Another Birthday; A Milestone; A Discovery

29 03 2018


We are entering into that time of year again with the remembering of Anna’s birthday, Easter approaching, and then the day remembering her death. I have written a number of times here about the confluence of these days and the perhaps backwards ordering of the events–it would have been very nice if Easter came last in the sequence, but we have what we have.

Anna would be 19 today. My goodness, how difficult that is to think about, but as Timberley reminds me, Anna will always be nine years old.

I had a moment of confusion the other day. The kind of moment I have had before, but not often. It was not about Anna, but rather my mother, who passed away one year after Anna. I was thinking about some good friends of ours here in Wake Forest and I began remembering the times that they had spent with my mom when she and my dad visited here. I had very vivid memories about how much my friends loved my mom and our laughter together. And how they missed my mother.

And then I remembered. My mom never came to Wake Forest. She passed away three days before I received my first communication about the job I have here. She didn’t know anything about my position at the seminary, or Wake Forest, or anything else related to our current situation. And yet from time to time I have these memories of my mom’s presence here with us. It is interesting how our memories work over time.

There was a milestone that came and went without my realizing it. It happened some time last June. Around June 15th or so, if my calculations are correct. We passed the time when we have spent more time without Anna than we had with Anna. That is hard to imagine because in so many ways time tends to stand still now. Yet, I think what happens, as with these memories of my mother, is that in our memories we bring those people along with us into the remainder of our lives. Their absence, in a way, is only partial. They are physically absent, yes, but our memories of them create a real presence in our lives. Since we are living on with those presences of Anna, of my mother, and of Timberley’s sister and the several others we have lost in recent years, the time without them doesn’t seem so long as the calendar would indicate.

It is interesting that this year Anna’s birthday coincides with Maundy Thursday, when the church remembers the evening that Jesus spent with his disciples prior to his arrest and crucifixion the following day. On that night he took bread and wine and shared it with his disciples saying, “Here is my body.” And then, “Do this in remembrance of me.” Various factions within the church have interpreted those aspects of the Lord’s Supper in various ways: transubstantiation, real presence, symbolic memory, etc. But perhaps these views are not so far apart as the history of the church would say. Perhaps, as I am finding with Anna and with my mother, the memory is a type of real presence. And is this real presence so different from the physical presence of the person herself?

I shared some of these thoughts with Timberley this morning. We both shared the pangs of missing Anna. I told Timberley that I better understood the meaning and importance of the clich├ęd charge to “keep their memory alive.” I suppose that for some, keeping the memory of a lost loved one is too difficult. It is better to suppress those memories. If that is someone’s path, I do not want to quarrel with them. But it is not my path. The memories do create painful moments. Not always. But often enough. Yet I can’t imagine life without the twin siblings of memories and pains.

Which then brings me back to our remembrance of Jesus’s death. It might seem odd that the church would want not only to remember his death, but to celebrate it. To call tomorrow Good Friday, of all things. Yet in a very real way, our memory of Jesus, which he called us to have when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, is one aspect of the sustaining of Jesus’s real presence in our lives.

I pray that for each of you, Jesus would have a real presence in your life this year.