Yesterday, I gave my post to Memorial Day, as well I should have. Memorial Day is a time during which we remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for us. It's tempting for some in the church to want to "Christianize" Memorial Day and to talk about how Jesus made the ultimate, ultimate sacrifice for us, but I think that's cheap - both to Christ and to the men and women who have died on our battlefields. There's nothing wrong with honoring our brothers and sisters, especially our brothers and sisters who gave so much for us.
But what's also true is that 'remembering' is something I have been thinking about for a long time in the context of my (our collective) Christian faith. It's something I don't think we really understand, and I think that's because it's something we don't pay much attention to. Or pay enough attention to.
Because it's hard. It's hard for us to remember something that we haven't had first-hand experience of. "Remember Jesus." Great. Except...none of us ever met Jesus. Not in person. We weren't alive when He walked the streets of Galilee and Jerusalem. We weren't there, to answer the popular song, when they crucified our Lord. We have not seen the empty tomb on Easter morning.
To us, Jesus is an idea, not a person. We spend our whole Christian lives lecturing about how He was a person and insisting that we know this, but it's not something that we comprehend the same way that we do when we look into the actual physical eyes of the man or woman next to us. To us, that Jesus is a person...is also an idea.
So there's this disconnect. His story, His in-the-flesh story, is so far removed from us that it's hard for us to really connect and engage with it. So instead, we engage with the verb: remember.
We don't worry about remembering the details. Or remembering something specific. I think it's true that if you talk to most Christians and ask them to 'remember' Jesus and then ask them what they remember about Him, most will tell you that they just have a picture of Him in their head. Just a picture. The same picture we see painted all the time, that portrait of His face and long flowing hair. When we 'remember' Jesus, this is the image that comes to mind for too many of us. Ah, yes, Jesus. That's Him.
No wonder, then, that we feel so disconnected from our faith. No wonder that it's so hard for us to engage with the heart of God.
To put this in other terms, imagine that you have a photograph on your fireplace. It is of your grandfather. When you look at that photo, your first thought is, "That is my grandfather." Or if someone were to ask you about your grandfather, that picture would probably pop into your mind. If that person were in your family room, you might even point to it. That's it. That's him. That's my grandfather.
But despite the fact that we've heard that a picture is worth a thousand words, the picture alone doesn't tell the story of your grandfather. No one who sees that picture would know anything worthwhile about your grandfather from it, and the sad truth is that the more and more that you look at it, the more it becomes just a picture to you, too. You don't think anything particular about your grandfather just from seeing it. It becomes to you just an image. Yup. That's him. That's what he looked like.
Now imagine, instead, that every time you see that picture, you tell a story. You remember a story. You talk about that time that you went grocery shopping and he bought you an ice cream. Or how you used to sit on his lap every day and watch The Price is Right. Or how rough his hands were from decades of farming the land or working with wood or whatever it was that he did for a living. Imagine that every time you saw that picture of your grandfather - and every time someone asked about him - what you had was a story and not just an image.
That's what we're missing when we talk about Jesus. That's what we're missing when we 'remember' Jesus. We get this mental image that comes to mind of a (wildly inaccurate) portrait that someone painted generations after He walked the earth, but so few of us get a Gospel story in our hearts. So few of us think about something Jesus did or said or promised or anything.
All we've got is a picture. Yup. That's Him. That's Jesus.
And it's just not enough.