We recently returned from a long (5,762 miles to be exact) trip over 25 days. Much excitement at TAALC National Convention, even more with family afterward. And many shared memories.
Shared memories are bonds that tie together family, friends, even communities. It’s really nice when you can remember, relive, laugh, or even cry with someone who was there.
Shared Memories Lost
Our mothers are 87 years old, live about a mile apart. They have known each other for 47 years, since my wife and I started dating. So there are many shared memories. But there are also aspects of their lives not shared. My wife has those memories with her mother, and I have others with my mother.
But it dawned on me (I know, I am slow!) that when my father died in 1991, many of my mother’s shared memories became only her memories. Yes, there were friends around to reflect on that, and family (the three of us brothers and grandchildren) to tell the stories to. But the loneliness of the death of a spouse emphasized the shared memories, especially the changes. The same happens with a divorce or severe disability. It’s not that the relationship is denied but the shared memories become a thing of the past.
What struck me this year was that most of my mother’s friends have died and most of the family members of her generation are gone. Thus, the shared memories for my mother are hers, and hers alone. The loneliness increases.
Yet, as her son I can bring back shared memories of the past 65 years that she may have forgotten. Likewise she can refresh my hazy memory of special or unique events, and even more everyday events that hold a special place in our memories.
Shared Memories and Worship
This caused me to think about church and shared memories. I love being part of a liturgical church and serving as pastor because the basic form has been consistent since the New Testament era. The musical forms have changed, but the structure is the same.
Such a heritage allows shared memories that are not time bound. Thus, as one generation passes and another comes on the scene—not unusual to have 4 or 5 generations present in worship on any given Sunday—the faith expressed still reflects the shared memory.
Why is that? Because the shared memory starts with Jesus Christ, not with us. As Jesus comes to us (as he promised)
- in Baptism (Matthew 28:18-20): The invocation in worship (“In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”) brings to mind our own Baptism into Christ (Romans 6, 1 Peter 3:21, Titus 3). The shared memory of the worship community is Christ-focused from the beginning words. Note that the invocation does not begin with these words “We make our beginning in the name of the Father…” To do so changes Baptism to our action, to making worship dependent on us, and we call God into our presence. Our shared memory becomes what we make it, not what Jesus has made it and continues to make it.
- in the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:23-27 and Gospel accounts): Again, note that we do this “in remembrance of him” not in a vague way, but in a tangible way: Jesus gives his body and blood in the feast, for the forgiveness of sins. The share memory is not determined by the worship community, but by Jesus himself.
- in the Word (John 5:24; Matthew 28:18-20): Jesus establishes the community (through the Holy Spirit working) and Jesus is the center of all discussion (1 Corinthians 2:2). This does not mean we don’t talk about all that God has revealed in his Word, but it does mean that Jesus cannot be “one of many” topics, rather the center about which all revelation makes sense. The shared memory of the original disciples becomes the shared testimony on Pentecost, and continues today with everyone who proclaims the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Shared Memories in the Word
One of the greatest challenges in maintaining the shared memories as Christians is the great variety of English translations. It is relatively easy to keep the shared memories using KJV/NKJV/NAS/RSV/ESV. But what happens with the advent of GW/NLT/NET, etc. when the shared vocabulary is no longer there. Part of that relates to a shared cultural background in which the Biblical language and imagery had influenced society.
We don’t live in that kind of world today, no matter how much people (pastors, theologians, etc.) want to protest against it. We face a situation in which it is not just a breaking of shared memories but even of breaking shared language.
Shared Memories and Continuity of Faith Expression
I have beat the drum of “continuity of faith expression” for years. That is, in worship and translations, can we have 7 year old, 18 year old, 45 year old, and 80 year old understand with a common faith expression?
Obviously I favor translations that speak to today’s people. So I find myself torn, using accessible and faithful translations, while maintaining continuity of faith expression. This is not something I made up, but is a very real problem. For congregations that are long established and average age of worshipers is 55, then this is less of a problem. But what of the next generation?
In and beyond all this is the need to maintain the shared memories of Jesus Christ within the community. How is that done in your ministry? In your church? In your denomination? What challenges do you face with regard to shared memories?