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Many persons enjoy remembering the past. There are many things about the past which are important to me. Surely, there are many things about the past which are important to you also. Our past, and remembering, makes us what we are today. Everything which has happened to us is a vital part of who and what we are.
As a congregation we also remember the past. We remember the myriad contributions of those in the church’s past. What our congregation is today is the result of the foundations laid for us. Our history as a church is vital to our present being.
Yet, there is much about our past which is only properly forgotten. We have littered the past with the mistakes of daily living. We have shed our tears, and caused the shedding of tears by others. As much as I recall the joys and victories of the past, I also remember the failures which mark my journey. To make a list of those things which I should have done, but have not, would be too painful. To make a list of those things which I ought not have done, but did, would be even more painful.
To focus on the mistakes and failures of the past brings a paralysis of anguish and remorse. Paul’s statement to the Philippians 3:13-14 gives us that action which is essential for us: “forgetting what lies behind.”
It is God who enables us to cover up the past, to forget the unforgettable, to erase those memories which paralyze us. God surrounds us with His love and shouts, “Your past is forgiven!” From such redeeming grace, we find that peace which comes in forgetting. That peace enables us to forget, to begin anew.
Here at the Lord’s Table, taking this bread and this cup, we do remember, but we also forget. Here at this table, we discover our past is forgiven. Absolution comes from Christ, freeing and empowering us for the future.
The gift of forgetting makes possible the second direction of Paul’s words, “straining forward to what lies ahead.” We do not need to spend our time or energies in confessional anguish or remorse. Once the past is absolved, we have a new future with new possibilities before us.
We face the possibility of being our true selves. God’s future for us is not filled with failure or mistakes. God’s future for us is filled with the ability to complete, to become, to have joy. A student may be failing one class at school. The word soon goes the rounds of the faculty that this student is “failure material.” And a self-fulfilling prophecy takes shape. In class after class, that student begins to do poorly. Failure begets failure. Then a teacher sees and understands and cares for that student, and the past is overcome. A new future is present — a future of learning, completing, succeeding.
Murphy’s Law declares that if anything can go wrong, it will. Many of us live by a Murphy’s Law of self-understanding. We imagine that all we can do is fail, all that we can accomplish will be unacceptable.
The Gospel tells us we have the possibility of life eternal. I conducted four funerals in three days this week. That might be considered depressing. Yet, the reality of life beyond death, the truth of life with God, is so substantial, so all-pervading, so overpowering, that we are not depressed, but uplifted. The words at the graves of life are words of hope.
Life eternal is more than arriving at the destination of heaven. Life eternal is a quality of living , that is present for us in every day and at all times. The past, seen with remorse and anguish, can be a gravesite of life. Yet, the reality of life in Christ is so all-pervading, so powerful, that we are not depressed, but expectant.
It is this all-encompassing reality of grace which is offered to us here around this table. Here, with this bread and cup of remembrance, there is also the reality of a new creation. Here, through the presence of Christ, we can forget the past, and strain toward that future which He gives to us all.