On the occasion of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897, Rudyard Kipling wrote the poem “Recessional”. It is actually a prayer which closes each of the first four stanza with the phrase “Lest we forget - lest we forget!” The final line of the prayer closes with the words, “Thy Mercy on Thy People, Lord!”
The phrase “Lest we forget” came to mind as I realized that those in junior high or middle school today have no personal memory of the events of 9/11, images that are seared into the memory of most adults. I am increasingly aware of the growing number of persons who were not alive during the 1950s and 1960s, the height of the civil rights movement in this country. For some, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. may be little more than pictures in a history book. Then, there are those who maintain that the Holocaust of World War II never happened, that it is somehow a hoax.
None of us knew Abraham or Sarah. None of us were with Moses as he led the Israelites across the Red Sea and into the Sinai Desert. None of us were alive during the reigns of David or Solomon or any of their successors. Did any of us go into Babylon as exiles? None of us knew Jesus, none of us were in Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday, none of us actually stood at the foot of the cross either with the Roman soldiers or with Jesus’ mother and his friend, John.
And yet, in another, more profound, sense we were all there with Abraham and Sarah, and with Moses and the Israelites, and with David and Solomon and with those exiles, and with Jesus and his disciples and those Roman soldiers. We were there because we are part of that story. Someone (actually, many persons) told the story of faith and hope and redemption and salvation from generation to generation, such that we believe that gospel is meant as much for us in the 21st century as it was in the first century.
If we forget the story, we will lose our way. If we forget the story, we will forget who we are and whose we are. If we forget the story, we will lose sight of the transforming power of God’s love and grace. If we forget the story, we lose all sense of direction for the future. The church is the agency that tells the story and sees that it is told from generation to generation.
As we make history today, may we remember that knowing the past is not an end in itself, but rather a way of moving into the future with hope and confidence, not in ourselves, but in the God who has loved us and brought us this far.
“Lest we forget.” “Thy Mercy on Thy People, Lord!” Indeed.