[The following reflection was written a year before my grandfather died.]
“Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught” (Lk. 1:1-4).
Barney: “Have you seen my shoes? I need to put them on before I go home.”~ A conversation with my grandfather
Me: “You are home, Granddaddy.”
Barney: “No I’m not. This is just where I’m staying until I go!”
Me: “But… I see…”
[So I helped him find his shoes.]
My grandfather was a minister for 64 years. He began showing signs of dementia many years ago. Since my grandmother passed, his mind has been slipping more rapidly into the void. Watching his decline, I have learned that the world of humanity consists in memories. I’ve also learned that memories are married to names. When one is lost, so the other, and whatever piece of the world went with them.
Of all the names that have fallen into that inglorious abyss, mine included, it was saddest to see my grandmother’s go. Never again will I get to hear the story about the first time he saw her, standing on a sidewalk in a white dress: “She looked like an angel.” Never again will I get to see her memory become wet in his grieving eyes only to be consoled back into laughter by yet another moment shared still in his mind. She was always visible as a glow in his face, even under the hanging weight of his grief. But now there is neither glow nor grief. That part of his world and that part of his face are gone. And I suspect, were it up to him, he would welcome the grief back in endless waves if only to salvage a few glimpses of his long lost angel, forgotten at sea. But she is lost to him.
But she is not lost. And she is not lost to him forever. Because the one Name that still puts color in his face and fills his mouth like lead is the Name of the One whose hands first joined them together. And His grieving hands are as stubborn as nails that refuse to let go of the dead. So my grandfather may not have my grandmother’s hand anymore to hold, but he still daily folds his hands in prayer—and he has never forgotten in whose Name his prayers are made. That world still belongs wholly to him, and he wholly to it.
From this vantage, he has forgotten nothing. For those who remember where they are going, not even a single drop of the past will be lost.
It was this insight that prompted Luke to compile the memories of those who had seen Jesus with their own eyes. He wanted to offer the world a composite memory of the Man who carries the future in his hands, indeed all time in his Person (cf. Rev. 1:1-8). So sharing a secondhand memory of Jesus can lead to a firsthand encounter with Him. All you need is his Name (cf. 2 Cor. 1:20; Mt. 18:20). Jesus’ Name is God’s #📞 (Acts 2:21). That shouldn’t be too hard to remember.
Jesus is the eternal Word of God who became flesh and blood in order for to speak in a language we could understand. The infinite and eternal God became finite enough to fit in a manger and temporal enough to die on a tree. But neither time nor space nor death could ultimately contain him, and upon his return His Father, our Father in heaven, the Spirit of God was poured out in a global flood, so that “whosoever calls on the Name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21). Jesus stands between all time and eternity, holding all things together, calling all things to himself. So there is nowhere and no-when that God is not present in the person of Jesus Christ. He is the Presence without which there could be no presence, the Being without which there could be no human being, the eternal reality in which we participate on borrowed time, and toward which time will eventually terminate, or consummate—“for from him and through him and to him are all things” (Rom. 11:36). Unlike every other person, he does not exist merely as a series of moments in time, each one dissolving into the next until all is dissolved into death. This is how we experience the world and the world experiences us. Over time, our memories fill our minds like a ghost towns, haunting us, taunting us, giving form to our voids and voice to our groans.
But a memory of Jesus is a memory of the One who is always and everywhere present. To remember anything about what Jesus has done in the past is to know something about the One who holds the future and is seated beside you, and God, at present. Reading Luke’s memories of Jesus’ is like children hearing their aging parents tell stories about one another, about the days “long before y’all were born.” They share memories from a past in a way that enables their children to know their parents just a little more, and perhaps better recognize the rippling impact of their lives.
So Luke sits at the foot of the bed like a child and collects all the memories he can get his hands on and then weaves them together to reveal to us, or remind us, “all the things that have been accomplished among us” (Lk. 1:1). And to be reminded of what the Eternal God has accomplished among us is to become part of the “us” for whom and among whom Jesus has accomplished all the things. And perhaps through these memories we’ll get to know Jesus just a little more, and maybe better recognize the present impact of his life—and his future impact on all things, on us.
“Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.Matthew 1:23