I’m not sure why, but I’ve got a thing for significant anniversaries and days set aside to remember important people and events of ages past. Yesterday was Memorial Day and on that day I often think back to the Memorial Day observances I took part in as a little boy at the cemetery in Zeeland, Michigan, complete with Scripture readings, gun salutes, and the playing of taps. My enormous extended family (my father has eight brothers and sisters, all of whom have reproduced with gusto) comprised the vast majority of the participants.
After the service, I remember my dad showing me grave markers of family members, including those of his father and his brother who died as an infant. Now that I think about it, it’s entirely possible that this cemetery service only happened once and I’ve just idealized it as what Memorial Day should look like. I tend to do that.
This year, my family went to no cemeteries and heard no one play taps. That’s because, for us, the day was about celebrating someone alive and full of life—my son, whose birthday fell on the holiday. We let him set the agenda for the day, which involved playing his new drums (yeah, we got him a drum set for his birthday—no regrets . . . yet), having a water fight, and washing dishes (I’m guessing that won’t last). It was awesome—another day that I will idealize and remember for the rest of my life.
The last few years have been pretty full of significant anniversaries for someone of my persuasion. In the summer of 2009, my hero John Calvin turned 500. And while I attended two conferences and read countless articles surrounding the milestone, I realized three days after the actual birthday that I had missed it, which frustrated me to no end. After all, that’s a one-time thing. Like my son Calvin’s fourth birthday, John Calvin’s 500th will never happen again. And I let it just come and go.
Then in 2011, we had the 500th anniversary of the publishing of the King James Version of the Bible, one of the greatest steps forward in the history of the Church. There are a few dates cited as the day of publication, but the most common is May 2, 1611. Again, I realized a week late that I had failed to so much as give a thought to the day on the day.
This year, too, holds a biggy, since it was in 1812 that my church’s namesakes, Adoniram and Ann Judson made the journey to the other side of the world as part of the first American foreign missionary journey of its kind. They left Massachusetts among the first Congregationalist foreign missionaries from America, but arrived in India the first American Baptist foreign missionaries (upgrade! J). The date they set sail was February 19, 1812. I realized I had missed this 200th anniversary a few days after it passed. Did I mention it was a Sunday? Yeah, we met together and said nothing about the momentous occasion. Another once-in-a-lifetime anniversary wasted.
Well, we’re not going to let that happen with June 17 (the200th anniversary of their arriving in Calcutta) or September 16 (the anniversary of the day William Carey baptized the Judsons by immersion into the Baptist faith). Seriously, I’m baptizing someone on September 16, volunteer or conscript. Likewise, we’re marking the completion of the Judson’s journey (albeit a week early) by welcoming the president of Judson University to our pulpit to remind us of the legacy our church’s founders took upon themselves when they named our church Judson Memorial Baptist. I’m greatly looking forward to it!
As special as all these once-every-hundred-years type milestones are, however, the most important days of memorial for a Christian recur over and over again. Good Friday and Easter morning are opportunities to remember our Lord’s death and resurrection, year after year. That the day will come again next year does not make it any less special. Quite the opposite. Even more frequent are our monthly memorials to Christ’s suffering and death, as we receive Christ in the bread and cup of Holy Communion.
But what if this weren’t so frequent? Would we be more likely to attend—to be absolutely sure we made it—if this were a once-in-a-lifetime thing, like baptism? Or if it were only once a year? Probably, but should that be the case? If Christ’s death and resurrection is really at the center of who we are, shouldn’t we grasp every opportunity to follow his command to “do this in remembrance of him?”
And speaking of his resurrection, I’m sure you know that the reason we worship on Sunday and not Saturday (as in the Old Covenant) is because it was on a Sunday (the first day of the week) that Our Lord Jesus came back to life and walked right out of the tomb. In that sense, each Lord’s Day is a day devoted to remembering what he accomplished for us and what that means to us. Sure, another opportunity is coming in seven days, but can we really let any chance to devote a day to the Resurrection pass us by? I submit that a single monthly remembrance of our Lord’s death or weekly remembrance of his resurrection is far more important than the once-a-year or even the once-every-hundred-years anniversaries of births, deaths, and significant events that we make sure we observe each and every time they come around.
Yesterday, we thought about those who had died, but at my house, we celebrated one who is alive. Each Sunday the Church does the same. I encourage you to begin shifting the way you think about Sunday worship, away from something we just do because we always have, to a priceless opportunity to thank God for what he’s done and celebrate what he’s doing even now in our midst.
Soli Deo Gloria,