The Life We Hold Fast: Forgetting…Remembering

tree of life cross

I don’t know about you, but I feel like we are always caught in the tension between forgetting and remembering.

Every day there are so many tasks, so many details, and so many moments worth recalling, and I want to hold on to them. So I have experimented with keeping a journal, sometimes I’ll post stories and pictures to social media as a way of keeping a record, sporadically we even print photos and affix them into albums, as old fashioned as that may be.

But at least for me, even while I am trying to remember and hold onto as many details, tasks, and moments as I can, there is an ever-present sense that I am almost certainly forgetting something important.

The image that comes to mind of what it feels like, is a game from the Winter Olympics. Not the Winter Olympics that continue this week in Pyeong Chang, but the Epiphany Youth Group Winter Olympics that took place a few weeks ago in Price Hall.

This year we added a new event that was masterminded by one of our teens called “Hungry, Hungry Humans.” It’s played a lot like the board game Hungry, Hungry Hippos, but its bigger.

Here is how it’s played: You break into three teams that are each positioned around the perimeter of Price Hall facing the center where there was a pile of maybe 100 tennis balls. Each team lines up in a straight line. The person at the front of each line is given a skateboard and asked to lie down on their belly on the board. They are then given a laundry basket and pointed toward the tennis ball pile at the center.

On “GO” the teams point the person on the skateboard toward the tennis balls, shove them off, and cheer them on as they use the laundry basket to scoop as many tennis balls as possible. There is a long rope tied to the back of the skateboard and when they have their tennis balls, they are pulled back to their team. In the course of 2 minutes, the team with the most tennis balls wins.

Of course, none of us remember who won, we just know it was a good time. We probably should have been wearing helmets as we crashed in the middle of Price Hall and sent tennis balls flying.

But that’s what I think its like. It’s like we’re on a skateboards with a laundry basket in my hands, trying to grab hold of as many of the things I’m supposed to remember as possible. Trying to capture the moments of life that are slipping away. Feeling like some tasks are certainly wedged like a forgotten tennis ball, unseen and unreachable.

As people of faith we are called to remember God’s faithfulness to us, to remember who we are and whose we are, but we often forget how God has provided for us, how he has brought us through challenges and struggles, and how he has rescued us from suffering that seemed unendable.

We live in the tension between forgetting and remembering. But we probably think God could never be found occupying this same space with us. How could the One who imagined all things forget anything?

But today the psalmist pleads, “O Lord, remember your compassion and love, for they are from everlasting,” in a way that makes us think God remembering is not necessarily a given.

And the psalmist continues his request, suggesting that if the Lord can forget, that he would “remember NOT the sins of my youth and my transgressions.” Instead the psalmist asks, “remember me according to your steadfast love and for the sake of your goodness.”

The account of Noah and his wife, his sons and daughters, in the Ark is a story about God remembering.

This morning we hear the end of that well-known story, but earlier in the story, in a passage which is nearly always left out of children’s Bibles, shows us God occupying that space with us between forgetting and remembering.

The LORD saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. The earth was filled with violence. And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth and it grieved him to his heart…and God said “I will blot out all that I have created,” but then Noah found favor in the sight of the Lord.
It seems very much like the Lord nearly forgot his love for us…but God does remember.

And so God chooses Noah and his family and gives them directions to get belly down on their skateboards, laundry baskets in hand and scoop up wild and domestic animals of every kind, and seeds and plants, putting them all aboard this saving boat.

God remembers and God saves.

And at the happy conclusion God says, “I have set my bow in the clouds and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring the clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh, and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.”

God remembers, and chooses to continue to remember, by setting down his bow in the clouds as a sign, ending the flood of watery arrows. He lays down his bow to remind himself of his covenant.

This bow is like a warplane ungased and parked forever at a museum….a reminder that the clash has ended.

This bow is like a wedding band around a finger…a reminder of renewed faithfulness.

This bow is like a tattoo in the skin of the world…God has marked the occasion on which he has remembered his compassion and love, for they are from everlasting.

Perhaps Jesus remembered this story of Noah on the day he was baptized.
There are a lot of things that could’ve called the old story to mind for Jesus.
Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days just like Noah had rain falling up above on the pitch roof for 40 days.

Jesus was with the wild beasts, just as Noah was with the wild beasts in the boat.

Just as Noah’s dove found the dry ground and brought an olive spring back to Noah in his beak, so the dove descends on Jesus finding the solid ground on which we build our life and faith.

