remembrance

We interrupt the occasional thoughts about prayer to bring you my sermonette from Sunday morning – Remembrance Sunday…

Poppies Worship Background

It always feels very poignant when I share communion on Remembrance Sunday, as we did last Sunday morning – Remembrance Sunday. The poppies are a moving remembrance of the death of many who have died in war. So there is something really profound about Jesus’ words ‘Do this in remembrance of me’ in the context of a service where we spend time in silence remembering the sacrifice others have made for the freedom of many. Yet, and please bear with me here, the word ‘remembrance’ causes me to ask some questions.

You see I have always thought of ‘remembering’ as something I do for something I might forget – requiring a reminder like a knot in a handkerchief – or events, people and experiences that I have encountered. How I am supposed to remember events and people that were hundreds or thousands of years ago where I was not present?

I know that Jesus is alive today, but I wasn’t at the Last Supper. I haven’t been in armed conflict. I don’t know anyone who has been killed in battle. How can I remember them?

And what did Jesus mean when he used the bread and wine of the Passover to tell his followers to remember him? They were very unlikely to forget him, although the events as the evening unfolded perhaps make us question that. It’s poignant to me that after Peter had denied Jesus three times and the cock crowed, Luke’s gospel tells us that then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: ‘Before the cock crows today, you will disown me three times.’ 62 And he went outside and wept bitterly.”

Remembering what Jesus had said led to a moment of clarity and conviction for Peter that broke his heart. And the remembrance of Jesus in communion can also remind us of our failings – causing us to come to the foot of the cross in repentance.

There’s no doubt that Remembrance Sunday can also evoke strong emotions. When the nation stands together in silence it is a deep and solemn moment: some will be remembering friends and relatives; others will be reflecting on the many who died in conflict to ensure our freedom. We can’t possibly know all of the millions who have died to preserve our liberty, but we can contemplate their bravery, their service and their sacrifice.

The Apostle Paul (especially in 1 Corinthians 11) affirms the idea that sharing bread and wine is something all followers of Jesus are meant to do ‘in remembrance’ of Jesus. We are using bread and wine as reminders of who Jesus is and what he has done for us. Maybe, but if that’s the case, why not say ‘do this to remind you of me’? Why ‘in remembrance’? There is something more here than simply not forgetting.

I think there is something here about about a related word: ‘commemoration’. A dictionary definition seems to open this possibility – a commemoration is something that is done to remember officially and give respect to a great person or event. That sounds a little like what we do on remembrance Sunday, and at Communion.

And there’s another related word: memorial. A grammatical analysis of the Greek word that we translate as ‘remembrance’ from the New Testament narratives around the Last Supper suggests that ‘memorial’ is a fairer translation – something that honours the one being celebrated. “Do this as a memorial to me.”

It’s complex isn’t it? But then perhaps that’s the point.

I have reached the conclusion that all the above and so much more are represented for me in remembrance. All of these ideas and concepts combine so that remembrance becomes an encounter – an encounter with bravery and sacrifice, an encounter with grief and loss, an encounter with love and hope, a moment of forgiveness and reconciliation.

And an encounter with Jesus: the One whose body and blood were given “for you”.

Simple things lead to profound moments: silence, bread, wine. In remembrance.

Be blessed, be a blessing

unseeing

blind monkeyDo you sometimes wish you could ‘unsee’ things? Do you wish that you could delete what you have seen in the same way that you can delete the viewing history in a browser?

As a boy I remember stumbling (!) across a small stash of items in the bottom of my parents’ wardrobe that were clearly intended to be Christmas presents. I was excited to have found them but later wished I hadn’t as it spoilt the surprise on the day.

After watching an emotion-wrenching and draining television programme a friend of mine commented that they wished they could unsee it. I saw the same programme and can empathise with that feeling.

Perhaps you were sent a letter or an email and, after reading it, you wish you hadn’t and could delete the memory of it from your brain.

