I remember going back to a childhood place. The house and the shed stood cheek by jowl
to a spur of the Toronto/Montreal rail line. Twice a day the rumble of the cars shook the
loose windowpanes. A dog we owned was killed on the tracks. The shapeless, mangled mass of
blood and fur still forms an image of horror and death for me. I remember standing at the
head of the stairs looking out the window on a chilly late November night, the wind
snuffling through a pie-shaped hole in the corner, and seeing the lights of the passenger
cars pass like a string of bright beads in the distance. Even as a child, my first
experience of yearning began there: I wished I was on that train.
The house is no longer there. A plaza with a computer store, a hairdresser and a vacant
window with "For Lease" on it now takes residence. The track is still there and
the trestle my father used to walk across to go to work.
Even if the house was there, it would have seemed so small
And most of the time I
am no longer the yearning child Though I still like trains.
As Paul wrote in a different letter at a different time "once I was a child but
now I am an adult."
I am called to remember in this proclamation of scripture. I could not call it a proper
letter - there are too many differences between it and the others that Paul wrote - and
there are disputes as to whether Paul actually penned this one. No matter. The thought
completes Paul's heart desire to see the split between Jews and non-Jews resolved.
"But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near by the
blood of Christ". The matter is settled enough for the writer to use the thought as a
reminder rather than a reason for belief.
There is an awful lot of remembering going on in Scripture: remember who brought you
out of slavery [The LORD your God, there is no other]; remember who gave you the law [The
God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob]; do this in remembrance of me [the body in broken
bread-the blood in poured out wine]; remember who you are[you are my people, says the
LORD] and whose you are[and I am your God].
What you remember reinforces who you are. Ephesians does this masterfully- What's more,
the proclamation assumes the word, spoken, read, or written, still possesses
transformative power. Not only does what you remember reinforce who you are - it has the
possibility of changing you. I have a suspicion that this is why anniversaries, birthdays,
and annual events are so important. And why forgetting them can make people very upset.
There is a process in the care for first stage Alzheimer's and dementia patients called
"life validation". Simply translated, it is storytelling and reminiscing. Going
over the details of your life, so that you know that you have actually existed and made a
difference in the lives of others and yourself.
When you remember what has happened to you and who loved and cherished you, that memory
makes some sense of what is happening now.
The situation is this: First century judaism had clearly defined boundaries: Jewish and
non Jewish[or Gentile]. The religious Jews had the Law and the Prophets, and the synagogue
gatherings and the festivals and the Sabbath and for males, circumcision. These were the
gifts of God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In spite of the political and moral
ambiguities of living in occupied Palestine, this is what made them who they were: the
Chosen People. There were Greek-speaking Jews for sure. There were even those who desired
that certainty of Jewish monotheism but were not Jewish themselves(the God-fearers). As
for the rest, well, they were outside, unable to come in. Perhaps their favourite activity
was to divide the world into two: those who divide the world into two and those who
. Into the mix comes a Jewish teacher from Nazareth whose words and actions
crack the wall between these groups. His life, death, and subsequent appearances to his
followers leave a message, a proclamation of hope that God raised this Jesus from death,
forgives sins and sets humanity right with God. And furthermore, anyone can come in. The
entrance requirement is no longer assent and conformity to a set of rules and regulations
that belong to one group of people - the only requirement is faith in Jesus Christ and
following his Way. This faith and this path are the fulfillment of what God requires, of
what gives you identity, of what your purpose is in the world. Powerful stuff. Written
around 80 C.E. ,after the bulk of Paul's writings, but still in his tradition, this letter
yet cries out to both the contemporary church and society, more than nineteen centuries
later. It proclaims this: Remember what you were before without Christ - strangers,
aliens, without God and without hope in this world; You who were far away from God have
been brought near by the death of Christ, by the life he gave up. Moreover, Jesus is our
peace. Not the peace of a warm comfortable feeling, but the peace of a reconciliation,
breaking down walls of hostility and suspicion between hitherto irreconcilable groups - in
Jesus and Paul's day the Jews and Gentiles - in ours: The theological liberals and
conservatives; the young and the old; the newcomers and the oldtimers; the gay and the
straight; aboriginal and settler; the settler and the immigrant; white and black; male and
female; the rich and the poor (I read somewhere that poverty is not the problem - wealth
is the problem) between the pessimists and the optimists - you know the difference between
the two? An optimist thinks this is the best of all possible worlds; the pessimist
In Christ, through faith in Christ, through sitting down on the ground of his life
death and rising, God has made a new humanity, one where division of race, clan and creed,
or any other division for that matter, does not and will not prevent access to God's grace
Remember that. And for those who have no cause yet to remember, welcome in - this
household has no strangers or aliens, but citizens and saints.
I don't need that old house I was looking for any more. I needed to remember not only
to know where I came from, but also to know how far God had brought me. And best of all,
what took me there was that bright-beaded train I always wanted to ride.