not forget… We must not forget the damage done to young lives which were full of potential, the damage done to those who loved them, the damage done to a world which is dehumanised by such acts of violence.
But re-membering is so much more than an act of memory.
We come together not just to remember but to be re-membered, to be put back together again, to find our place in the body of Christ where all belong, male and female, Jew and Gentile, Ally and Enemy…
It is shockingly difficult and takes a journey inward which requires every lamp to be lit. It takes a lifetime of preparation and our lamps will need refilling many times along the way and yet we are invited to join in even though we are not ready…
This kind of re-membering invites us to risk connecting with those we find it most difficult to remember, those whose names don’t appear on war memorials, civilian casualties of wars, women violated by occupying forces, those shot by their own officers for disobeying orders, those who have dismembered us in some way.
We re-member because we refuse to stay dis-membered.
We are re-membered in Christ’s body because our identity is inextricably bound up with those around us. We are not alone, we belong together. We need to remember the evil that is possible so that we keep our lamps lit, always, everywhere, shining a little more light into our broken but beautiful world.