The Importance of Remembrance
Neh. 8:14 And they found it written in the law, which the LORD had commanded by Moses, that the people of Israel should live in booths during the festival of the seventh month,
Neh. 8:15 and that they should publish and proclaim in all their towns and in Jerusalem as follows, “Go out to the hills and bring branches of olive, wild olive, myrtle, palm, and other leafy trees to make booths, as it is written.”
Neh. 8:16 So the people went out and brought them, and made booths for themselves, each on the roofs of their houses, and in their courts and in the courts of the house of God, and in the square at the Water Gate and in the square at the Gate of Ephraim.
Neh. 8:17 And all the assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and lived in them; for from the days of Jeshua son of Nun to that day the people of Israel had not done so. And there was very great rejoicing.
Neh. 8:18 And day by day, from the first day to the last day, he read from the book of the law of God. They kept the festival seven days; and on the eighth day there was a solemn assembly, according to the ordinance.
The exiles had returned home and they were a rather motley crew. So much had been lost in the past. Throughout their years of infidelity they had little by little stopped worshipping the one true God. Instead they had adopted the ways of the world around them. No longer was there a collective memory of the God who loved them. Now, they had spent seventy years in exile. This was a time that God could use to purify them of all the filth they had adopted in their idolatry. They returned home a people who had lost everything, and now were seeking to rebuild. On this foundation God was able to help them begin again.
First, he provided security by having Nehemiah lead them in rebuilding the walls. Next, the people were brought together and the prophet Ezra read to them aloud from the Law of God. The people were quiet and attentive as he read for hours. They wept when they realized what they had forgotten and subsequently lost.
The traditions had not been upheld and the celebrations for remembrance had not been honored. They are reminded that they were to celebrate the feast of booths. This was a time of remembering the 40 years that the children of Israel had wandered in the wilderness. So they were all to build booths or shelters and live in them and celebrate the past, remembering God's faithfulness to his people. As they lived into the past the joy of the Lord filled their hearts and "there was great rejoicing."
Sometimes if feels as if we live in a disposable society. The products that we purchase these days are not built for permanence; instead they are built to be cheap and to be replaced when they give out. When we moved back from Russia we bought a Maytag washing machine because of the reputation. I thought, "I'll have this washer for the rest of my life." Imagine my shock when the machine died after just 5 years. We called for the repairman who told us it would be cheaper to simply by a new washer than to have this one fixed. Really? Even the name Maytag means nothing?
The children of Israel had made their religion disposable. No longer did they focus on the true God and/or trying to pass along knowledge of him from one generation to the next. They had lost the very anchor of their lives by allowing in every form of worship society had to offer, and as a result had nothing. Doesn't that sound a bit like us today? It seems that even in our worship of God we have tried so hard to be attractive to the world that we may have given up on some of our traditions -- traditions which may actually serve to anchor us to our faith.
There is something incredibly important about remembering -- and having celebrations of remembrance. The traditions and traditional practices help to root us to a faith which has been in existence for centuries. Just as the returning exiles needed to be reconnected to Abraham and to the signs of God's faithfulness as he defined them as a people, so we need to be connected to those who have gone before us.
Celebrating Easter in the former Soviet Union was THE event of the year in the Christian calendar. During the days of Communist rule the Church was not allowed to celebrate many of their traditional holidays, but Easter -- Easter remained! While the Eastern and Western Churches do not normally celebrate Easter on the same day, during the days of the Soviet Union -- ALL of Christianity within those borders celebrated on the same day. This was a time to remember why the Church existed! Jesus Christ was risen! And the risen Christ gives hope to all of life.
"He is Risen!" It doesn't matter if you're Protestant, Roman Catholic, or Eastern Orthodox -- you know that the appropriate response is, "He is Risen Indeed!" Why? Because this is a celebration of our Tradition! It is on Easter Sunday morning that we have our celebration of remembrance -- stepping into history and experiencing what it must have been like for those followers of Jesus Christ as they realized that he was the Messiah and that he was alive!
As followers of Jesus Christ, and members of the body of Christ, we must make it a priority to intentionally celebrate our traditions. Without living into them the stories will be lost. We must teach them to our children and our children's children! We cannot allow our disposable society to so inform our worship so that we begin to see the celebration of traditions as optional. Just as the children of Israel discovered the value of the celebration of remembrance, rejoicing greatly and weeping, so must we. In doing so we will experience what it is that God has done for us and pass along the traditions to the next generations.
Lord, help us to hold to the celebrations that allow us to remember what you have done for us. Amen.