By The Rev. Sherry Deets
Pentecost – May 27, 2012
Acts 2:1-21, Ezekiel 37:1-14, John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15
Today is Pentecost. The church holiday that celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit and red is the color of the day. Red for celebration, for the symbol of fire. Because Pentecost celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit, we usually offer special prayers that the Holy Spirit will fall afresh on us. But do you think we really mean it? I’m not so sure.
Think about the passages appointed for this day. Notice that while each of them talks about the Holy Spirit in a distinct way, they are all in harmony on one point: when the Holy Spirit comes, things change. Acts might be the easy one as any previous notions of the Gospel being limited to the Jerusalem disciples are exploded or, maybe better given the imagery of the story, are incinerated. Luke’s theological drift is clear: this thing is way, way bigger than the disciples thought. (And this, of course, is just the beginning….)
In the passage from Ezekiel we hear about the valley of the dry bones. Can these bones live? Only God knows. And the valley of the dry bones is given life. New life.
In John, Jesus talks about the coming of the Advocate (whom we also call the Comforter), but the Spirit comes to testify that we might testify, often to a hostile world.
In each case, the Spirit’s presence is as at least as disruptive as it is comforting. Why? Because resurrection isn’t more of the same, it is life from death. Resurrection is life from death.
There was a documentary on Steve Jobs life not too long ago where he said that the most significant moment in his life was when he realized that “reality” wasn’t a given but rather was constructed by a previous generation of folks who weren’t, in the end, any smarter than he was. Once he realized that, he was willing to poke the “is” to see “what might be.” What would it be like for us to recognize the same?
Who else, other than Steve Jobs, has recognized the same? The “what might be” of life? On this Memorial Day weekend, I am reminded of a recent trip to Philadelphia with my mother and sister-in-law. I didn’t grow up in this area and had never seen the Liberty Bell. I, like many of you who have seen it, was surprised at how small the bell is. And I learned a little something. The bell was originally commissioned to be simply the state house bell and of course, we know the story of how it cracked and cracked. The Bell achieved its iconic status when abolitionists adopted the Bell as a symbol for the movement. It was, in fact, the abolitionists who gave it the name “Liberty Bell” in reference to it’s inscription: “Proclaim Liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof,” which comes from Leviticus 25:10.
The Liberty Bell became a strong symbol. After the divisive Civil War, Americans sought a symbol of unity. The flag became one such symbol, and the Liberty Bell another. To help heal the wounds of the war, the Liberty Bell would travel across the country. To this day, oppressed groups come to Philadelphia to give voice to their plight, at the Liberty Bell, proclaiming their call for liberty.
On this Memorial Day we remember those who have given their lives in service to this country and it’s call to freedom; liberty. After the tears, the only thing to do is remember. When the war is over, all the bodies buried — remembering continues. And somehow, the memories give life. As if remembrance is a form of resurrection.
Think about that word, “remember.”
– To re-member is to bring back together that which has been dismembered — to put the pieces together again.
– To re-member is also to re-unite one who has been separated — to bring them back into membership, into community.
The Hebrew word for remember adds to our understanding: Its ancient root means “to mark so as to be recognized.” In other words, to be remembered is to be made known. When a Jew mentioned the name of a dead person, that person’s being became real in that moment.
Memory does bring life. If you’ve been to the Viet Nam Veterans’ Memorial in Arlington, you know that it’s a place of holy remembrance. The slabs of black granite, known as The Wall, bear the names of soldiers killed or missing in action in that war. You see the names, one after another, row upon row upon row: William B. Turner – Clayton D. Whitcher – Brian J. Williams – Denis J. Zimprich – Paul W. Anthony – Troy H. Batterson — the list goes on and on, each name belonging to some mother’s child, some person’s friend.
If you stand at the wall, seeing your own face reflected behind those names, you FEEL the lives that they gave. Doesn’t matter if you never knew a soul who fought in that conflict — now you know them all. And even though you can’t possibly read every single name, you are aware of every single life.
The re-membering somehow makes the soldiers become a part of you. What a sacred thing it is to remember the fallen soldier – not because all soldiers are necessarily heroes, not because all who give their lives die for a good cause — but because IN HANDLING THE MEMORY OF GOD-GIVEN LIVES, WE PARTICIPATE WITH GOD IN THE HEALING OF THE WORLD.
To re-member IS to put the broken pieces back together, to make members again of those who were missing. Remembrance is resurrection!
So what’s the purpose of this resurrection remembering? What happens when memory lets fallen soldiers live?
I think there’s an answer back in 1982, at the dedication of The Wall. There in the crowd is a retired soldier. Specialist John Beam carries a sign that reads, “I am a Viet Nam veteran. I like the memorial. And if it makes it difficult to send people into battle again … I like it even more.”
Remembering the soldiers of any war — friends and enemies alike — calling out their names, singing their songs, or just thinking about the fact that they fought — does make it difficult to send people into battle again. The voices of the dead cry out to us for peace.
It is a sacred thing to remember the soldiers, to allow their lives to place a claim upon us. We are privileged to pursue peace on their behalf.
So, Listen — perhaps we’ll hear the strains of a song sung in honor of the mighty who have fallen. Perhaps we’ll hear echoes of their names, engraved as much in memory as on memorials. Count them, feel their presence, and re-member. Remember them all, from every battle, on every side, and for their sake join with God in the healing of the world.
Holy Spirit, fall fresh on us. Be our advocate in bringing about the kingdom world – let us join with God in the healing of the world. Come, Holy Spirit, Come. Amen.
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