In the morning mist, out along the lake, you hear, as you run, the crowing of the rooster from across the road. The earlier you pass, the more frequent his morning call to life, call to prayer, call to devotion. The cock crowing has a haunting, a lastingly haunting sound.
The mind turns over. Rooster. Our son for many years had stuffed animal, which was a Raccoon, whose name was given as ‘Rooster’. ‘Rooster Raccoon’. Rooster twice was burned, being placed too near the stove. Big patches of used cloth held him together. One limb he had lost in a tussle with the Labrador. And an ear. He lived with us a decade, until he came apart at the seams. But to recall his name is to remember, in the morning mist, a beloved bygone epoch.
The mind carries your memory as the feet carry your body out along the lake, with the Rooster calling, such a distinctive, troubling sound. Once long ago the crowing somehow seemed a marker—a note was sent to a colleague to this effect—a marker of what the church had been and could yet be.
The seven greatest gifts of my life have come directly by grace through the church: name in baptism, faith in confirmation, community in eucharist, work in ordination, friendship in marriage, freedom in forgiveness, and eternal hope in unction. So, of course, the reminder, the remembrance has strict power: ‘before the cock crows twice you will have betrayed me thrice’. It is the work, the labor, of grace to lift us up after betrayal.
Speaking of labor. Do you see how the mind curls around itself, in remembrance? Labor omnia vincit. Even with all of Twain’s mocking of work in Huckleberry Finn—one sees again the whitewashed fence—we know in the marrow the saving worth of work. People need work, work to do, meaningful work. 80% of a family’s health comes with a decent job. So it is striking that we do not remember, better, those most of us with work, what it is like to lack work. The 90% will want to remember the 10%, because we all once were the 10%.
Sometimes students and others do genograms. These are helpful exercises. You might ask your parents about their grandparents, your great grandparents, about what they learned in the 1930’s. Most families have some lasting hurts, bruises. Sometimes the stories are muted. Listen for them. Your mother’s grandfather might have been traveling the country, a hobo, jumping onto and off of trains. This is Labor Day weekend. The mind connects us to what we have known long ago. Brings it to remembrance. Another generation could list the four freedoms, including freedom from want.
Speaking of freedom. Do you see how the mind curls around itself in remembrance? We are together in Boston. The cradle of liberty. We walk the freedom trail. And others come from around the globe to do so. Have we forgotten what kind of freedom was sought here? Along the Massachusetts Bay? It was a longing for space, for place, for space and place for…for what? For freedom. But the particular freedom in our DNA, our real remembrance which we sometimes forget, is freedom to come before life, to worship God, in our own way, freely, without governmental constraint. The Tea Party in Boston was the outgrowth of a surge toward freedom—of religion. For minority, displaced, outcast, Puritan, religion, on the low side of the old world. We were born, now that you remember it, out of a desire to make space and place for worship. The big old center city Methodist church in Utica NY opened last week, newly rebuilt as a mosque to serve the large immigrant population there. The city is understandably proud. Sometimes you have to go a bit out into the periphery of life to encounter real remembrance.
Speaking of periphery. The mind still curls around… Our summer series of preachers this year brought voices from across the country, from out on the periphery, to acclaim the gospel of grace and freedom, and to reflect with us upon renewal. They merit our remembrance. The voices of Rev.’s Carter, Lightner and Amerson acclaimed the good news of divine grace, the good news of human freedom. We want to remember their wisdom. Do we? We want to remember Rev. Carter’s citation of the Haitian proverb, ‘God gives but he does not share’. God’s benevolence is all around us. It is our work to manage a just distribution. We want to remember Rev. Lightner’s ode to the joy of reading. Good news can come in unexpected packages. Do not judge a book by its cover. Read and read widely and you will be blessed. We want to remember Rev. Amerson’s account of the history of Boston University, and particularly of John Dempster from 1839. Faith can come, at last, through struggle, he affirmed, remembering a struggling friend who offered a wise malapropism in a healing service: ‘I pray that my strength may be faithened’. Exactly. We can give up a little expectation and take on a little expectancy. Sermons are not only for hearing but also for remembering. For remembrance.
Speaking of remembrance. In a way, all of Scripture is a sacrament like our table prepared this morning. Through bread and cup, and the words of tradition, we reach a sixty generation long arm back to Jesus. Through reading and interpretation, we reach a sixty generation long arm back to Jesus. We remember Him. His remembrance is our strength. St. Luke is careful to remember his stern teaching, amid the joys of feasts and prodigals. Count the cost. Nothing worth having ever came easy. Labor omnia vincit. Renounce all. Do not let the many lesser loyalties obscure the one great loyalty. Remember thy creator in the days of thy youth. Remember your mortality. Remember your capacity to harm others. Dust art thou, to dust shalt thou return. This year, and particularly in Lent as we remember Bonhoeffer, we shall have ample further time to consider the cost of discipleship.
Last spring term we celebrated the completion of forty years in ministry here of our Rabbi, Joe Polak, Director of the Hillel Center. A thoughtful student leader had arranged a special evening, a surprise party of sorts, by which to mark the occasion. The room was packed and joyous, full of singing and testimony. To have a place at the feast was itself a sheer privilege. As planned, a series of speakers offered remembrance. Each one was itself a gem. At a concluding point, the student leader who had arranged the affair offered her own statement. Her words linger in the mind. “We are grateful for the Rabbi’s ministry among us. His teaching and counsel have helped us. His voice and advocacy have supported us. He has provided for us an example, an example of how to live and how to lead.” Then she provided this telling insight: “Those of us who have been active here these years have been privileged. We have decided to practice our faith, during our years as students. We have done so in order that our memories of these years will not be held apart from our religious faith, our faith tradition. Our memories of college will be joined to, connected with our faith and our tradition.”
And you? Wi
th what manner of depth and meaning will you later connect the remembrance of these few years?
One of the three primary modes of eucharist and meanings of communion is remembrance. ‘This do in remembrance of me’. In the simple, plain grace of the sacrament we receive what we have been given:
‘for I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread and when he had given thanks he broke it and said, ‘This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me’.
Dean of Marsh Chapel