given on Sunday, May 24, 2009
Remember the lyrics, “memories pressed between the pages of my mind”? I was driving home this week and happened to be listening to oldies when I heard another song’s melody and immediately recognized the song. It was one I remember from my teen years, and it flooded me with feelings of summers in Montgomery.
As I was reading my Guideposts and the lectionary the other night, I also began thinking about tying memories together. After all, it is Memorial Weekend and that is the purpose of the weekend isn’t it?
The purpose of this weekend, really of Monday, is to honor the nation’s service personnel who have died in war. In doing the background research, I found it interesting to learn how long Americans have followed the practice of decorating the graves—the practice began in the 1860s after the Civil War and was primarily for Civil War dead.
The original name was “Decoration Day,” which even I remember as always being May 30. In 1971, Congress declared that Memorial Day, no longer Decoration Day, be celebrated on the last Monday of May. I was in high school when that change was made. The country was in turmoil over Vietnam. Classmates were worried about the draft. Those are some of my more socially distressing memories, but I also have many more that are not so distressing.
Still, the memories that are pressed between the pages of my mind have indeed sweetened through the ages. I am warmed all over when I think about how on Decoration Day, we would walk around the yard, take coffee cans, line them with aluminum foil, cut flowers, arrange them—so to speak—in the cans, add just a little water, and load them up in the trunk of the car, along with a trowel, a pruning shear, a watering can, and sometimes a picnic lunch.
We took the flowers to a number of cemeteries from Bellflower to Montgomery to Wellsville and to Millersburg. At each stop, we would check on the monuments, read the names, hear some stories, and place some flowers. Then, it seems, we always stood back a little bit, looked it all over, and listened.
The practice was not a dreaded one. It was a task that just seemed to be part of the calendar. No one ever tried to get out of it. No one ever really argued or got mad. It was one of those family days. We listened to stories of all those who had died before us. We knew and learned the relationships; we identified who had already been at the grave by the flowers already placed on it. And we looked around and saw some graves that no one visited. One we visited was a couple that never had any children, but they were important. The couple was the one who lived on what is now our farm. When Ote died, he left his farm to my dad. The bond was there almost as strong as a father and son bond.
When I put together last week’s sermon, I really had no intention of a carry over to today’s; but I see that Memorial Day Weekend is one way we do manage transitions in our lives. The death of family and friends is very difficult, but the memories of them and their role in our lives seldom disappear. The traditions we establish on this weekend demonstrate just how we do manage the loss of those important people in our lives.
I cannot help but wonder how the disciples must have felt when Jesus made his final ascension into heaven. They were alone. They were living in a world filled with turmoil. They were afraid. As they began to resume normal routines, trying to forge ahead spreading the Good News. They must have felt grief and sadness just like we do. We have established a tradition to help us through the grief process and to remember those who have “gone on before us.” Consider just that phrase: “gone on before us.” This is heard so often when we are offering comfort to those experiencing loss. We do not want to see that death permanently separates us from those we hold so dear in our lives.
Reading through the lectionary scriptures this weekend, I discovered that even Jesus, knowing that his departure from the earthly world was coming very soon, prayed for those he was leaving. The scripture from the gospel of John, outlines his hopes for those who would be left alone as he prayed to God:
13-19 Now I’m returning to you.
I’m saying these things in the world’s hearing
So my people (the disciples) can experience
My joy completed in them.
I gave them your word;
The godless world hated them because of it,
Because they didn’t join the world’s ways,
Just as I didn’t join the world’s ways.
I’m not asking that you take them out of the world
But that you guard them from the Evil One.
They are no more defined by the world
Than I am defined by the world.
Make them holy—consecrated—with the truth;
Your word is consecrating truth.
In the same way that you gave me a mission in the world,
I give them a mission in the world.
I’m consecrating myself for their sakes
So they’ll be truth-consecrated in their mission.
Jesus knew how distressed the disciples would be and he wanted them to know that God would remain with them. He may be going ahead of them, but God would guard them.
