John 14:8-17, 25-27
“The Gift of Remembering”
How are you at remembering? Are you good at remembering faces and names? Do you retain the details of what you read in the newspaper or hear on the news? Can you remember what’s in your schedule for later today or next week on a specific day? Do you usually remember things like birthdays and anniversaries, or do you need someone to remind you?
More and more, these days… (Perhaps it’s something that goes along with aging or hanging around with older people…) I hear people complaining that they can’t remember the things they want to remember. The names of friends or relations just won’t come to mind. Someone’s in the middle of a story, goes off on a tangent, and can’t remember what the point of the narrative was supposed to be. And one of the most annoying things for busy people… you get up from what you’re doing, rush to another room in your house or workplace, and stop in your tracks. You can’t remember what you were going to do.
It seems to me that when we have trouble remembering, there are a few possible reactions. We can beat ourselves up about it. Wallow in the guilty feeling of missing an appointment or an event. Put ourselves down when we can’t remember someone’s name. Maybe give up any responsibilities we may have that will require us to use our memories in any significant way.
But another possibility is that we could try using some tools to help us. Date books, note books, alarms on phones, and notifications on our computers. Notes left on the mirror where we will see them in the morning. Things written on to-do lists, and checked off faithfully only when the tasks are complete.
Earlier this week when things were really crazy busy in the church office, our Office Administrator, Karen, reminded me of something I still needed to write for the upcoming issue of the newsletter. We were downstairs in her office when she mentioned it, and I said something like, “I’ll try to remember to do that after I finish my next conference call…” So Karen said, “Would you like me to send you an email to remind you?” “Yes, please, that would be perfect.” And it worked.
As you know, on Pentecost Sunday we celebrate the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the church. We give thanks for the Spirit’s power that gave the first disciples the ability to proclaim the mighty acts of God in all the languages of the world. Today we acknowledge that the good news of Jesus is for everyone, from every nation, culture, and language, and we celebrate the beautiful diversity of the whole church, as well as our own congregation.
But I would like to suggest that this day is also about the gift of remembering.
In a way, every Sunday is about remembering. We gather together as a congregation to sing, and pray, and listen, and respond to God’s Word. We may come because we’re in the habit of it, or because we promised to make the coffee after church, or because we hope to see our friends. We may come because we enjoy the music or usually find something interesting in what the minister says.
But I think that one of the most important things that happens here every Sunday morning is that we remember. We remember that God is the Lord of all. We remember that we belong to God as beloved children. We remember that we are called to follow Jesus and live like him. We remember that the Spirit is able to help us with that mission.
During the week it can be easy to forget… when we’re rushing to get everything done at work, balancing busy family lives, or immersing ourselves in entertainment or social media. It can be easy to forget who and whose we are. And so we need to come together on the Lord’s Day so that we can remember, and return to God, and be renewed in faith.
Sometimes I imagine that it might have been easier for Jesus’ first disciples. Of course I know that their lives were very difficult, and uncertain, and even risky. But Jesus was right there with them, right?
When they started arguing with each other along the road, Jesus was close enough to hear them and set them straight. When they didn’t understand the parables and stories he taught, all they had to do was ask, and a personal explanation would follow.
Even when their faith faltered, like Peter trying to walk out onto the water and sinking down into the sea, Jesus was there to take him by the hand and lift him back into the boat.
With Jesus there beside them, the disciples could not forget what their lives were now about as followers of the Way. And as much as they began to recognize the presence of God in their master and friend, Jesus of Nazareth, there was no reminder needed that they were precious children of the Lord of all.
But towards the end of the Gospel of John, Jesus begins to prepare his closest friends for his impending death, resurrection, and ascension. He tells them about the reality that he will soon be arrested and killed, and he assures them that although this will happen and it will be awful, his ultimate destination will be heaven with God the Father.
Earlier in today’s chapter (John 14), Jesus gives his disciples the comforting news that he is going ahead to prepare a place for them in heaven. They are not going to be killed with him now, but when they do die, there will be nothing to worry about. There will be a room reserved for them in the heavenly mansion.
But for the moment, they’ll be on their own. Jesus will be going, and the disciples will remain. And that’s when he promises them the gift of remembering.
Okay, that’s not quite what the Spirit is called. In the NRSV translation, the Spirit is an Advocate. In other translations, the Spirit is described as a Companion, a Helper, a Comforter, a Friend.
The point is that the disciples are not going to be left alone. It is not going to be up to them alone to remember all that Jesus said and did. Nor is it going to be up to them alone to remember – even with Jesus gone – that they are followers of the Way. Of course, they are going to have to cooperate with the Spirit, and give a good effort towards living in Jesus’ way, but they are going to have help.
Jesus says to them: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. I will ask the Father, and he will send another Companion who will be with you forever. This Companion is the Spirit of Truth… You know him, because he lives with you and will be with you… The Companion, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I told you.”
We have plenty of good tools for remembering Jesus and what he taught us about how to live. We have Sunday worship. We have the community of faith. We have the Scriptures. We even have daily devotionals that will show up in our email every day, if we so choose!
But the Spirit is more than just a tool to help us avoid forgetting about Jesus. The Holy Spirit is God’s very presence in our midst – just as real and powerful as Jesus standing physically beside us – teaching us and guiding us, comforting us and challenging us too.
When I look up the opposite of the word “remember” online, every dictionary gives the opposite as “forget.” But I once read a theological reflection that suggested that “forget” is actually the opposite of “recall.” The opposite of “remember” is “dismember.”
Think about it like that for a moment. Think about bodies being broken, taken apart, dismembered. Think about bodies being restored, healed, re-membered. The opposite of “dismember” is “remember.”
And Jesus, who will not be physically present with his friends and followers in the world, is asking the Father to send us another Companion, a Helper, an Advocate, a Friend. And this Friend will help us to remember Jesus.
Certainly, we will recall his stories and be able to repeat his teachings. But the Spirit will also give us the ability to re-member Jesus, (to put Jesus back together?) to make Jesus present in our churches, and communities, and in our world once again. The Spirit will so fill us with the power of Jesus’ love and grace that the Body of Christ that is the Church, and our particular bodies too, will continue to embody Jesus for the sake of the world.
A long time ago, back when I was in seminary in Toronto, I was at a Service of Holy Communion at Knox College. It was a small service in the early morning before classes, with just a few students gathered around the little table in the side chapel.
The minister spoke the familiar words of Jesus as she broke the bread: “Every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, remember me.” And then I heard a whisper beside me from another student… a spontaneous response of faith, perhaps prompted by the Holy Spirit… “Jesus, I remember you.”
In the years since then, I have often prayed that prayer in the midst of Communion services… “Jesus, I remember you.”
And to me, it’s not about having forgotten Jesus, and calling him to mind again. It’s more about offering my life once again – as he offered his life for us – offering my life as a vessel for the Holy Spirit to make Christ present here and now.
As we share the Holy Meal together today, I invite you to do the same. Remember Jesus, and invite the Spirit to use you as his hands, or feet, or voice in the world. Together as a church, let us remember Jesus, and ask the Spirit to fill our community and give us the ability to proclaim the message that Jesus proclaimed, to do the things that Jesus did, and to share the love that Jesus shared… until his kingdom comes.
Jesus, by the power of your Holy Spirit, we remember you. Amen.