When the hour came, Jesus took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
“In a High Spiritual Season,” Joan Chittister:
“One of the most poignant of our community customs is the Celebration of Memories ceremony. The night before a sister is buried the community gathers at her coffin to remember together the moments of her life that taught us all something about life. The simple ritual turns death into life at the very moment we feel its loss most. It is a model, this finding life in loss, for dealing with death of all kinds.”
Long before the movie “Pay It Forward” came out, my father used to help people in need, not asking for anything in return other than that they return the favor by helping someone else in need when they were able. He said that would be all the thanks or pay back he would need. Growing up we saw him fill gas tanks for stranded travelers while we were on vacation, help change a tire on a busy highway, and send money anonymously to a friend who’d lost a job. We weren’t wealthy by any stretch of the imagination. In fact we were on a pretty tight budget while I was growing up. But if my parents could help someone they would, and they encouraged us to do the same, a practice their children remember and practice in our own lives.
When I began to worry about the pitfalls of financing my own adulthood, I would often call my father and moan about the latest monetary catastrophe in our lives: a car needing an expensive repair, our house needing a roof, the furnace needing replaced. We usually had the money, in savings, but I was hesitant to use it, in case something else really big came along. I can’t tell you what I thought that might be — I’ve always had an “emergency” savings account, but I am loath to use it, even for an emergency, because then there won’t be any emergency savings. And Dad would calm me down by telling me two things. The first was, “It’s only money.” And the other was, “You can’t take it with you.”
That is just the tip of the iceberg of things I remember about my dad, experiences that continue to impact my life on a daily basis in spite of his absence. In the four years since his death, my family has practiced what Joan Chittister talks about, remembering together moments of a loved one’s life that taught us all something about life and living, as a way of finding life in loss, and dealing with death.
Memories are what sustain us; they keep our loved ones alive for us long after their bodies have given out. Ultimately we are remembered in death for the way we live our lives. We are remembered fondly, even honored, if it is generally believed that we lived to the best of our abilities, and if, for the most part, we loved more than we didn’t, accepted more than we judged, and gave more than we took. For in the ways we give to and participate in the world around us, we live on in spirit, even after our physical bodies are gone.
Jesus is the ultimate example of this. He lived on so powerfully in the memories of his followers that they continued to experience his presence, even after his death, which is what all of the stories of appearances after his resurrection are about. And now, over two thousand years later, he is still experienced intimately by people of faith around the world. The most powerful image of that is in the breaking of the bread and sharing of the cup, which Jesus is said to have invited his followers to do in his memory and honor.
Of course there are other, less divinely inspired characters who also live on after they die. My father is obviously an example of this in my own life, as his spirit lives on through us, in our memories of him, and through the impact he had on our lives and the lives of others. We still tell stories about him almost every day, remembering things he said or did, his music, the way he made us laugh. And as time has passed those memories have become less bittersweet and all the more meaningful and powerful. Although his physical presence is gone from us, his spirit truly lives on and continues to impact us in a variety of ways. And I suspect for many of you reading this, there is someone who has died who had a similar impact on your life, even after they have passed from this mortal plain.
Susan Ryder is a pastor, and considers herself a progressive Christian (which means she’s a liberal). She is also an author on
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