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by Ted Schroder
November 6, 2005

The criminal on the cross beside Jesus asked him, "Remember me when you come into your kingdom." (Luke 23:42)

This man speaks for us all. Not one of us wants to be forgotten. For many of us, what makes us anxious about our death is not simply the prospect of ceasing to exist. We are anxious about being forgotten, as though we never existed. We want to be remembered. What we find most difficult to bear is the idea of complete oblivion, and the possibility that no trace of our ever having lived remaining. We want to be remembered not forgotten. This is the thesis of Ernest Becker's, The Denial of Death, in which he argues that "we like to be reminded that our central calling, our main task on this planet, is the heroic." (A book, Bill Clinton tells us in his biography, he read on his honeymoon!)

That is why many people want to become famous - so that they will be remembered. That is why buildings, and scholarships, and bridges, and parks, and roads, and lakes, and mountains, and schools are named for someone - so they will be remembered.

We all strive for some sense of permanence. We want to continue to feel valuable. No one wants to perish from memory. This experiment with life seems to be, as Shakespeare had Macbeth say, 'a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing," absurd, meaningless, illogical, unless there is some future permanence.

Scientific materialism denies this hope. Today's Darwinian anthropologists interpret all religious trust in the afterlife as merely adaptive fiction. Hope in a destiny beyond death, they tell us, is simply a way of coping with our grief, and, deeper than this, ensuring the survival of our genes.

Tennyson wrote his famous poem, In Memoriam, to express his grief for the loss of a friend. It expresses movingly the agonizing uncertainty that accompanies all hope for the beyond in an age of science:

Oh, yet we trust that somehow good

Will be the final goal of ill,

To pangs of nature, sins of will,

Defects of doubt, and taints of blood;

That nothing walks with aimless feet;

That not one life shall be destroyed,

Or cast as rubbish to the void,

When God hath made the pile complete:

That not a worm is cloven in vain;

That not a moth with vain desire

Is shriveled in a fruitless fire,

Or but subserves another's gain.

Behold we know not anything;

I can but trust that good shall fall

At last - far off - at last, to all,

And every winter change to spring.

So runs my dream: but what am I?

An infant crying in the night:

An infant crying in the light:

And with no language but a cry.

O life as futile, then, as frail!

O for thy voice to soothe and bless!

What hope of answer, or redress?

Behind the veil, behind the veil.

Scientific materialism finds only final gloom and perishing 'behind the veil.' Jesus Christ, and his Gospel of eternal life replies: "Today, you will be with me in Paradise." The God who numbers the hairs on our heads, will remember us when he comes into his kingdom. He proves this by his resurrection from the dead. This resurrection is the forerunner of the final resurrection when we will be with him in glory. This means that there is a future and a hope for us in Christ. It means that the past, the present and the future, are gathered together in his presence. Nothing good will be forgotten. All that is of value will be remembered. Nothing in our lives that is worthwhile will ever be lost.

John Haught wrote, "The past never evaporates, but instead accumulates. Moreover, the past is preserved in its entirety. Past events add up in such a way as never to be wiped out. Thus nothing is ever eternally lost."

As David sang in his distress, "Record my lament; list my tears on your scroll - are they not in your record?" (Psalm 56:8) Or as the alternative reading puts it: "put my tears in your bottle."

Every event of our life is salvaged and preserved eternally in God. Jesus Christ, who is 'yesterday, today, and forever,' (Hebrews 13:8) preserves us in his remembrance. Therefore nothing about us is ultimately forgotten. There is no forgotten past, because the past, like the future, is rooted in Christ. "Nothing is completely pushed into the past. Nothing real is absolutely lost and forgotten." (Paul Tillich) We are together with Christ. He preserves us from extinction and loss of memory.

This is the truth enshrined in our belief in the communion of saints. Christianity teaches that the church is a union of living believers with those in the past who have already died. In Africa the world of the ancestors is very close. While many of us in the West have difficulty in accepting notions of the afterlife or resurrection as literally rather symbolically true, African and Asian Christians find them affirming their experience. Christian believers there regularly see their dead ancestors in dreams and visions. They accept that their ancestors are still alive in God. They honor their past, the bygone generations, in worship. The words of the Sanctus are understood to join us with the communion of saints in worship: "Therefore we praise you, joining our voices with Angels and Archangels and with all the company of heaven, who for ever sing this hymn..."

"Remember me when you come into your kingdom." Today, Jesus calls us to come into his kingdom. "Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world." (Matthew 25:34) If you want to be remembered, come to Jesus, and put your whole trust in him. As he gives you hospitality at his table, receive that which he wishes to give you, the bread and the cup of eternal life, and let it transform you from that which perishes into that which is permanent in his kingdom. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life." (John 3:16)

(I am indebted to John F. Haught: Deeper Than Darwin, and Philip Jenkins: The Next Christendom, for material in this sermon.)

An audio version of this sermon may be found at www.ameliachapel.com.

Amelia Plantation Chapel,
Amelia Island, Florida

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