At the heart of these things we often find an emotional response has become associated with the memory and when we recall the memory we recall and relive the emotion which makes the memory more difficult to cope with. I am sure psychologists and counsellors would help with the particularly traumatic ones, but what about all of the smaller things that you wish you could unsee? We can’t get therapy for everything!

In time (probably) the impact of the emotional reflex will diminish as the significance of the event fades. It may help to talk about it with someone who knows you well and whom you trust – asking them to help you get a fresh perspective on things.

But we can also use those things to help us to learn and grow as individuals:

I learnt that the joy of finding presents before they are given diminishes the excitement and surprise of receiving them and didn’t go rummaging stumbling in my parents’ wardrobe again.

My friend could decide not to watch any more of the programmes in that series, or perhaps to watch them at a time when they have the space and company to help them process what they saw.

Your memory of how you felt when reading that letter or email can help you think about the impact of messages you send and perhaps soften the approach.

You see what I mean?

This is not ground-breaking therapeutic news. We learn and grow by experience. It’s what people have been doing with ‘stuff’ since Thag got tummy ache after eating some dodgy berries.

But in our multimedia internet-dependent world do we sometimes forget to do the learning and growing as we click and tap from experience to experience? By reacting and splurging on social media almost as these things happen to us we may fail to give ourselves the space to process, reflect and think before responding.

Psalm 27 is attributed to David – the shepherd boy who became Israel’s most successful king. It’s clearly written at a time when he was under threat. He had taken the time to pause, reflect and respond to what was happening – perhaps writing the psalm was an ancient form of blogging – and these reflections led him to these gentle, final words: “Wait for the Lordbe strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.”

David had clearly learnt that rushing in with a response is not always the best way ahead, and to wait for God’s timing is best.

That’s something I hope I never forget and don’t want to unsee!

Be blessed, be a blessing

 

 

time for Remembering

clocksFor those leading services on Remembrance Sunday it can be one of the most fraught days of the year. It is not necessarily because of the content but because most services start before or at 11am on the Sunday and we have to incorporate the 2 minutes’ silence at the right time. This requires a level of timing, anticipation, clock-watching and ‘seat of the pants’ ministering that can raise the blood pressure of even the most relaxed of Revs.

This year I was ministering at one of the churches I serve as a Regional Minister. Their service starts at 10am. The first part of the service was led by church members (really thoughtfully and sensitively) and then I stood up to preach. Normally it’s only those listening to me who have an eye on the clock, but this time I was keeping an eye on the time too. I was amused that during the sermon, just as I was reading Psalm 23, the town parade went past the outside of the church with a band playing at the head of the procession. The band stopped playing just as I finished reading the Psalm. I told the church that it was appropriate as the psalms were originally sung to music!

The sermon finished at about 10.45.

That would not normally be a problem with a view to having 2 minutes of silence at 11.00.

But the church also also wanted to share Communion* after the sermon and I wasn’t sure whether we would have time. We also had a song to sing before Communion. I invited people to sing and afterwards I led the church into sharing the bread and wine.  The sermon had been on Jesus saying, “I am the resurrection and the life” and I made a link with that and that he invited his followers to share bread and wine “In remembrance of me”. I broke the bread and shared it with those who were serving and they took it out to the congregation at about 10.50. It’s a large congregation which meant that serving the bread took a while and we finished that at 10.57.

Are you feeling the pressure too?

I knew that we would not be able to serve the wine in 3 minutes so I took the decision to have the 2 minutes’ silence in the middle of Communion. So I introduced what we were going to do and at 11.00 we stood in silence for 2 minutes, after which I read the familiar ‘they shall not grow old’ words and prayed. We then sat and continued with Communion as the wine was served in small cups to each person and we drank together and once again reflected on Jesus who died for us.

