As I began this piece, I thought of a piece by the Beatles, “There are places that I remember.” This is a very appropriate song for someone who has grown up in so many places and met so many people along the way.
But I also see my journey through time and space in terms of dates, days of special importance to me.
We all have a set of dates that we remember. Birthdays, anniversaries, special occasions are a part of our memory. They are dates on the calendar that mark the high points (and sometimes low points) of our lives.
I will always remember that December 23, 1950, was the date of my baptism. I will always remember that on February 14, 1965, I became a member of the 1st Evangelical United Brethren Church (now the 1st UMC) of Aurora, Colorado).
And I have the letter dated March 7, 1966, that told me that I was accepted into the High School Honors Program at Northeast Missouri State Teachers College (now Truman State University).
I cannot forget July 7, 1973, or June 7, 1976, as those are the birthdays of my two daughters (Melanie Mitchell-Wexler and Meara Lee Mitchell). And I had better not forget April 22, 1943, as that is Ann’s birthday or July 17, 1999, as that is our anniversary.
Despite their importance in my life, I do not remember the date of my high school graduation in 1968, my graduation from Truman in 1971, or my graduation for the University of Missouri in 1975. I remember that it rained the night of my high school graduation, so our after-graduation celebration was somewhat muted. I remember that my graduation from Missouri was on a Saturday afternoon in August and how there had been finals that morning and there were perhaps a few people in attendance who really hadn’t graduated. I suspect that I do not remember those dates because I was expected to graduate.
I would like to say I remember receiving my doctorate from Iowa but the administration of the university where I worked wouldn’t let me travel to Iowa City, so there is no ceremony to remember.
June 6th has a double meaning for me. If the notes I have concerning my grandfather’s military career are correct, he was going to be promoted to brigadier general and would have commanded a unit that landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day, 6 June 1944. But a recurring ulcer forced him to retire in 1943 and I would get a chance that many did not to know him, if but for a few years.
Senator Robert Kennedy died from an assassin’s bullet on June 6, 1968. I was in school at Truman, so the impact of his death was not as direct or powerful as what had transpired two months earlier on April 4, 1968.
On that Thursday, four days before the beginning of Holy Week, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated. His assassination had perhaps a bit more of an impact on me as I was living in Memphis at the time.
Slightly over one year later, I would be standing next to the leadership of the Association of Black Collegians during a sit-in of the administration building at Truman (an act that did not please my parents). I had experienced the effects of segregation while growing up in Alabama and Tennessee, so I could not stand by when some of my college friends were treated in the same manner (see Side by Side).
It was also at that time that I began to gain a better understanding of what it meant to be a Christian (see “The Changing of Seasons”).
In a few days (depending on when you read this), we will begin Holy Week (Palm Sunday is April 10th and Easter Sunday is April 17th).
These dates are on our calendar because someone two thousand years ago wanted us to remember what happened.
They wanted us to remember the joy and celebration that occurred when Jesus entered the city on the day that we now call Palm Sunday.
They wanted us to remember the anger that Jesus expressed when he threw the money changers out of the temple on Tuesday of that week.
They wanted us to remember the bewilderment they felt when they heard Jesus speak of His broken body and shed blood during their last meal together.
They really didn’t want to remember how the crowds that cheered on Sunday jeered on Friday or the sadness they felt as they saw Jesus crucified.
They really didn’t want to remember watching Jesus die on the Cross or the fear they felt because they thought that the political and religious authorities would now be looking for them.
And they really did not want to remember the feeling of hopelessness that engulfed them on Saturday as Jesus lay in the tomb and it appeared that all they had worked for the past three years seemed to be for naught.
But most important of all, they wanted us to remember the joy and excitement that came with hearing that Jesus had risen from the dead that Easter Sunday. And they wrote this all down so that those who were not there then and people for years to follow would know what had taken place those three years in the Galilee.
They wanted us to know about the people who were healed, of the people brought back to society after being cast aside, of bringing hope and a promise to those who were lost and forgotten.
Each generation has taken the words written down some two thousand years ago and added to the story. What will we be adding?
Will the people of the church remember what Jesus said that day in Nazareth when he began his ministry?
“The Lord’s spirit is on me;
He has ordained me to break the good news to the poor people.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the oppressed,
And sight for the blind.
To help those who have been grievously insulted to find dignity;
To proclaim the Lord’s new era.”(Luke 4: 18 – 19, The Cotton Patch Gospels)
Will the people of the church remember that Jesus came, not to enforce the law, but to bring life to the law? Will they remember that what Jesus offered gave them a path to God that the religious authorities denied them?
Will the people remember the church as being people-centered or for maintaining the status quo?
Today, some two thousand years later, I am not sure that people remember that Jesus turned no one away, that he felt compassion for all, and that he forgave those who persecuted Him. There are many who call themselves Christian, but they do not fear the religious and political authorities for they have sought to become those individuals. Their only desire is to persecute those who do not believe as they do or might question the tenets of faith that they hold dear.
Today, I am not sure what my classmates remember about that April day in 1968. From comments that I have seen from some of them on Facebook, the death of Dr. King had no effect on their lives. All the work that was done to achieve equality for all is slowly being taken apart by those who believe there is no equality among people, and they are superior.
And yet the equality the Civil Rights movement sought, and for which many died, has its very roots in the equality that Jesus sought.
Will the church be remembered for preaching that the Gospel message was for all the people and or for preaching a message of exclusion and hatred?
Will the people of the United Methodist Church remember that it was the early Methodists who started the first schools for children, who created credit unions to help the working class, provided free health care clinics to people who could not afford health care, or that they fed the hungry and visited the prisoners in jail?
Will the church be remembered for welcoming immigrants because we were once immigrants, or will it shun the immigrants because it does not want to remember? And will people remember that those who laid the foundation of our faith were once immigrants as well?
Will the church of today be remembered as the church that fostered scientific inquiry or the church that stifled it? Will the church be remembered for caring for God’s creation or will be it remembered for allowing it to be destroyed through war and neglect?
We have spent the last forty days preparing for this time.
We stood at that altar at one point in our life and gave our lives to Christ. Are we disciples of Christ or merely admirers of His work?
Are we willing to stand before the world and say, “I am a Christian! I may not want to do the work before me, I may not want to feed the hungry; I may not want to find shelter for the homeless or clothes for the needy; I am in no position to give comfort or support for those in pain and I certainly do not want to fight oppression and persecution. But that is what I am called to do and that is what I shall do.
On the day when we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, how will you be remembered?