|4:45pm||Sunday Organ Recital - Kamil Mika|
Sermon preached on the Fourth Sunday of Easter (11 May 2014) by the Reverend Canon Tricia Hillas, Pastor
I watched transfixed as two men shared stories about their lives. They seemed at ease with one another, more than that they were close. Why is this in anyway remarkable? Because everything should point to Bassam Aramin and Rami Elhanan being the bitterest of enemies; you see Bassam is Palestinian and Rami Jewish. Somehow they have learned to acknowledge the past, live together now, and are determined to work for a different future.
More about their stories in a moment.
Our stories – those we tell ourselves about our lives are important – of course they don’t just describe the past, but shape the present and the future.
Our first reading was from the book of Nehemiah. A group of the people of Israel return home after years of foreign exile – there they find that those of their people who had been left behind are in great trouble and in shameful circumstances; the city walls are broken down, a practical concern leaving them open to attach and also symbolic of the fact that the days of confidence and wealth are gone. But God is on the move – and the new day comes when, despite opposition, the walls of the city are completed – it’s a significant moment in the new life of the people. And at this moment they stop, gather before God and they remember. The retelling of their story is poured out in the prayer of Ezra the Priest.
And here’s the thing – Ezra starts with God. ‘You are the Lord’ and goes on to recount God’s dealings with the people: you created, you brought, you made a covenant, you saw the distress of our ancestors, you performed wonders, you divided the sea, you led, you came down, you spoke, you gave them bread…and you told them to go in and to possess the land that you swore to give them.
The story couldhave been remembered from a very different perspective – starting not with God but with a bitter despondent ‘we’…’we came from nowhere and nothing, we were slaves and oppressed, we had to flee the anger of our masters, we were made to wander in the desert for years without the food we longed for.’
Ezra’s prayer doesn’t recount the story that way. His remembering sets their story in the bigger, broader story of God’s restoring our broken world to wholeness. His remembering makes space for recognition of God’s hand in their story, for thankfulness, for acknowledgment their part in the past and it sets the stage for a new beginning.
There IS power in remembering- power for good or for evil – and when we remember there is a choice to be made. As theologian Miroslav Volf says, whilst we may have have little option but to remember, especially when when it comes to the wrong things done to us, most of us have a choice about HOW we remember.
Bassam Aramin and Rami Elhanan faced that choice in the hardest possible way when their lives were torn apart by the deaths of their children. Bassam's daughter Abir was 10 when she was shot in the head with a plastic bullet outside her school; Rami's 14 year old daughter Smadar was killed in a suicide bombing whilst shopping with friends
The two bereaved fathers have much in common. In their youth, each played his part in the violence: Bassam served seven years in jail for throwing a hand-grenade at a group of Israelis; Rami was a soldier in the Israeli army. And each lost his daughter to the violence of the other side: the bullet that killed Abir was fired by an Israeli soldier, while the suicide bomber who killed Smadar wasPalestinian.
Their memories are real and traumatic. In remembering they each faced a choice. Would their experiences and their remembering entrap or inspire them?
What is truly remarkable is that Bassam and Rami have pledged to work together for peace in their divided communities. "The bottom line is that this conflict is not worth the life of one more child," they say.
Ezra in his prayer on behalf of the people chose to remember with thankfulness not bitterness – crucial if they were to seize the future and make a new beginning.
What of us – how do we remember?
There IS power in memory. Power in the stories we tell ourselves.
Will the way we chose to remember entrap or liberate us?
Let us pray
The thief prayed ‘Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom’.
Father of all,
Remember your world us with mercy and compassion we pray
liberate us from all in the past which would hold us captive
and inspire us to work towards the coming of your kingdom of justice and peace.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord.