Memory and Hope
This week we have had the Croall Lectures at New College. The lectures were endowed by John Croall who died in 1872 and vested £5000 for the public lectures to take place. The lectures normally have theologians from the Church of Scotland, occasionally they are allowed to have someone else from another church. Over the years they have had people like: John Cunningham, H.R. Mackintosh, John Mackay, George Barclay, James Barr, Bruce McCormack, and Marilynne Robinson. This year we had Professor Werner Jeanrond, Master of St Benet's Hall, Oxford. He gave three lectures on 'hope'.
There was much in the lectures that I found thought provoking. Particularly, the second lecture caused me to think and write. The title of that lecture was 'Memory and Hope'. In the lecture he connected the important role memory plays in giving us hope.
As he talked, the thought that struck me was how easy it is to have a false hope. False hope can manifests itself in two ways. First, we look at the past and only remember the good times. We long for those times again and we move forward in the hope that we can see those times again. This seems to me not to be hope as much as nostalgia a yearning for a yesteryear that never actually existed. The second false hope that we can have is when we don't look back to the past at all. We push on into the future seeing the past as nothing but one horrible mistake after another horrible mistake. We have no foundation for our future hope. However, in reality this type of hope is really blind optimism. It is based on my ability to work harder for the perfect future without understanding the past.
The interesting thing in the Bible is that we see over and over again the need to have our hope grounded. Hope in the Scriptures is grounded in the faithfulness of God in the past. In the Old Testament Israel is commanded to set up stones of remembrance. These stones would be used as teaching tools not only to point the people back to the great works of God in the past, but then to give them the eyes of faith, the eyes of hope to see the future. The stones of remembrance were not constructed solely to cause Israel to remember the past, but they were used to push them to the future, to have faith in God's future grace.
The Scriptures call us to remember. We are called to remember the past, to remember what God has done. They call us to remember because we are a forgetful people. They call us to remember because oppression begins by requiring people to forget. However, we are called not only to remember but to remember in truth. We are called to remember not just the good times but also the suffering. We are called to have a memory that is honest.
This is what I love about gathering around the Lord's Table every week. We are called to honestly remember. Before we approach the table, we are called to confession. We are reminded of our sins and that we need the gift of grace. Then we come to the Table, and we have the words of institution: 'Do this in remembrance of me.' At that moment we are brought back to a Golgotha. We are reminded of the cost of our salvation. We are reminded of the love of God. We are reminded that we have been redeemed. However, we don't stop there. We also hear: 'For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.' Our memory turns our eyes away from the past to the future hope. The hope that one day the world will be put right. The hope that we will sit down at another table with our Lord and sin will be no more.
Memory and hope. We cannot have hope without remembering the past honestly. Yet, our memory should turn our eyes to the future hope, and that should could cause us today to labor in hope.