Faith Works 5-23-15
Memorials throughout the Bible
There are many memorials in the Jewish and Christian scriptures, the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.
Memorials are often stones put up as a marker, or piled together to stand out in a place. Stones were easy to come by in the Holy Land, milk and honey being a dream and a promise, but rocks were always right there.
On the journey from Egypt to the Land of Promise, in the wilderness, there were memorials placed by Moses and the people Israel to honor manna's appearance to feed the people, or to mark a revelation of God's word to the people.
Joshua had the twelve tribes mound stones from the streambed of the Jordan River to mark where they crossed, dry shod, into the new countryside. Altars, places of worship or assembly, all had their memorial observances.
Passover, itself, grew in the life of the people as a memorial in time, the date and circumstances of the event they did not want to forget, when the Angel of Death struck Egypt but spared the Hebrews. The Jerusalem Temple was meant to mark where Abraham was prepared to sacrifice Isaac, an association Muslims still connect with the Dome of the Rock on the same spot.
For the disciples, they came to the Mount of Transfiguration (some say it was Mt. Tabor, others Mt. Hermon) and the appearance of Moses and Elijah was so striking to them flanking Jesus that they said to him "we should build something" to mark this event, a suggestion Jesus mercifully ignored. 1900 years later, Mussolini went ahead anyhow and put up an edifice to honor and remember Christ and Moses and Elijah, a church building now atop Mt. Tabor that leaves everyone a bit uncomfortable.
The Roman Empire was all about memorials, but they weren't quite sure how to respond to Jewish ones; just before the time of the Gospels they had tried to add their symbolism to those of the Temple, and found themselves with a revolt on their hands. Memorial meanings are tricky across cultures, and trying to validate or rewrite memorials through later changes can provoke angry responses. Adding a memorial of one people to those of another almost always ends badly.
The most enduring memorial, though, in the Bible is one that by definition cannot endure. It's a memorial made of the loaf and the cup, the memorial given by the hand of Jesus himself, the meal of which he said "This do in remembrance of me."
What lasts is the meaning, even as the body and blood are seen and shown and shared in the memorial of that meal in an upper room on the edge of Jerusalem. "This is my body, broken for you . . . this is my blood, shed for you." It vanishes through being consumed, but it endures in not just the memory but the behavior, the actions of those who by eating and drinking together come to see how they are now "one body" themselves.
Today we have memorials which are deep-set V shapes in the earth with reflective marble walls, glass panels with etched images, online guestbooks and holographic videos. They are not just a heap of stones standing out in a wilderness place, asking the passer-by to wonder "what happened here?" They aren't simply standing stones, although we still place them in our cemeteries and memorial parks, unhewn and towering above their plots and pavements.
Memorials can take many forms today, but they all still call us to remember, and perhaps more to the point on Monday, to take action based on those memories. To not stand so much as to be moved.
May you be moved this Memorial Day weekend; through your meals shared in remembrance whoever you eat them with, and in those places where markers make us think. God be with us to act in accordance with the memories we would honor.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him what you would remember at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.