Identity, heritage, and history are being annihilated brutally and rapidly, while the world shakes its head, then returns to dinner and Facebook browsing.
When ISIS began sweeping through Iraq and Syria, they demanded that churches that were built after the Arab invasion of those countries be demolished. The reaction of many people was to ask questions like: “How would they know which churches?”, “Wait, when did the Arabs take over? I thought it was always Arab!”, “Christianity exists in that area?” The identity of the Christians was just short of total ignorance to the rest of the world. When documentaries showed that they would implement the “Jizya” – the tax, on non-Muslims, people wondered what that was. ISIS, however, knew the history, and they are using it. ISIS knows the nations it is taking, the people in it, where they come from, and what they mean. ISIS remembers the nations that fought against the Muslims centuries ago. Yet the locals and the world did not know. They knew nothing until their world was violently being taken away. Identity, heritage, and history are being annihilated brutally and rapidly, while the world shakes its head, then returns to dinner and Facebook browsing.
A few years ago I watched the movie, “Lincoln”. I was enthralled. I was never a big fan of America, and never understood the expression “The American Dream” because nothing about America looked dreamy to me. When watching Lincoln, I saw an America that seemed extraordinary! There was a vision for the nation – there was a philosophy, a morality and an identity. There was a belief in principles, in opportunities, and of growth! America was supposed to be a certain thing, not just a place, and that was supposed to happen by the will of the people, not passively. The America of that movie, regardless of division and debate on its accuracy – was an America that believed in purpose and community. Today, living in America, I am totally blinded to any semblance of that original America anywhere. It’s a secular nation that bows to the passions, that has no recollection except in museums and leftover legislation of who it was hoping to be.
The question is, “Does that matter?” Does it matter that there was a vision, that there were existences and that they are gone? I think that it does. The lack of identity and the lack of purpose or vision, as well as the lack of understanding of what molded us, appears to have created a generation of people who “live for the moment”. It’s cliché to live for the moment without understanding the past that made you. In the ‘moment’ can you forget the parents who bore you? In the moment can you forget that if someone had not made a daring decision, you would live in another country, if you even lived at all?
The Israelites were of no significance as a people by virtue of just being people. Their name, “Israelites” came from their father, “Israel”. His naming had a story, and that story is what gave them meaning. His own meaning and purpose was of no consequence without his fathers, Abraham and Isaac. Over time, though, they forgot about their identity, or rather, they cared less about it. When they became captives in Egypt, they groaned to God, sure, but when Moses came to deliver them, they denounced him before Pharaoh. We all know the story of the ten plagues. But then God commanded them to do something! After telling them how to celebrate the Passover and they must do, He then says,
“This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations you shall observe it as an ordinance for ever.”
He commands them to keep the tradition…forever. Why would a single night’s event matter? Well, history does matter. History is our experience as humanity with one another and with God. History teaches us about ourselves and each other, and it explains our identity, our purpose, and our goals. History is also living. Our Lord would identify Himself as “The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” – who cares about ancestry if only today matters?
The remembrance of their history and identity is what gave life and faith to the Israelites. It was the foundation of the Covenant, because they had to remember that the Lord their God is God – how could they do this without looking at themselves and where they came from, to know that He really is? Ponder on that for a minute. God was not their God by mere statement of His existence. God was their God because He lived and ‘tented’ among them, He was experienced by and through them, and so they carried His living and eternal memory in them.
What happened, though, when the Jews began to ‘live for the moment’ after establishing their Kingdom? They totally forgot the deal with God. They kept just a physical reminder of it – e.g. the temple existed and had priests, but they didn’t know what they were doing and they didn’t lead the people. The people for their turn didn’t care either and religious praxis was mixed with Paganism and idolatry. Morality went down the drain. In fact, Passover was completely forgotten and no longer practiced. The Book of Deuteronomy was gone. It was so gone that it was only “discovered” when a priest (Hilkiah) was cleaning up and suddenly stumbled across it during the reign of the good king Josiah. The Jews had forgotten themselves, their history and their identity. They had forgotten that they only had a Kingdom to begin with because of this God that they had ignored. They had forgotten that they were even a Nation because of this collective history with God. All of that was gone, and they lived only for the day. So to Babylon they went.
Why am I ranting about this?
My friends, I fear we have forgotten our Christian identity. We have forsaken the traditions of our fathers for the love of the world and the love of the moment. Everywhere we can see ourselves entering into Churches, offering physical acts of worship, while our heart longs to be outside those doors. We have small reminders of our history when we celebrate Christmas or Easter on random days, but even those symbols have been replaced by parties, food and sometimes even debauchery. Do we even realise that we, today, celebrate the Passover? Today, we make decisions about what makes us “feel good”, without realising where we came from, without thinking about what is right or wrong or what makes us who we are.
This lack of identity, this lack of knowledge, this ignorance of who we are as a people and where we came from, is the reason why our Christianity is weakening. Our Lord said that every time we eat of His Body and drink of His Blood, we are remembering Him. Do we remember Him? The Liturgy proclaims, every time we eat and drink of Him, we proclaim His death, confess His resurrection and remember Him until He comes. My friends, the memory is waning. We remember that we need to get to Church before the Gospel to have Eucharist. That’s our memory of Eucharist. If we remembered what Eucharist actually WAS and IS – that someone died to give us life, that someone gave Himself completely to restore us – would we think it was an option to stay home and study on Sunday instead of coming to give thanks with one another and unite to each other?
Do we remember where the Church came from? Do we remember Christ? Do we remember the reality of the Incarnation?
Here is the challenge for you, reader! Ask yourself and one another:
Who is Christ? How do you know?
What is the Church and where did it come from?
What is the faith of the Church?
What is the Gospel?
What exactly is the “New Deal/Covenant” and how is it different from the Old Deal/Covenant?
Why are there thousands of different denominations today and what makes us who we are?
Why do we believe that a man was God?
I could list more questions, but let those suffice. If we do not know who we are, if we do not look into our collective history, then we are indeed chaff in the wind. Our foundations are feeble and when our enemy shakes the world beneath us, what will do but fall?
If we do not wake from this sleep, will we not be like the Israelites who were carried away? Will we not be destroyed by ISIS in the East and Atheism in the West? We will be carried away as living captives, and we will sigh when and if we ever remember Zion.
Let us enter into ourselves again and rediscover our identity, we are the Lord’s and our Christ is not a dead history, He is living history. Let us proclaim with the Church:
Amen, Amen, Amen! Your death O Lord, we proclaim, and your holy resurrection and ascension we confess! We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the Coming Age – not how to live in the moment.