A People Marked by Remembrance

Ash Wednesday. I shuffle in a few moments late and take a seat in one of the back pews of the Episcopal church. I’m clearly a first-timer. I haven’t the faintest idea what to do in an Episcopal church service. Unfamiliar with the customs of the denomination, I fear sticking out like a sore thumb. I quickly scan my surroundings so I can gauge what to expect. I see Bibles. Ok, feeling good.  Bibles I know. Other books – a hymnal, no problem there; Book of Common Prayer, hmm…heard of, definitely…pretty sure I can figure it out. Kneeling rail in front of each pew, seems self-explanatory. Everything looks mostly…normal. I begin to relax. “It’s a church.” I tell myself. “A church. You can do this. You know church.”

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I do know church. Just maybe not as well as I thought. After over a decade of church attendance, I was a little caught off guard by how hesitant I felt visiting an unfamiliar denomination. I was reminded of how all churches felt to me in the beginning – foreign.

I didn’t grow up a part of a denomination. As a child, church attendance wasn’t a part of our family life even on the occasional or obligatory basis. I had no inclination toward one type of church over the other because I had no idea whatsoever – all denominations were equally unknown. A girl growing up in a suburban city of the Bible Belt, where there is a church on every corner, had no idea what was going on inside any one of them. When I became a Christian later in life, church long remained part of the equation that completely mystified me. In fact, I did my best to try and get around it. I remember thinking, “Lord, if there’s a way that we can keep this thing that we’ve got going between just you and me and avoid the whole church business, then could we go that way? Please?”

Yet try as I did to stay away, the Lord inevitably began pulling me in. So in I went. Although I didn’t know quite what to expect, I was certain I wouldn’t fit in: Church seemed to me to be a place for the people who were raised there. But there I was, an outsider coming in – not even knowing enough to know how to fake it. The fact that I so love His church now is a testament to how forcefully the Lord moves through the imperfect people who love Him:  I haven’t met even one perfect person in the years since I first began attending – not even the ones who were raised there.  It turns out I fit right in.

The longer I have been in church, the more fascinated I have become by it’s long-held traditions. Baptism, Communion, Advent, Lent. As an outsider, these traditions were always so strangely curious to me (maybe even a little weird). But, just as a decade ago the Lord began beckoning me into His church, these last few years the Lord has been beckoning me deeper and deeper into the traditions of His church.  As a young Christian I had always been put off by the rote nature of tradition.  I now feel somehow stabilized by it. My faulty assumption early on was that because these traditions were religious, then they must have been lifeless.  I associated such tradition with Jesus’ words to the Pharisees

 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” Matthew 23:27-28

Jesus could levy such harsh criticism against the Pharisees because He had insight straight into the heart behind their actions.  My criticism lacked such foundation.  Their religious acts were lifeless, but they didn’t have to be.  By throwing out religion, I was throwing out the baby with the bathwater.  I’m not sure if my beliefs stemmed more from ignorance or arrogance, probably a little of both.

As God has been full-on attacking some of my flawed thinking in regards to the church, he has been correcting the notion that the observance of such church tradition is necessarily dull and defunct. To the contrary, these traditions are packed full of the collective heart and wisdom of the generations of believers who have come before. Some of them dating back to the very first believers who actually heard these words come out of Jesus’ mouth, “Do this in remembrance of me.”

Remembrance would be a trait that would mark the people of God.  And these traditions serve the necessary function within the body of Christ of teaching us to remember.  They remind us to remember.  Jesus took the wine and broke the bread, saying, “Do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19)

IMG_7389Remembrance. Back to Ash Wednesday.

It didn’t take long for me to begin picking up on the call and response format of the service; A truth is uttered by the officiant, a response is given by the people.

Truth.  Response.  Truth…Remembrance…Response.

Within the context of the service, the truth spoken by the officiant triggers remembrance in the people, which elicits a response from the people.

God’s people are a people marked by remembrance.  So on Ash Wednesday the Reverend reads from the Book of Common Prayer: Almighty God, you have created us out of the dust of the earth: Grant us that these ashes may be to us a sign of our mortality and penitence, that we may remember that it is only by your gracious gift that we are given everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Savior.

As each believer in the sanctuary makes their way up front, we are marked with ashes on our forehead and these words are spoken over us…

Truth:  “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

I make my way back to my pew and sit down.  Just behind me, an old man rasps, his breathing heavy, labored and uneven.  The truth resonates.

Remembrance:  I begin to remember. {You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.  James 4:14}  {“All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass.  The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” 1 Peter 1:24-25}

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Response: With that elementary fact remembered, the playing field is suddenly so level.  You and me, we’re both flesh and bone.  Whether Baptist, Methodist, Episcopal or Pentecostal.  Stay-at-home, working, or working-from-home.  Tall, short, slender or curvy –  we’re all made of the same stuff and one day our earthly bodies will disintegrate right back into it. It may not be the most glamorous view of life, but it does a pretty good job of reminding me that it’s not about me. And it’s not about you. We’re nothing but dust.  It is only by His gracious gift that we are given everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Savior.  So this Lenten season let’s be bold enough to lean into remembrance – remembering the path He took to bring a people who were once so far away, so very near.

Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.  But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. Ephesians 2:12-13

 

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Linked up today at #ThreeWordWednesday

 

 

6 thoughts on “A People Marked by Remembrance

  1. As a Christian who grew up nondenominational myself, I definitely relate–no less so because I’m newly married and my husband and I are looking for a church in our area. It’s intimidating. Blessed to read your perspective and know that I’m not the only one–thank you!

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