“…nothing we own, nothing we value, nothing we think we control in this life, will last. Once we are gone, we cannot enjoy any amount of wealth, cannot use anything we once had to return us into present life. We remain there forever – lost in that ocean of memory with none of the riches we once treasured. We will not even have control over our own memory: everything will be in the hands of those we leave behind.”
This weekend, of course, is Memorial Day weekend. It started as a sort of groundswell movement all over the North and South during and shortly after the Civil War: a day to place flowers on the graves of those who died in battle; a day to remember those we’d lost because of that war: It has grown to become a day of Remembrance for all who died in any of the wars our nation has fought.
Now I am not going to speak about the Civil War, or how it is still being fought today in so many ways, nor even about war in general. But, I think the themes of Memorial Day’s narrative are reflected in this morning’s scripture readings – the themes of loss, and of the Love of God; and how that shapes our relationships with others, and even within ourselves.
Every death, whether expected or understandable – such as from old age, or perhaps in battle; or not understandable – such as from COVID, or a shooting in a classroom; is a loss. The uniqueness of those who died, and all the richness and beauty and potential of their lives dies with them. They are lost from the present, never to return; living on only in our memories. But, human memory inevitably fades with time, and it vanishes entirely when those who knew that person pass on themselves. I visualize this as a sort of tide, a tide of memory slowly receding from the shores of the present. Yet, in reality it is the present that is advancing. We are leaving that tide behind.
I grieve even when those who have been a royal pain to me or to those I whom love pass away – although I’ll admit, perhaps I don’t grieve quite as much.
Even so, our lack of fond memories of them does not mean they were not loved by others, nor that they did not have value as human beings. If nothing else, they were loved and valued by God. And if God loves and values them, how can we not do the same? To me, the question seems to be not whether we should love those who are in our past, but how to do so in our present.
I am confident that no matter how this election turns out, God’s plan will not die. The world was created by God as an act of Love. That love is still here, in everything, in us, in our neighbor. All we are called to do is to let God’s Love work as it should, though us. Because, that is what is at the core of who we really are, deeper than any Tradition.
Last week we observed All Saints Day – a day to remember and honor all those who came before us, particularly those whom we have loved, and who loved us, during their journey here on earth. I know that Sharon also mentioned it was Reformation Sunday: the anniversary of that day 499 years ago, when Martin Luther nailed his list of 95 Theses to the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Germany.
And this morning, we heard the theme song from the Fiddler on the Roof, a musical that portrays the challenges of maintaining one’s faith, traditions and identity in the face of change and loss.
So you ask – how do all these tie-in with our scripture reading(s) this morning?
To begin with, our traditions are central to how we express who we are. They are an essential part of our identities as individuals and as a people. As Tevye said in the film clip: Tradition helps us know who we are and what God wants for us.
But, what he learns over the course of his story is that Tradition and Faith are not synonymous. Tradition expresses the truths of our Faith, but those expressions must change as the world changes, and as our understanding of God’s teachings and plans for us deepen and grow.
Tradition. A symbolic act that defines what it means to be us, or express what is an essential part of who we are, or what is important to us. Like: singing the Star Spangled Banner at a ballgame; or helping run the annual church fair; making cookies at Christmas, or celebrating the Holidays each year with our extended family. The rituals of Communion, Baptism, and Weddings are filled with all sorts of traditions – something borrowed, something blue, something old, something new.
Changing our traditions means changing our perceptions of who we really are, and what is important to us. This is a problem we constantly face as we change and grow. We are constantly having to ask ourselves how to remain true to who we are and what is important to us as the world around us changes.