Wednesday, October 28, 2009
All Saint's Day, even in Protestant churches, can be a celebration of remembrance. We can remember those in our families, and in the world, who have died during the past year. We can remember the 'saints' in the history of the Church, and in our own church. We can also take the opportunity to give thanks for those who have been saints along the way in our own faith journeys.
The texts for Nov. 1 lend themselves to this, but they also speak of God's desire to be remembered by God's people.
The Old Testament lesson, Deuteronomy 6:1-9, contains the Shema -- considered by some to be the most important prayer in Judaism -- "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one." Some translations conclude with "...the Lord alone". (In Hebrew: Shema Yisrael YHWH Eloheinu YHWH Echad.) The passage continues with "Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength," and with instructions to keep these commandments by passing them on to generations, talking about them in private and public life, and using external rituals of binding them on their head and hands, and placing them on the doorposts of their home and gates. This passage is the source of the Jewish practice of wearing the scripture as phylacteries, or teffilin, and of the mezuzah on the doorposts of homes.
In the Gospel text, Mark 12:28-34, Jesus, when asked by a teacher of the law what the most important commandment is, recites the Shema, adding a second commandment, "Love your neighbor as yourself."
Jesus' act of remembrance comes out of his own Jewish faith. Yet, in adding this second commandment, it becomes cruciform. Love of the creator, but also love of fellow humankind -- if you visualize this, it takes the shape of a cross.
Christians don't pray the Shema or wear the teffilin or place a mezuzah on our doorposts. So is there anything we have, or do, that helps us remember these two commandments that Jesus said were the most important?
Many of us wear crosses ourselves. I have several, but one that I am particularly fond of was given to me by a dear cousin. It's a simple silver design by Atlanta jeweler James Avery, given to me around the time I started seminary. I wear it almost every day. Like many necklaces, the clasp always seems to make its way around to the front, so I find myself checking it and adjusting the clasp. To do this, I have to grasp the cross with one hand while I turn the chain with the other. I do it almost unconsciously -- but I suppose, if I thought about it, I could use this as an opportunity to remember: Love God, love your neighbor.
Even if we don't wear a cross -- we may have some other emblem, item or practice that helps us to remember. Some may have a tattoo, some have a bumper sticker, some may have a special prayer they say each day.
But regardless of how we remember, the important thing is that we remember. And as Disciples, we have the table, of course. Each week, as we gather there, we remember the one whose love of God and neighbor was so strong that he laid down his life for it.
Photo: laura.wilkerson1333 (Creative Commons license)