I wonder if Jesus recalled the story of Noah and Flood as he is flooded by the Spirit sent out to be tempted, and then on to preach and teach and bring in the Kingdom of God.

At Jesus’ baptism, God says, “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.” And this voice reminds Jesus of his identity and drives Jesus on in faithfulness, all the way to the obedience of the cross.

Because we have been baptized and because we have heard God’s voice claim
us as his own, we know and remember who we are and to whom we belong.
The same Holy Spirit that was poured out on Jesus is given to us in our baptism to accompany us when we face the wild beasts and the deserted places of our lives.

We have been joined to Jesus’ death and resurrection and now we live in him, and we can recall our baptism. We can remember God has claimed us in the water and the word.

A few weeks ago I was with the “From Conflict to Communion” Class in the chapel, we opened with a get-to-know you question:

What do you remember or know about your baptism?

Some of us who were baptized as infants didn’t remember anything of the event, but one person in our group was baptized a few years ago as an adult here at Epiphany.

“What do you remember?” we asked

He said it was Easter Sunday and two children – an infant and a girl of about two –were baptized at the same service.

We said, “What is it like to be baptized as an adult?”

He said, “A lot like when a baby is baptized but the pastor didn’t carry me down the aisle.”

Whenever and wherever we baptized, we remember that we have all been marked with the cross of Christ and sealed by the Holy Spirit forever.
We belong to God. God remembers his love for us.

The Lutheran way of baptizing – sprinkling has its benefit – it communicates that it’s not the amount of water that is used that matters but the words Father Son and Holy Spirit that claim us and mark us.

But some traditions still baptize by immersion, as Jesus was baptized. The benefit is that you can see what baptism means. You can see that we die, we go under, into the grave, our old sinful self dies and we are reborn in God.
On Wednesday many of us gathered with Christians from around the world to worship and to receive an ashen cross on our foreheads as we heard the words God spoke to Adam on his exit from the garden, “You are dust and to dust you shall return.”

Our failing to remember God’s love and faithfulness is a tragedy. And it leads to our death. All God wanted to do was to love us and live in friendship with us. But the cross is a reminder of God’s faithfulness.

Just like the bow in the clouds reminds God of his covenant, so the cross of Jesus standing against the dark and cloudy sky of Calvary reminds us of God’s covenant of love and faithfulness.

God gives us signs to remember.

God gives us the Eucharist – his body and blood – so that we can remember.
God gives us the words of scripture so that we can remember.
God gives us our baptism so that we can remember.

And God gives us the community of faith so that we can remember…in the times when it is so crucial to remember.

This past Wednesday a 19-year-old boy opened fire on Stoneman Douglas High school killing 17 people and wounding 14 more. It was Ash Wednesday. And our young men and women in school are wondering if their school is safe and what to make of these ongoing tragedies. And every parent I have talked to, and every teacher I know, and every person who works in school administration or as a school staff person is grieving and wondering what we can do.

One of the images that came out of Parkland, Florida on Wednesday, was of two women holding one another for dear life in grief and one of them has a clear, dark ashen cross marked on her forehead. These two women look to be mothers waiting on news of what has happened.

It is tragic.

When we have the cross traced on our forehead, we know what it means: the ash reminds us of our mortality and the shape of the cross reminds us of God’s love in Christ. But when we are reminded of our mortality we might not suspect that today would be the day tragedy visits us.

But these two women embracing, are embracing one another as if they are holding one another up. If not for the other, they would fall to the ground. They are embracing one another in the way we hold onto the promise of God, and the way that God holds onto us.

This time of lent is a reminder for us; an invitation to refocus; an invitation to renewal; a time to remember the cross, and to look to the cross remembering that it is empty. Jesus does not hang on the cross because Jesus is risen, and we will live again, and we will be made well and be made whole.

Lent is a time to hold onto one another, to support one another, to encourage one another. To ask, what good can I do for the community with the days I have been given.

Now is a time to remember that God holds us in the tension between forgetting and remembering. He is there with us too. And he remembers.

God remembers.

So, we can keep a journal, hold onto pictures, and try to remember all the tasks of the days we have been given, but we know so many details, and so many moments to the days that we can’t remember them all, and we can’t hold on to them all.

But thanks be to God, we know the One who holds us all, who remembers us all. Who saves us and keeps us. Who remembers us according to his steadfast love and for the sake of his goodness.

He is faithful and he has open arms for us, for all flesh, and for all creation, and he remembers his covenant, his promise, and his love.

Thanks be to God.