Thursday, September 11, 2008

Remember; Then Remember Remembering

I'm spending the morning remembering how we remembered 9/11. Since the word 'member' originally refers to body parts (think: dis-member), to 're-member' is to re-attach that which has been severed.

When tragedy strikes, one of our most enduring tendencies is to remember. That sounds kind of odd, given that tragedy has a way of forcing us to be "in the moment" even if that means being stunned and wondering what just happened. But, as soon as we are able to wrap our minds around an event- or to try anyway- we begin to remember, to try to re-connect our moment with our history and identity.

When 9/11 happened, the initial shock was indescribable. When we began to grope for language to re-member, one piece of our history that seemed to be as appropriate as any was the bombing of Pearl Harbor. It was not a perfect memory, by any stretch. 9/11 certainly was not carried out by the Japanese government; it was not even an act of war by a recognized state; the twin towers were not military installations of strategic value; and so forth. But, the bombing of Pearl Harbor seemed appropriate because it seemed to capture the same kind of shock and horror that many people felt in the aftermath of 9/11. (This could explain why people often use the word 'bombing' when referring to 9/11. We don't correct them because what they are saying is usually more important than getting the exact language correct.) When it comes to the initial feelings, Pearl Harbor seemed to be the right memory to help us express and begin to comprehend what had just happened.

Or, at least, we think the feelings were the same. After all, there were 60 years between those events. Someone like me- pushing 50- has no real memory of Pearl Harbor; I only remember hearing others remember it. That, too, is a way that collective memory works- we tell stories and invite others into the memory, even those who were born well after the event itself. So, when someone my age would say, "This is just like Pearl Harbor," then, technically, one could argue the point in many ways. But, again, there is a time to be disputational about details and there is a time to listen sympathetically to grief (a lesson that Bill Maher had to learn the hard way.)

So, why and I remembering our remembering this morning? One reason is because I want to invite you to think of the ancient Hebrews and the New Testament church as communities that remembered, and often that remembered remembering. Here's one over-simplified example that figures prominently in texts that we often assume (or are pointedly told) are about the end time.

One of the severest disruptions in Israel's history was the utter conquest of Israel by Babylon and the deportation into captivity that followed. While the main cities lay wasted, the Babylonians took many of the best and Israel's brightest (of the survivors, that is) into slavery in Babylon. That is how ancient empires grew, established themselves, and ensured that defeated peoples remained defeated. The first six chapters of Daniel tell stories about a very heroic and faithful man named Daniel, who maintained his faith and courageously stood against becoming 'babylonianized' during this awful time. And, when tossed among hungry lions, God protected Daniel, Daniel remained faithful, and even the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar had to profess that the God of Israel was greater than the Babylonian gods. That was a huge concession at a time when Israel's loss on the battlefield led most people to assume the opposite.

Hundreds of years later (around 2 BC), when a general of the Greek army, Antiochus Epiphanies, once again routed the capital city of Jerusalem and, to everyone's shock!, desecrated the temple by slaughtering a pig in the 'holy of holies' place on the altar, Israel was again waylaid by indescribable horror. And one way that they re-connected to their history and identity was by re-membering Daniel. The last six chapters of Daniel seem to have been written during this time. Not by Daniel, of course, but in Daniel's name, a way of saying, "Here is what Daniel says to us about how to maintain faith during this time of apocalyptic horror!" They were re-membering, re-connecting with their history, their identity, and their God, by naming their current crisis as a time of following Daniel.

One thing "Daniel" told his suffering people was that, just when it seems that calamity is at it worst, they should live in expectation that God would save them. "Then you shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds" was the phrase that "Daniel" would use, and other after him would repeat.

When the Gospel of Mark was written, it, too, was during a time of astounding calamity. The rebuilt and seemingly impenetrable temple was being utterly destroyed by the Romans! Jerusalem was being destroyed and the people were facing the real question of whether to stand up and fight a lost cause or to flee to the hills. But, to flee, seemed to be a concession of a lack of faith in God, wouldn't it?

Then Mark remembers Jesus remembering 2 BC Israelites remembering Daniel, when Jesus says, 'run to the hills and look up in expectation for the Son of Man coming in the clouds!' The intention is to ensure hope and faithfulness even in these dark times, to expect that God will give aid, that the same God who was faithful to Israel during its darkest days of deportation and of the destruction of the second temple, will continue to be faithful even during the destruction of Jerusalem around 70 AD.

What is most important during times of crisis is not predictive prophecy. Nor is it exact correspondence between one event and another. It is remembering, re-connecting with our history and identity where God's steadfast love endures forever. And that is true even today as we remember 9/11 and look for appropriate ways to remember it well.

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