As we visit the cemeteries and remember each of those family members and friends who no longer join us in our earthly lives, we hold on to hope that we will see them again. One of the problems is that we want a guarantee and our human nature makes us skeptical. Blind faith is not easy, but again, the scriptures give us insight into our relationship with God. From John’s first letter, we learn that God is love and love is so very important to maintaining our faith, to following God’s commandments, and to reaching eternal life right along side of God and His Son:
9-10 If we take human testimony at face value, how much more should we be reassured when God gives testimony as he does here, testifying concerning his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God inwardly confirms God’s testimony. Whoever refuses to believe in effect calls God a liar, refusing to believe God’s own testimony regarding his Son.
11-12 This is the testimony in essence: God gave us eternal life; the life is in his Son. So, whoever has the Son, has life; whoever rejects the Son, rejects life.
These words are so reassuring. We know, in our hearts, who is a follower of Jesus. We know who has accepted Christ as the savior. The “memories pressed between the pages of our mind” are evidence of faith in action. As we make the journey to the cemeteries or join in family gatherings, we know that the memories pressed hard in our mind are ever so precious.
Elvis Pressley may have rocketed memories to the top of the chart, but he left us with musical images of the memories from relationships that shared love:
Quiet thoughts come floating down
And settle softly to the ground
Like golden autumn leaves around my feet
I touched them and they burst apart with sweet memories …
Of holding hands and red bouquets
And twilights trimmed in purple haze
And laughing eyes and simple ways
And quiet nights and gentle days …
Memories, pressed between the pages of my mind
Memories, sweetened through the ages just like wine …
Have I lost the message? I do not think so because I know that this weekend we are pulling out all those memories we have pressed deep down between the pages of our mind and are reliving some of the grief we feel without our family members. We find ourselves wondering if we really will get to see them again in heaven. We go through our days holding on to the precious memories of our loved ones fearing that even the memories will fade.
The message though is that God is with us. He loves us and he has made a covenant with us that as long as we believe that Jesus died for us and that love is our operating system we will be granted eternal life. Look back at that final verse of I John: 5: 11-12 This is the testimony in essence: God gave us eternal life; the life is in his Son. So, whoever has the Son, has life; whoever rejects the Son, rejects life.
We must take hope in that promise. We must have faith in God. We must continue to love one another, whether family, friend or foe, in order to receive eternal life. So let the pressed memories surface this weekend. Each memory is so precious and when they come bubbling up into our consciousness remember:
Precious memories, unseen angels,
Sent from somewhere to my soul;
How they linger, ever near me,
And the sacred past unfold. …
Precious father, loving mother,
Fly across the lonely years:
And old homescenes of my childhood, …
Old time singing, gladness bringing …
The music of our lives sometimes provides such healing. Today, we know that God’s words reveal the secrets to eternal life. We know that the lyrics of our songs remind us of the memories pressed down deep in our mind. Yet today, especially today, we open up the pages of our minds to let the precious memories bubble up because we need them. Finally, remember that even Jesus asked God for guidance not only for himself but for his disciples whom he would have to leave. Remember, too, that God made a covenant with us that gives us hope that the memories of today will be revisited as we meet those who have already received eternal life.
Today, this Sunday of a Memorial Day Weekend, find confidence in God’s words, find solace in the memories, and find joy in the promise. We have so much to be thankful for, so much to rejoice in, and such wonderful family and friends to share this life with now while we wait to join the others later on.
Dear Heavenly Father,
For some of us the memories are so pressed down in the pages of our mind, we almost hate to pull them up. Weekends like this make us feel alone or sad in those cases. But we have heard your word and your promise so we know that the memories of all our loved ones should be ones to comfort us. We know that we have memories to help us wait until we can join you and our heavenly family. As the words of the hymn say, “When we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be! When we all see Jesus, we’ll sing and shout the victory!”
Finally, Heavenly Father, we ask once more for your protection of all those men and women who are serving our country. This weekend is for all who have fallen in service to our country, and we know that they are in your eternal care. We take confidence in knowing that the fallen have “…seen the glory of the coming of the Lord … (and know that) his truth is marching on.” –Amen