Collective Remembering

April 9, 2017

Christ Church Episcopal, Norcross, GA
Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday
Isaiah 50:4-9a; Philippians 2:5-11; Matthew 26:14- 27:66

On the morning of January 2nd this year my Uncle Harris sent an e-mail to his three brothers and two sisters asking if any of them remembered which year their family moved to a new house, which was just a few blocks up the street from their old house. Providing a few memory-joggers:

  • Harris first thought it was in the 50’s, but a childhood friend suggested it was the late 40’s.
  • He said he didn’t remember going to St. John’s School from the old house, and it opened in 1946.
  • He shared a vague recollection of “a bunch of us walking the antenna down the sidewalk” to the new house. This refers to the big antenna for my grandfather’s ham radio which he used to connect, through Morris Code, with people around the globe.
  • And then there was the Hallicrafter television. They were the first house on the block to have one. He remembered that their dad brought it home – to the new house – and that it had a 6-inch screen.

Can you imagine watching shows on a 6-inch screen?

I guess the adage is true: “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

What followed that day was a series of responses filled with memories, as these siblings tried to pinpoint the year of the move. My dad is the oldest, so his recollection was more complete, sharing:

I have a vivid recollection of Dad bringing the Hallicrafters TV home to the [new] address, and all our friends (maybe 15 or more) coming over on Friday night to watch wrestling. Sitting on the floor in the living room with the set on a large table in the southwest corner of the room.  Seems to me that is the sort of thing we’d do when I was still in 6th or 7th grade, maybe 8th, so in the 40s most likely—I started 9th grade in 1950.   

And thanks to Google, he corrected the TV screen size, which was 7-inches, not 6.

He recalled that the first year at St. John’s School was the year of the polio scare. The school was closed for a month and mothers would go and pick up homework assignments from the teachers each day. He specified that the antenna-move took place on a Sunday afternoon. And, being a big baseball fan, he recalled lying on his bed, in the new house, listening to Buffs baseball, when he learned that Babe Ruth had died. That was August of ‘48.

Same family, a little older

My Aunt Nancy chimed in, affirming a probable 1947 move-in year. She referenced a black and white photo of her younger brother Andy – a toddler in a saggy cloth diaper, yet “clearly in command of walking skills” so probably 15 to 18 months old. She could see the red brick front porch of the new house in the background. And I’ll spare you her reflection of a potty-training moment, but trust me, it did help confirm the year of the move. Aunt Mary Grace added her confidence that Aunt Nancy and Dad seem to have “figured it out,” bringing the collective remembering to a close with “Happy New Year to all – We have some wonderful memories!”

Collective remembering. That’s what we do. It’s one of the things that sets humans apart from other living creatures. While other creatures have patterns of behavior and instinctive responses, we as humans, have a particular ability to remember collectively.

We do collective remembering in our church life, too. Each year we move through the remembering of Jesus’ birth, his baptism, temptations he faced, his encounters with others, acts of healing, words of wisdom, and a command that we are to love one another. And on this day, Palm Sunday, we collectively retell, and collectively remember the final days of Jesus’ life in human form.

While each of the four gospels tell the story of these final days, not unlike my aunts and uncles, while the stories have similarities, they aren’t exactly the same. Today’s passion account from Matthew’s gospel has some details, like centurions guarding the tomb, and Judas taking his own life, that the other gospels don’t include. Yet just as the variations in our families collective remembering don’t make the story untrue, neither does the variation in the gospel accounts.

And just like our family stories live on in our remembering, so too, in our Christian living. Today we heard the entire Passion Story in the voices of our congregation, your voices. In the week ahead, this Holy week, we will collectively remember some of those moments – piece by piece.

  • On Maundy Thursday we will reenact the foot washing, following Jesus’ example to serve others as he did.
  • We will share the bread and wine, Christ’s Body and Blood, in remembrance of that last supper with his inner circle of disciples.
  • We will end the service by stripping the altar bare, just as Jesus was stripped bare after his arrest and interrogation.
  • We will stay awake with Jesus at the altar of repose, remembering that he asked his disciples to stay awake and pray with him in his hour of uncertainly, and his moment of submission to God’s will for his life, leading to his imminent death.
  • On Good Friday we will come together at noon, marking the time Jesus was crucified, to bow down and venerate the splintered wooden cross.
  • We will gather again on Friday evening to journey the stations of the cross, reflecting on moments when others helped Jesus by carrying his cross, wiping his face, and ultimately, laying him in the tomb.
  • When we wake on Saturday we feel a loss that’s hard to explain to those who haven’t taken part in the collective remembering. This is the one day in the church year that no bread and wine of communion is to be served. It marks the complete absence of Jesus; the absence of Christ.
  • The Easter Eve Vigil captures the Jewish tradition where day begins at sunset, not sunrise. We gather in the darkness of night, light candles, and collectively retell our ancient stories to prepare the way for the resurrected Christ. Then, through the water of baptism and the joy of singing, the light of Christ comes alive again.

These are the stages of the collective remembering of our story. Just as my family’s stories become more alive each time I hear them, we as a people of God, and followers of Jesus, become more alive when we live out our shared story.

So, come this Holy Week, and take part in this collective remembering.

It’s a fuller remembering when YOU are here.



One Response to “Collective Remembering”

  1. Greta Harmon Loeber said

    This sermon has so much food for thought in many settings. When we gather with distant family, colleagues, neighbors, classmates, etc., there is always always a remembering session. When you first started the sermon, I could not see where this was topic was going; however, you stitched it together beautifully! ghl

I invite your thoughts and insights.

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