Perspective is important whenever people pause to remember
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven, a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace. – Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.
Written more than 2,000 years ago, these words from the third chapter of Ecclesiastes in the Hebrew Scriptures remind us of so many of events which mark our lives both as individuals and as a people. This passage reminds us that our lives are filled with times when we experience joys and sorrows, gains and losses, laughter and tears, births and death.
This year’s Memorial Day remembrances are behind us. With solemn respect, we recalled the sacrifices of hundreds of thousands who died in our nation’s many wars and who now occupy cemeteries here in the United States and, for 220,000 of our nation’s citizens, in cemeteries overseas.
Last week, we saw images of Pope Francis in Jerusalem at a memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. In a week, we will recall D-Day on the 70th Anniversary of that history changing day.
Occasions like those remind us of strife, persecution, and war, humanity at its worst, tempered by the bravery of those who sought ways to end it. Sadly, those events of the past are echoed today in places like Syria, the Ukraine and all too many other parts of the globe. Acts of inhumanity, both past and present, remind us of the hard work that lies ahead if we are to become people of peace and avoid the horror these events of the past and present bring to mind.
Fortunately, not all memories of time past are as unsettling. Throughout history, there have been times of peace and calm and many occasions to celebrate human achievements and milestones.
Special occasions like birthdays, graduations, weddings and anniversaries are times to look back, take stock of the present and look forward into the future as families and communities. Those are often times of joy and merry-making, sometimes with many generations present, which, in and of itself, marks the passage of time. In a few weeks, I reach the 35 anniversary of my ordination to Christian ministry, turn 60 years of age, and wonder, as we so often do, where on God’s green earth those many years went. I am fortunate in that I am healthy and hope to enjoy, many more years of both life and ministry (although I am well past the half way mark!)
Perspective is important whenever people pause to remember. For people of faith, their outlook on time is shaped by their understanding of a creating, redeeming and empowering God. Occasions like Memorial Day and D-Day can, on the one hand, engender sadness because of the loss of so many in battle and war.
However, those remembrances can also be a time to commit ourselves to the theme now associated with the Holocaust of World War II: “Nie wieder,” “Never Again.” History need not repeat itself and perhaps God-loving people can work for peace, reconciliation and understanding.
For Christians, a significant day of remembrance comes this year on June 8, the Day of Pentecost, the birthday of the One Church, when Christians believe the Holy Spirit descended on those gathered in Jerusalem. As Christians celebrate and recall the work and sacrifice of millions of the faithful in the nearly two millennia since the first Pentecost, may we also recommit ourselves to God’s ways of peace and grace.
The Rev. Ralph S. English is the pastor and teacher at the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Gloversville.