Monday, February 4, 2013

Remembering the departed: A unique contribution of the church to India

The Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church remembered all departed priests last week and is remembering all the departed members of the church today. In a society that does not even remember those who are around us, what does it benefit one to remember those gone by? In an era where we are known by the progress that we have made is it important to look back?

The gospel passages used for the two week’s are Matthew 24:42-51 and Luke 12:32-48. Both passages talk of the need to be ready as the master can come at any time and those who are not ready will face punishment. Those who are entrusted with keeping and care taking cannot afford to be complacent.

1. A perfect religion and imperfect people
The passages reflect an attitude of perfection whereby the one in charge cannot afford to loosen up. Any such act is not entertained. There is a constant pressure to perform. In a way it is difficult because we commune in church so that we can take the pressure off our shoulders. We usually would like to work in a team as long as we are not the team leader, so that we can avoid the pressure which comes along with being a leader. Such continued pressure will be difficult to handle for anyone. Who then handles this pressure for the community? The act of remembering priests of the church who have departed from our presence is an act of remembering those who have tirelessly borne this pressure on their shoulders without relaxing and letting down their guard. These have been priests who have worked in bad conditions, with little and sometimes no perks and being pressurised to perform time and again.

One could question this and say that not all priests have been so sincere and that this is not a culture that is seen today. The remembering of priests gone by is a time to know that we could relax because some one was watching our back and always taking the pressure off us. Every kneeling and every prayer was an effort spent for us in the hope that God will take care of us. Being perfect is not easy and not something we can attain. It is also not something which one may enjoy being. If someone could take the pressure off us of not having to be perfect, we would indeed be grateful. Priests of the church have given us this luxury.

It does not matter whether they were actually perfect or whether they actually always had us in their minds as they prayed. But whenever I saw an old priest in my childhood, I felt assured and calm that this person was there for me and was praying for me. It did not matter whether they talked sweetly or nicely. What mattered was that they were there whenever we went to church. This constant presence was as soothing as having the presence of God. This is why it is important to remember our priests and bishops who have strived and tirelessly worked for us. Being perfect for someone is difficult. I myself don’t feel I am perfect. This nice feeling that old priests and bishops gave us makes it imperative that we remember them for having sacrificed their humanness for us.

2. We are smart, but smarter things are expected from us
We are a smart phone culture. So much that some of us cannot function without technology. We are quite proud of the fact that we are better off than our ancestors because of the large strides that we have made in life. But being smart is not enough. It is because we are making smart decisions based on smart memories. Our smartness is reflected in a skewed understanding of not remembering our own past and our own parents and grand parents.

Whenever we choose to remember them, we choose to make them up both literally and figuratively so that they may be presentable to others. In our smart world we choose to reconstruct our memory and make it presentable rather than sincere. The church believes that the strength of the church lies in the living and the departed assembling together for worship. This link becomes our strength. It is a link that forms our foundation. It is irrelevant who our ancestors were and whether they did what we are doing now. What matters is that they chose to have us and bring us up.

Even today one of the strengths during leading church services comes from the presence of my father who I believe communes along with me in church. I see him as a person who more than anything had integrity, worked hard and loved others. These are things that I have lost in my smart existence. My memory of my father and grand parents, the memory of family members, church members and friends who have departed from my presence becomes my strength and assurance that I am capable of better things. This memory is one which assures me that I somewhere have it in me to do good and it is just round the corner. In this age this is a blessed assurance that indeed the people of the church will do good.

The young daughter of a man asked him why he stopped at a tea stall and asked for directions to go to a place despite having GPS in their car. He told her that this was the way people used to ask for directions as GPS was not available in earlier days. The daughter refused to accept a world without GPS and thought her father was lying. Today we have a generation which has no idea about the sacrifices that have been made for them. For them their life is a result of a smart world. It is time to make them understand that the dusty photo in some corner of our house is the reason of why we/they are smart.

Perhaps this is one unique contribution of the church to India and to the world. We are but a link and without one link the chain or network breaks. Today people understand this concept in terms of technology and the internet. The church can make use of an existing model to enhance the thoughts about networking, remembering and keeping in touch.

(Excerpts of a sermon preached in St. Mary's JSOC, Bangalore on 3-2-2013)

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