After the service lots of people said how much they had appreciated that we did things that way, and few seem to have realised that it was not by my design. And I was blessed by the experience too – I reflected on the act of Remembrance in the light of Communion and Jesus saying, “Greater love has no-one than this, that they lay down their life for their friends.” I reflected on Communion in the light of the act of Remembrance and what it means – more than just keeping a memory alive. The unplanned order of things was very poignant and significant to me.

Reflecting on it all now, a couple of days afterwards, I realise that God often does that… he takes our plans and if they don’t turn out the way we intended he finds a way of speaking in and through the ensuing disruption. So for some of Jesus’ friends who went on a fishing expedition that proved fruitless he turned it into an encounter with him that they would remember for the rest of their lives (John 21). And, if I am honest, that’s so often what inspires me to write bloggages – unexpected moments turn into moments when God speaks to me. Maybe it’s because in those moments I realise that I am not in control and need to reconnect with the One who simply is.

I suppose the question is whether, in the disruption, we try to listen to what God might be saying or whether we are too busy trying to resolve things ourselves.

Be blessed, be a blessing

*Eucharist, Lord’s Supper, Bread and Wine – depending on your tradition

spiritual landmarks

If you look back over your life what significant events do you remember? What are the highlights? What are the days that are etched firmly in your memory as significant moments?*

This coming weekend has the potential for awesomeness because it is full of such events.

On Saturday I will be conducting a wedding at our church. We do not have very many weddings at our church in a year so they are always very special occasions. On Sunday we will be holding two separate services of Believer’s Baptism: one in the morning and one in the evening, and another local churches using the pool in the afternoon to baptise some of their members. and in the morning service we will also be celebrating communion and welcoming more new members into the church.

I love the way that people can celebrate significant moments in their life in the church – it is wonderful that our church family can be the context for such significant moments that are landmarks in people’s lives. These are some of the moments that I love and cherish as a minister and I hope will be moments that these brothers and sisters in Jesus will also cherish. I hope and pray that they will be wonderfully joyful, exciting, encouraging times for everyone, especially those getting married, baptised and welcomed into membership (different people).

Without diminishing any of what I have just said I also want to point out that these spiritual landmarks are not normal life. They are not the everyday occurrence. Those who are married do not live every day as if it is their wedding day. Those who have been baptised do not get immersed in water in a church each morning. Those were welcomed into membership are not welcomed into membership each time we share communion.

But those occasions can also remind us of when they happened for us. Weddings remind me of my wedding, baptising people reminds me of my own baptism, welcoming people into membership reminds me of my own membership in this church. And remembering those spiritual landmarks helps us in the normal everyday life. We can get distracted and embedded in routine and everyday activities and forget those amazing moments that have occurred.

Mountain TopIf you read the Old Testament narrative you will find that often places were renamed or altars were built where significant encounters with God had happened. These were to be tangible reminders of God’s presence and involvement in people’s lives. They were reminders of God’s covenant promise to his people. people would see the altar or remember the name of the place and be reminded of God and his involvement in their lives. Whilst we do not do that today in the same way there are spiritual landmarks that can serve the same purpose. 

In each of the three different events this weekend, promises will be made. The happy couple will make promises to each other in the sight of God. Those being baptised will make promises to God. Those being welcomed into membership will make promises to the church and the church will make promises to them. We can all use such occasions to remind ourselves of the promises we have made in the past and renew our intention to keep them. And most of all we can remember how we encountered God and all that he has done for us. And those promises and memories are for the every day, normal life.

And that is where the fourth event that I mentioned at the start is full of godly awesomeness: sharing bread and wine with fellow believers reminds us of Jesus’ death and resurrection and all that that means for you and for me is a regular reminder of God’s amazing love.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

*Apologies to anyone who read the earlier version which was done with my speech unrecognition software!

rememberiscence

Not my grandparents’ church – it’s actually our church

This morning I had a moment of reminiscence. I am not sure if I was daydreaming or remembering, nor do I know what triggered it, but all of a sudden I found myself remembering being at my Grandparents’ church singing “To God be the Glory!” A rememberiscence:

TO GOD BE THE GLORY! great things He hath done!

