Memorials and Altars

Last week we paused to remember what happened 12 years ago on a clear and beautiful Tuesday morning, on what is now known as 9/11. One of my friends mentioned that she heard on the radio that most people age 17 and younger do not remember September 11, 2001. I had to stop and ponder that for a bit. This means that every year that number is going to be higher. Next year it will be people age 18 and older, the year after that it will be… You get the picture.

Naturally, that thought led me to another thought, which was “How are we portraying and explaining this part of our history to a generation who already does not know much about this event?” I had to think of the memorials that have been built, the ceremonies and services held each year to commemorate, to remember — to not forget. And then I had a conversation with my two girls, ages 10 and 13. What they know about what happened is only what others have told them.

We best remember that which we ourselves have experienced.

There is a whole generation coming behind us that will know nothing of life before 9/11 except what they learn from others, what is written in books and portrayed in documentaries and movies. They have not experienced this world for themselves. And we, the generation who has experienced it, are the keepers of this history. Will we be faithful to teach those coming behind us?

Then of course, my mind went to Scripture. There is a reason the children of Israel built altars and memorials. I often think of the crossing of the Jordan in relation to this. After they had successfully crossed by way of a miracle in the parting of the water, Joshua had one man from each tribe take a stone out of the river, with which they built an altar – a memorial. And the reason he gave? So that “when your children ask, ‘What do these stones mean?'” they would have a great teaching moment to tell their children how those stones came to be there, what they meant, and more importantly, about the God who dried up the waters of Jordan just like He did the waters of the Red Sea. It gave an opportunity to tell the story of their God and the great deliverance He had wrought on their behalf. If they did this well, future generations would not forget the God who saved them. Now obviously, as we read the story of the children of Israel, it becomes clear that they had memory problems – they forgot. A lot!

All this begs the question – what kind of altars are we building? Are we faithfully recording what God is doing in our lives as a testament (proof) of God to our children and to the generations to come? I wonder sometimes if we have not lost something valuable when we so religiously rid our lives of anything that could be considered a “graven image”. I want to be careful here, and I want to be sure you understand I am not advocating idol worship in any way (which I’m not sure actually involves images very often anyway, at least in our context), but what if we had a few reminders in our homes celebrating the goodness, grace and mercy of God in our lives? I’m talking tangible things here, things that remind us and prompt us to speak to our children, to our friends, to our neighbors of what God has wrought in our lives, how He has Redeemed us, brought us through the Red Sea, saved us from certain death. So that when they ask, “Where does this come from?” or “What does this mean?” that we will have an opportunity to bear witness to the Great God we trust and serve. Have we erred too far on the side of caution here?

Jesus Himself instituted one of these great memorials – the commemoration of that last supper, which has become what we know as Communion. At that last supper, he instructed His disciples to “do this in remembrance of Me.” It is such a beautiful reminder of how He showed us how to live as image-bearers in a broken world, and it also points forward to a greater Feast, the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, to which every person has been invited.

Ideally, our memorials also serve two purposes – they remind us of who God has been and what He has done in the past, and they point forward to who He continues to be and to what He will do in the future. It is honoring the sacred moments of our lives while at the same time offering hope for the future, believing that God’s promise that He does not change is true, that He is True and Faithful to all generations.

I think of the “Gratitude Journal” I started several years ago. Something has begun to take shape in me through the experience of naming the gifts God has put in my life. Besides that fact that I now find it beneficial to thank Him for hard things in my life, this has truly become my “sacrifice of praise”. Sacrifice usually happens on an altar, and as I do this, I am building altars, memorials if you will, to remember a God who is indeed True and Faithful. It’s easy to thank Him for what feels and tastes good, but it really becomes a sacrifice when I can say “thank you” for something that hurts – for indeed, is it sacrifice if it doesn’t cost me something?

I am committed to finding tangible ways to remind myself, my family, my friends and neighbors of a God full of tender love and mercy every day of my life. And I am committed to pointing others to their own experience with Him. So they may remember for themselves.

Because — We best remember that which we ourselves have experienced.

How are you doing this? How will you do this? I would love to hear from you!

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