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Communion Meditations (2013)

Before Pictures

Originally scheduled for January 27

It is not generally a good idea to ask a grandmother whether or not she happens to have a few pictures of the grandchildren — that is, if you’re a little short of time. This is particularly true if the grandchildren live at some distance; if it’s not possible to visit the grandchildren, pictures are the next best thing. They keep you up-to-date with what the children are doing, so that you feel that you’re watching them grow. And of course, they are insufferably cute. If this is your situation you will eventually here grandma come running into the room with a picture in a hand, yelling out to you, “He’s standing up!”

Even if your grandchildren don’t live at a distance, the pictures themselves are kept in cabinet drawers, cardboard boxes, albums and various other places. Photographs are memories of the mind; you see, and thus you remember. Most of us can remember a time when we sat down with grandma and she showed us the pictures from her life. It was fun to listen to her say, “oh that’s cousin so-and-so” especially when cousin so-and-so was the one who ran off to Australia and hasn’t been heard from since. We like to be able to pull our memories out of the files every now and then.

Of course, the most common use of photographs among grandmothers is what is referred to as the “brag book.” You use it to show your friends what the kids look like — which of course invites them to do the same with their grandchildren. But isn’t that like friends? Don’t we always share our good things with our friends?

It’s hard to imagine this, but most of humanity passed without the photographic camera. Have you ever wondered what we did before we had pictures of our grandchildren?

·         We told stories — and sometimes we wrote them down and letters. Those who are Civil War history buffs know that much of the history is written in the form of letters to and from home. The map of the campaign may be in the official records; the mud that you slept in is in the letters.

·         We kept diaries — sometimes with the intention that they be read, and other times with the thought that we were sharing our thoughts only with ourselves. Diaries aren’t always honest, but almost always they are personal. Memories are personal.

·         Another way we kept the past was through ritual. We still do this to some extent today; some of us for example make tea in grandma’s teapot on special occasions. To a little child this helps hold on to the memory of grandma.

Communion, you will recall, was created for us in a time when there were no photographs. So we have to use the older methods. Like our ancestors, it’s a story we tell, particularly to those who are younger. Children are inherently curious about this ritual in your church; when you tell them about it, they connect with the memories you have. In this way you share the story that you were told when you were a child. This story was kept for us in biographies written at the time. They tell us the story, but our Lord knew we needed something more than that.

So he gave us a ritual. A ritual has the advantage that you repeat it very often, and each element has its own specific meaning. It’s there to help us remember. So as you partake this morning, remember what this ritual means, the sacrifice on the Cross. As you are commanded, examine yourself, so that you may take in a worthy manner. Then, after remembering, take the cup and the bread, thinking of the One who died for you.

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