What does this mean? remembering

With more luck than planning, we visited Gettysburg on the 150th anniversary of the battle, arriving early enough to park in the closest parking lot. The next day, we celebrated the Fourth of July in Philadelphia, toured Constitution Hall, and saw the Liberty Bell through the glass wall. We then drove to New York City, parked at the Saint George Terminal, and rode the Staten Island Ferry past the Statue of Liberty. Taking the subway to Grand Central Station we rolled our suitcases four blocks to our Lexington Ave hotel. One of Connie’s PT friends from Kentucky met us for dinner. We ate pizza in a sidewalk cafe, listened to noise of the city, and enjoyed reconnecting and catching up. After the meal, Connie and Maureen continued to visit long into the night before Maureen caught a train back to Connecticut. The boys and I walked up Fifth Avenue, about two miles to Central Park, and back down Madison Avenue. There is about a being a teenager in  the city at night. The next morning, we took a cab to the Brooklyn Bridge, crossed it twice, and then headed to One World Trade Center. The museum was not completed in 2013, but the two fountain memorials poured water over the some 2,600 names engraved in and encircling the foundations, where the Twin Towers once stood before being brought down by two hijackers.

We walked around looking for a specific name: Bill, husband to our friend Maureen from Kentucky. On September 11, 2001, Bill was well into his day as Chief Market Analyst for Cantor Fitzgerald near the top of the North World Trade Center Tower. His son Billy was a freshman at the University of Kentucky. His daughter a fifth grader in Connecticut.  

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I cupped a handful of water and ran my fingers over Bill’s bronze name. I stood weeping remembering his jovial New York attitude. The Memorial grabbed hold of my then twelve-year-old son, Caleb.  Overcome with grief and unafraid of his emotions, Caleb sputtered “Why am I crying so hard, for Mr. Meehan someone I never met?” Choked up ourselves, we affirmed Caleb’s tears, confessed our questions,  and remembered the scriptures: “Blessed are those who mourn…” (Matthew 5:4), and Paul’s ethical reminder to “weep with those who weep.”(Romans 12:15)  I hope, we said something like, “Son when you weep with the afflicted and lament evil, you are connecting deeply with that Image of God within you.”  Jesus wept over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41) and on the cross endured injustice and cruelty while Jesus pronounced forgiveness: “father forgive them, they do not know.” (Luke 23:34) I hope we said something like that.

Our Passover passage in verse 26 says: “And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ritual mean to you?’ you will say….” The Passover Remembrance invites children to question. So when our children ask us, “What does this mean?” how will we interpret the world for them? What theology will we pass to our children? What message will we share with our neighbors and coming generations? Will our philosophy of life be rooted in sports, education, markets, or entertainment? Jesus beckons us to root our lives deeply in God, so that when life’s winds blow our foundations can withstand the hurricane. (Matthew 7:25)

So, on a Sunday morning, in a park, we found a bench. I told our boys how Bill Meehan laughed when sharing the story of his first grade son, Billy. Billy, who first denied using his Father’s razor, but could not explain why he only had one eyebrow at breakfast and how, of course, it was picture day at school! Lewis asked about the “whys” of terrorism and we talked about the destructive power of hate.  We wept as the four of us prayed together. Matthew 18 reminds us that when even “two or three gather together in God’s name, Jesus joins them.”  And, that day, I hope my boys experienced the liberating and binding power of God. That day, four years ago, Jesus wept and remembered with us, and I hope we arose from our lament strengthened and ready to live into our Lord’s prayer “The Lord’s will be done, on earth as in heaven.”

What does this mean? When our children ask us, “What does this mean?” how will we interpret the world for them? From Passover to One World Trade Center to Charlottesville, how we remember matters!

Our Passover passage is full remembering. It asks us to interpret!  It lifts up the questions children are unafraid to ask! I love how the CEB renders the Passover Meal’s central question: “when your children ask you what does this mean to you?”

Why do we cook the lamb quickly over a campfire?

Why do  we eat unleavened bread?

What about the Egyptians?

What does slavery teach us?   

What sets this night apart from all other nights?    

Why do we dip the bundle of hyssop into the blood and smear it on the doorpost?  

Do we join Moses and struggle against oppression?

What Promised Land are we seeking to build today?

Was Jesus’ Last Supper, a Passover Feast?

How well have we Christian’s honored our Jewish cousins’ who began this feast?

Did Judas repent?  ( Matthew 27:3)

Should the hijacker’s names be on the memorial as well?

What about our 16 year war on terrorism?

How far does does Jesus prayer“Father forgive them, they do not know what they do?” travel?

Memory is a tricky thing. Remembering is not always easy. When our children ask us “What does this mean?” what will we sew into the world? When our children ask about Gettysburg, will we grow enamored by the zing of musket-balls and thunder of cannon or will we remember Lincoln’s words: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men (and women) are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure…. in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract…we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”  

How do we remember? My children are almost grown, but I hope that I will always remember to be prayerful, careful, and humble when answering: “What does this mean?” I hope that on the day we sat in the 9/11 Memorial Park trying to explain, comfort, and guide that I remembered Isaiah 58.

Isaiah 58 talks about the kind of fast, the kind of worship, the kind of remembering, the kind of memorial, the kind of people that God desires. It chides the perfunctory misguided half-hearted worship and life we at times give God. God names our “doing whatever we want,” oppressing workers, quarrelling and brawling, violence while we bow our heads to pray and mourn? Then Isaiah thunders for God “Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?”

This is the fast I choose:

releasing wicked restraints, setting free the mistreated,

breaking every yoke, sharing your bread with the hungry,

bringing the homeless poor into your house, and not hiding from your own family?

If you remove the yoke from your midst: the finger-pointing, the wicked speech, you stop trampling the Sabbath and stop doing whatever you want on my holy day.

And consider the Sabbath a delight.

And provide abundantly for those who are afflicted,

Then your light will break out like the dawn,

and your gloom will be like the noon,  

and you will be healed quickly.

Your own righteousness will walk before you,

and the Lord’s glory will be your rear guard.

The Lord will guide you continually

and provide for you, even in parched places.

You will be called Mender of Broken Walls,

Restorer of Livable Streets.

So friends, if we look around and see things to lament, that is okay. A rabbi once wrote that a lament is not the same as a complaint against God, for a lament holds within it a deep longing for better world. If the children or those beautiful millenniums come with questions we can’t answer, let us assure them that God weeps with us, welcomes our questions, and meets us in the parched places.  

And as we seek to interpret this world to our children, let us bow in prayer and “mourn with those who mourn.” Then let us arise and break oppressive yokes, retract our blaming fingers, silence our wicked speech, house those without homes, reform the prisons, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, muck out the flooded houses, welcome the strangers, provide healthcare to the sick, and, then, perhaps righteousness might lead us and indeed, God might be our rear guard. Maybe our children’s children, might say of us that we are Menderes of the Broken Walls and Restorer’s of Livable Streets. Amen.

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