So loved He the world that He gave us His Son,

Who yielded His life an atonement for sin,

And opened the life-gate that all may go in.

chorus:

Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!

Let the earth hear His voice!

Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!

Let the people rejoice!

O come to the Father through Jesus the Son;

And give Him the glory, great things He hath done!

 

O perfect redemption, the purchase of blood!

To every believer the promise of God;

The vilest offender who truly believes,

That moment from Jesus a pardon receives.

 

Great things He hath taught us, great things He hath done,

And great our rejoicing through Jesus the Son:

But purer and higher and greater will be

Our wonder, our worship, when Jesus we see!

I can remember the gusto with which the congregation was singing. I was only about 5 or 6 in my memory, and I don’t think I understood the words very well, but I sensed how important these words were to the people who were singing them. Both my sets of Grandparents went to the same church and I can remember whichever ones I was with, they would sing with joy and fervour.

This morning as I was singing with gusto (in my head, my son was asleep next door) I thought of the second thief, crucified next to Jesus. He may not have been ‘the vilest offender’ but he was a convicted criminal (and all sin is equal). He did not have a deep understanding of Jesus’ teaching or message. But he truly believed and that moment he was pardoned: “today you will be with me in paradise.”

Forgiveness is not always easy for us to give or receive. Sometimes we need to take time to get to a place where we can forgive others or ourselves. But God’s forgiveness is instantaneous. He does not hold grudges. He loves us unconditionally, forgives us instantly and reinstates us completely. Wow, that’s amazing grace… perhaps I had better stop now before I start singing again!

Be blessed, be a blessing.

The Rev. Billy Graham tells of a time early in his career when he arrived in a small town to preach a sermon. Wanting to mail a letter, he asked a young boy where the post office was.

When the boy told him, Rev. Graham thanked him and said, “If you’ll come to the Baptist church this evening, you can hear me telling everyone how to get to Heaven.”

“I don’t think I’ll be there,” the boy said. “You don’t even know your way to the post office.”

lost thoughts

Don’t you hate it when you have a good idea or profound thought as you are dropping off to sleep and can’t remember it the next day when you wake up? I have a pad of paper and a pen next to my bed for just such an eventuality. It also helps me to write things down that are buzzing around in my head preventing me from sleeping. I know that I will be able to address them tomorrow because they are written down and can then relax about them.

The system works well. Except when I have reached the point of no return when dropping off. Last night I know I had a brilliant* idea as I was dropping off and I know I thought about writing it down but sensed my body saying, “Don’t you dare, you’re about to be asleep!” and ignored the thought. It’s now floating around in my brain – unlabelled, unfiled and inaccessible.

What happens to those thoughts? Thankfully one or two of them manage to fight their way back into my consciousness and are logged and processed. In fact… [trumpet fanfare] last night’s thought has just done exactly that! Hooray! It was an illustration for a service I am taking in a couple of Sundays’ time in Horsham. I now have to evaluate it, having written it down on a pad so I don’t lose it again and you will have to come to that service to see whether or not it was as good as I thought it was.

But lots of them never surface again. They are lost forever. Do they have an expiry date and simply *poof*disappear from inside my brain after a designated period of time? Or do they remain inside my head, enjoying a nomadic existence that never settles anywhere? Or is there a part of my brain that is a home for orphaned thoughts? If it’s the latter, wouldn’t it be amazing to be able to access that part of the brain and discover them all?

I sense that some of you are having a very conscious thought right now… where on earth is he going with all of this?

I wasn’t sure when I started (if I am honest) but reflecting on the above has reminded me of these somewhat enigmatic words at the end of John’s gospel: “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” (John 21:25)

What we have in the gospels are the things that Jesus said and did which the Holy Spirit considered important for us to know. They are the things he brought to the minds of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John to tell us about Jesus. If there are so many other things, and these are the important ones, doesn’t that elevate their significance somewhat? I think I will treat them with even greater reverence as a result of that reflection.

