My grandma has a new habit. She’s been living it out for the past couple of Christmases. It goes something like this: When all her children and grandchildren are nestled in her and my Poppa’s home, she’ll take us each, one by one, on a tour of the house. She says, "Now, tell me what you want." "Want for what? When?" I asked the first time. She replied, "For when I’m gone." It seemed morbid, morose.
But, it seemed important to her, so we walked. I decided upon three items, knowing that I would never win the battle over my grandfather’s barrister bookshelves – my uncles could fight that one out. We walked into the living room where my grandmother plays hymns and where we cousins would dress up in our parents’ old clothes. It is where we open Christmas presents in such a flurry that I thought Blair was going to break off our engagement the first time he saw it. I told her I wanted the carpet. She laughed and said, "Why? The carpet?" "Yes!" I proclaimed, "I want the carpet." The carpet in request is rose-patterned, the colors a mix between late 1960’s garish pinks and the class of Jackie O.
The next stop was the downstairs bathroom, the site of a pale blue bathtub. My cousins and I have all taken countless baths in that tub, my grandmother scrubbing our skin free of popsicle juice and sweat. Her hands seemed to be eternally covered in Johnson and Johnson’s. Above the bath hangs a print of an ethereal woman floating in the clouds, draped in white silk. I have seen it many a time in the Goodwill frames bin but those won’t do. Again, my grandmother giggled at my request, saying, "That cheap thing?"
Finally, we rounded the house to the dining room. I looked around at the credenza, the table, the dishes. My eyes landed on the tea cart that never moves and is always full. The cart is stocked to the brim with tins upon tins of treats. Each child’s favorite can be found, homemade in anticipation of our arrival. "And this. I want this," I said, pointing to the abundance. "Ok!" she said, with a smile.
Not until now have I realized why I want those three objects – the carpet, the print, the cart. Each one reminds me to what I will hold fast when that house is empty: how my gregarious and large family would gather in a too-small room just so we could be together, how my grandparents nurtured and tended to me and my cousins with unfettered love, and how hospitality spilled out of their every move and instilled within me a sense of welcome only the Gospel could’ve matched. That – not the objects themselves – is what I will carry in the years to come.
When the Israelites were in the wilderness and Paul wrote to Timothy from prison, there was a deep sense of urgency to pass down what was important. The Israelites, once enslaved, knew the risky nature of religious heritage. Without a land, a people, a place to put down roots, monotheism would face extinction. This beloved passage from Deuteronomy – called the "Shema," the English translation being "hear" – is still recited nightly in Jewish homes. A concise summary for when faith wanders: "The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. 5You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might." The Israelites are told, "Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart." Keep these words – guard them, shelter them, pass them on through your bloodlines. Teach your children and your children’s children what we’re about and whom we serve – The Lord alone.
Likewise, Paul is urgent in his letter to Timothy. Remember this: the early church is only three generations in at this point, Timothy receiving the faith from his mother who received it from her mother. Paul knows the possibility of his Savior’s message dissipating in the geo-political landscape of the day. There is no other proclamation and evangelism tool than word of mouth and Timothy’s mouth seems to have stopped working. Paul tells Timothy to "rekindle the gift of God that is within you," to be an apostle, a herald. There is no time like the present for without Timothy’s preaching the Good News, the Good News as we know it might have been lost. Rekindle it, pass it on, the time is now.
Do we possess such a sense of urgency, of purpose in our modern day world? For centuries, historians have transmitted information to the public, handing us the piecemeal morsels of cultures long gone. We need not fret at loss of information. We have Google; we have courses at local community colleges; we have books upon books; we have audio visual and physical artifacts to walk us through what happened before. But just because a history of a people is recorded, do we know what was of actual importance to those that came before us? How telling is a carving on a wall or a jewel-encrusted armoire?
What we pass down – something Moses and Paul knew deeply – is far more than artifacts. It is what is kept in our hearts, bound to our hands, posted on our doors, spoken from one generation to the next. It is the lessons of a Triune God whom alone we worship and serve. What we pass down to those that come after us is in our control. Do we live as if we can influence the next generation?
I never thought this way until now, as Blair and I prepare to become a family of three. We question our patterns of living, our choices, and their influence. Will how we live be enough to raise the kind of child for whom we pray? How can we pass down what is important and forget what is like chaff in the wind?
If I know anything, I know that this is what is important, that these are the memories and messages worth passing down from one generation to the next:
That generosity does not come from a turning our pockets inside out but a humility learned only from a Savior who gave of his everything so that we might live.
That justice does not come from a vote but from a dedicated people who trust in the God who frees the enslaved.
That compassion does not come from a sense of reaching out to those in need when we see them but instead being present to the Holy Spirit opening our eyes to serve one another.
What will we pass down? What will we choose to leave for those that come after? Will we simply hope for the next generation to live their lives as if a list of accolades and pleasant-sounding attributes is enough? Or will we teach, guard, and instill a deeply-known dedication to Christ who sat down at the table, one night in history, with twelve of his friends, broke bread and poured a cup? This we know; this we remember.
When Jesus Christ gathered his disciples at the table, he took two simple objects: a loaf of bread, born of the grain of the land, and a cup of wine, squeezed from the vineyards in their midst. Two symbols made into meaning. Bread as body; cup as blood. Two symbols meant to tell the story for generations to come. Two symbols meant to be so simple and transmittable that when his disciples left that table and spread the word, that when Paul and Timothy and the churches at Corinth and Ephesus, when the first centuries of Christians gathered, when medieval churches were built, when cathedrals were planned, when missionaries were scattered far and wide, when a dedicated group promised to plant a new property in a new neighborhood in the south of town fifty years ago, those two symbols of bread and cup could remind everyone who gathered around the table of what was important and of what they knew: Christ sets this table, Christ invites you, Christ feeds you.
In his words to the disciples, Jesus said, "Do this in remembrance of me." Do this – this gathering of people, this breaking of bread, this pouring of cup so that all might remember I am with them from one generation to the next. Do this, in remembrance of the one who calls you to pass down the faith with urgency. There are people who are waiting for the Good News. There are people waiting to be welcomed, people hungry for God, people who thirst for new life. Do this, in remembrance of the one who has set this table for generations and will continue to set it for those who come after us. You are the memory keepers, my friends. Guard the good treasure entrusted to you and share it boundlessly. Those who come after us are waiting. Amen.