Fellow Passengers: This week’s Promise Passage* (2 Chronicles 30:1-12) transports me to the only high school reunion I’ve attended, my 30th, held a couple of years ago at a hotel ballroom, complete with dance floor and karaoke machine and lousy food. It brought back lots of memories. It was the first time I had seen the vast majority of my schoolmates since we graduated in 1980, and my circle of friends from that era spent lots of time in nostalgic conversation. We were enacting our version of LRB’s Reminiscing, and Springsteen’s Glory Days. For me, most of the memories revolved around various pranks and mischief designed to drive teachers and adminstrators and over-achieving students who did things like run for student government crazy. We had all gone separate ways and traveled many diverse paths, with various twists and turns in those paths determined by religious conversions, political persuasions, job losses and mid-life career changes, family crises, griefs (many), and triumphs (not so many). We remembered how our principal, Mr. Dalton, had given one of his famed senior class speeches, emphasizing how our senior year and graduation experiences would never be forgotten, and how we would be emotionally connected to our high school class moreso than any college or university we might ever attend. I don’t know if he was right or not, but that reunion reinforced one lesson: nostalgia and memory can indeed bind people together in a powerful way, if only for a few hours.
Hezekiah was not a high school principal, but he understood the power of nostalgic memory. As King of Judah in the latter part of the 8th century BCE and beginning of the 7th century, he witnessed the defeat and occupation of the Northern Kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians, as well as the later invasion and siege of his own capital city of Jerusalem. Perhaps influenced by prophets such as Isaiah and Micah who proclaimed visions of radical peacemaking during his reign, he instituted reforms designed to bring his people back to unity in the midst of deep divides. He used the most powerful cultural experience in the people’s collective memory bank to draw them together: the Passover. They had all heard the stories from parents and grandparents and great-grandparents, how their ancestors were liberated from slavery in Egypt. The story tells us that they had unity of mind as they gathered to re-institute the Passover feast. Memory of liberation is surely a good thing to bind people together, if it weren’t for the details of the story involving a death angel passing through the country, killing all firstborn children of the Egyptians, because their parents hadn’t gotten the memo to splash some lamb’s blood on their doorpost. Having your most nostalgic memory based on the death of thousands of presumably innocent children (who didn’t ask to be born into privilege and empire) has a shadow side, for sure. It also presumes that the defeated empire carries a memory as well, and their memory of humiliation and grief no doubt led to fantasies of revenge. Such is the reality of the cycle of violence based on the divergent memories people carry, depending on which side of the violence history placed them any certain time. Hezekiah’s reforms did bind his people together, but more radical reforms, based on the prophetic vision of transformative love for enemies that could break the cycle of violence and commemorated with a different kind of remembrance meal, would not be instituted for another 600+ years.
If you look on any of the various “this day in history” sites, you’ll find that any given day includes many epic events that are probably commemorated in some way by some group of people somewhere in the world. And you’ll find that most of those events deal in some way with violence. Take today, for example. There are fourteen different major events listed on October 2 that deal with violence in some fashion, be it a battle or conquest or massacre or execution or terrorist attack. Somebody somewhere is remembering those stories, either from the perspective of triumph or tragedy, with some celebrating and some nursing dreams of revenge. But we also have other events, prophetic peacemaking events, that we can claim and commemorate. This week marks the fiftieth anniversary of James Meredith integrating Ole Miss. Today we commemorate the forty-fifth anniversary of Thurgood Marshall’s swearing in as the first African-American to serve on the Supreme Court. And we can go back further in our nation’s history and remember today as the day George Washington sent the Bill of Rights to the States for ratification in 1789. I think it matters what we choose to remember and commemorate, what events and nostalgias we choose to bind us together. There will always be epic memories of mischief and violence. But there will also be prophetic memories of transforming initiatives of love with the capacity to break cycles of violence. May those memories bind more of us together, former enemies, families of former slaves and slaveholders, conquered and conquering.
How about you? Where does this Promise Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, email, etc. Note: you can mouse over any of the artwork and info on the artist or photo will pop up.