On Sunday morning I am speaking about the Last Supper and I have just realised (d’oh!) that Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me…” not “Do this to remember the things I said and did.” Our focus should be first and foremost on him, as revealed to us in the Bible. So what is it about Jesus that the Spirit is bringing to your mind right now? It’s important, whatever it is!

An elderly husband and wife noticed that they were beginning to forget many little things around the house. They were afraid that this could be dangerous, as one of them may accidentally forget to turn off the stove and thus cause a fire. So, they decided to go see their doctor to get some help. Their physician told them that many people their age find it useful to write themselves little notes as reminders. The elderly couple thought this sounded wonderful, and left the doctor’s office very pleased with the advice.

When they got home, the wife said, “Honey, will you please go to the kitchen and get me a dish of ice cream? And why don’t you write that down so you won’t forget?”

“Nonsense,” said the husband, “I can remember a dish of ice cream!”

“Well,” said the wife, “I’d also like some strawberries on it. You better write that down, because I know you’ll forget.”

“Don’t be silly,” replied the husband. “A dish of ice cream and some strawberries. I can remember that!”

“OK, dear, but I’d like you to put some whipped cream on top. Now you’d really better write it down now. You’ll forget,” said the wife.

“Come now, my memory’s not all that bad,” said the husband. “No problem, a dish of ice cream with strawberries and whipped cream.”

With that, the husband shut the kitchen door behind him. The wife could hear him getting out pots and pans, and making some noise inconsistent with his preparing a dish of ice cream, strawberries, and whipped cream. He emerged from the kitchen about 15 minutes later.

Walking over to his wife, he presented her with a plate of bacon and eggs. The wife took one look at the plate, glanced up at her husband and said, “Hey, where’s the toast?”

*It seemed brilliant at the time, but that perception may not be entirely reliable given the dopey nature of my condition at the time.

going anywhere nice for your holidays?

I had a traumatic experience on Wednesday. It involved flashbacks, anxiety, envy, a pair of scissors and some money.

On Wednesday I took my daughter somewhere that brought back pleasant memories for me. It reminded me of relaxing and pleasant times in my past that will never happen again.

I took her to the hairdressers.

I sat in a chair watching from afar while the hairdresser did her thing to Hannah’s hair. I reminisced about how relaxing it was when I used to have my hair cut. There was something so calming about having someone cut my hair while making small talk about where I was going on my holidays and what I did for a living (which often led to: “Oh”-style responses).

Never again.

Now I normally cut my own hair with a pair of clippers. No, it doesn’t take long – thanks for asking. But before my Mum’s wedding last year I decided to treat myself and went to a nearby Barber’s shop. As I went in the barber looked at me and paused.

“Thank you for not laughing,” I said. I then confirmed that I was there for a haircut. I wanted him to clip my hair.

It was unsatisfactory for several reasons:

  1. It did not take long at all. Not even long enough for him to find out my holiday plans.
  2. I felt rather silly sitting in the chair with other customers looking on and wondering why I was bothering.
  3. At the end of the haircut the barber charged me a couple of quid less than full price!
I felt disappointed, embarrassed and a little sad. It was not the relaxing, gentle experience of my youth (when I had luxuriant hair).
I have not dared to go back.
It seems that nostalgia is not what it used to be. I am amused but not surprised at the complaints of the Hebrews escaping from Egypt under Moses, who started grumbling quite quickly and decided that they wanted to go back to Egypt. What, back to the slavery, torture and perhaps even certain death?
How many times do I ‘want to go back to Egypt’? Do I hark back to the ‘good old days’? Do I reminisce about what God did with me in the past? There’s nothing wrong with remembering (eg Communion!) but good remembering is about reflecting on God’s actions in the past to reassure and encourage to face the present and the future.
I refer you to the joke I made here as it seems immensely apt.