We Remember and We Bear Witness

1 Corinthians 11:23-26

We Remember and Bear Witness 

November 5, 2017Maple Grove UMC 

          In October we reviewed our United Methodist vows faithfully to participate in the ministries of the church by our prayers, presence, gifts, and service.  There’s one more:  we support the ministries of the church by our WITNESS.  That one is a little harder to wrap our minds around.  What do we mean by “witness?”  A lot of times it means what we at Maple Grove call invitation—inviting others to “come and see” this Jesus we know, inviting people to “come and see” what God is doing at Maple Grove.  But today I have a different take on witness.  To witness, literally, is to remember something and to tell about it.  If you’re put on the witness stand, that’s what you’re asked to do--to remember and tell. So let’s do that today.

Remembering has always been part faith.  No less an authority than Pope Francis says that “The believer is essentially one who remembers.”1

Native American writer, William Least Heat Moon says, “It is memory that makes things matter.”  He tells how his father had a stroke, and several days later still wasn’t sure who William was; he recognized him only as a man and not as a son.  One afternoon, he says, my dad’s speech still all jumbled up, I gave him a pencil and asked him to write down who he was. In fear of failing and what that would mean, he took the pencil and slowly, unsteadily, marked out his name.  Next, he says, I asked my dad to write down my name.  He faltered, but did it.  Finally, he says, I asked my dad to write down what I was to him.  At first he seemed confused, then started moving his hand and marked something down.  Uneasily, Heat Moon says, I picked up the pad, and I could just make out what it said:  “My boy.”  I looked at him.  The right half of his face was smiling.  “And for a while longer, anyway, we had escaped the obliteration of our shared past, the thing that bound us.”2  Please don’t misunderstand me: we still visit and love and care for people who have lost all memory.  But you know what he means:  it is memory that makes things matter. 

 

So to what are we witnessing here this All Saints Day?  What are we remembering and tell about here today?  First, we remember our Roll of the Victorious, those Maple Grove members we long loved and now miss.

  • I remember John Burnham, an historian’s historian.  Among many other books, he wrote Bad Habits, most of which I know he didn’t have!
  • I remember Peggy Bowers, a nurse’s nurse, so kind and caring, her outfit always tasteful and her hair always in place.
  • I remember Larry Loughead, a dentist’s dentist, a racing enthusiast, a kind and gentle man, always a dear friend to me.
  • And I remember Vonna Fissel, her dementia such that I’m not sure she ever really knew me, but she was always as sweet as the day is long.

These and many others, for their faithfulness and love:  we remember and we bear witness.

 

Second, as Paul wrote to the Corinthians, we remember our Lord Jesus at the table, on the night when he was betrayed, how he took the bread and then the cup.  Now you might say we can’t possibly ‘remember’ that, exactly—it took place 2000 years ago.  But we do have “memories” of things before our time, don’t’ we?  I distinctly remember my four year-old brother Alan, on the day I was brought home from the hospital as a baby, while our mother tried to take a nap, dangerously sneaking me out of my crib and carrying me around the house.  Until our grandma caught him and cried out, “Oh! Alan’s got the baby.” And my mother was up like a shot.  Who could forget?  And I proudly remember my father in his military uniform, serving in WWII, even though it happened twenty years before I was born.  I remember these things because I’ve been told about them many times by reliable people.  I remember them because by now these stories are part of who I am.

Even so, we remember our Lord Jesus at the table on the night when he was betrayed, how he took the bread and then the cup.  We remember because we’ve read it in the scriptures and been told about it many times by reliable people. We remember him saying to us, “This is my body that is for you,” and “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.  Do this,” he told us, “as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”  We do remember.  Our Lord Jesus at the table: we remember and we bear witness.

 

What’s more, remembering is not just a mental activity.  Jesus didn’t say, “Please sit around and think about me.”  He said, “Do this.  Do these thing in remembrance of me.”  Professor Ronald Byars writes, “It is the doing that is the remembrance”--taking bread, giving thanks, breaking the bread, giving it to others, eating it together.  This is not just an introspective remembering, it is a physical remembering, a remembering of actions, a remembering that we do together every time we come to this table.3  As we do these actions again and again: we remember and we bear witness.

 

And then there’s this:  the apostle Paul says that whenever we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim not the Lord’s teachings, not his life, but we proclaim his death until he comes again.  Why this emphasis on Christ’s death?  Well, unlike so many of us, the Bible insists on remembering all of life, the good and the ugly, the joyful and the painful.  People nowadays want to say, “Oh slavery, that was a long time ago; let’s just forget about that and move on. . .” Or, “There are certain things in our family that we just don’t bring up—better just to ignore them.”  But the Bible says, “Sure enough, Adam and Eve ate from that tree, and life has been hard ever since.”  The Bible says, “Sure enough, Cain killed Abel, and violence has been with us ever since. “  The Bible says, “Sure enough, the people of Israel took possession of the Promised Land, but not without brutality and bloodhsed.”  The Bible dares to remember all of life.

And so we remember not just the life, not just the teachings, but also the death of Jesus.  We specifically remember Jesus’ death for two reasons:

  • First, Jesus didn’t just teach us how to love God and one another.  He didn’t just rise again to give us hope.  He also gave his life for us.  Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.  It’s on the cross above all that the depth of God’s love is clear.  What Christ did for us on the cross: we remember and we bear witness.
  • But second, our lives too are marked by the cross.  People grapple with addiction and depression, with cancer and sorrow.  And Jesus entered into all of that, Jesus knew all that personally.  There is nothing that can happen to us that Jesus does not understand from the inside out.  In the hardest that life can offer, Christ is with us because he is one of us. The presence and the compassion of Christ from the cross: we remember and we bear witness.

 

          Today for All Saints Sunday we bear witness, we tell what we remember:

  • Our loved ones, whose names have been read:  we remember and we bear witness.
  • The table where Jesus told us what to do, to take and bless and break and share this bread:  we remember and we bear witness.
  • And finally, Christ’s death for us, that he understands every tear and every trouble: we remember and we bear witness.

 

 

1 Quoted in Chris Anderson, Light When It Comes: Trusting Joy, Facing Darkness & Seeing God in Everything (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2016), xiii. 

2 William Least Heat Moon, PrairyErth (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1991), 266.

3 Ronald P. Byars, The Sacraments in Biblical Perspective, Interpretation: Resources for the use of Scripture in the Church, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 189.

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