Remembering the past is critical to our survival and to our identity as persons and as a people.
This was brought home to me again while reading the book Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick. He tells the story of the first Pilgrim settlement at Plymouth, the community they developed and the Indian wars that followed. Eight or nine months after their arrival on the rocky shores of New England, on July 2, 1621, Edwin Winslow and Stephen Hopkins left the Plymouth settlement to visit Massasoit, chief of the Pokanoket Indians, for the first time. It would be a journey of some forty miles, on foot. They were guided by an English speaking Indian named Squanto. Soon they were joined by a dozen Indians, men women and children, returning after gather lobsters in Plymouth Harbor.
Philbrick says, "As they conversed with their new companions, the Englishmen learned that to walk across the land in southern New England was to travel in time. All along this narrow, hard-packed trail were circular foot-deep holes in the ground that had been dug where any remarkable act had occurred. It was each person's responsibility to maintain the holes and to inform fellow travelers of what had once happened at that particular place so that many things of great antiquity are fresh in memory. Winslow and Hopkins began to see that they were traversing a mythic land, where a sense of community extended far into the distant past." We might compare their memory holes to our historic markers placed along our highways.
Philbrick says, "They (Winslow and Hopkins) also began to appreciate why these memory holes were more important than ever before to the Native inhabitants of the region. Everywhere they went, they were stunned by the emptiness and desolation of the place. Thousands of men have lived there, Winslow wrote, which died in a great plague not long since ... (as many as 3,000 Indians populated the area until about three years earlier when some kind of plague wiped them out.) With so many dead, the Pokanokets' connection to the past was hanging by a thread -- a connection that the memory holes and the stories they inspired helped to maintain."
The Lord's Table is like the memory hole maintained by the Indians. It reminds us of a remarkable act that occurred long ago. And like those Indians we are each one required to maintain it and to tell the story of what happened so long ago. It is critical to our survival and identity as God's people. Here we can tell our story, the old, old story of Jesus and his love. Of Jesus and his sacrifice on our behalf of Jesus and what he taught.
We don't have a memory hole but we have a Table, and several who recorded the story of what happened. One of those was Matthew and these are his words:
And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, take, eat; this is my body. Then he took a cup and gave thanks, and gave it to them saying, Drink from it all of you. For this is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my father's kingdom. And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.