Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Four Generations

June 8, 2016

How quickly we are forgotten. Linda has often said that the only thing she fears about death is that she will not be remembered. For the famous and infamous, that may not be a problem, although if the present trajectory of our awareness of history is any indication of the future, even the famous soon will fade and disappear like the wisps of smoke from a summer campfire. Job says as much, declaring that "as the cloud is consumed and vanishes away, so he who goes down to the grave shall come up no more" (7:9). In Psalm 49:10-14 declares that the future of rich and poor alike lies in the grave to which they both shall go. Linda's fear is echoed in the repeated plea of God's people that he remember and have mercy upon them.

We've spent the day with my mother, giving my brother and sister in law a much needed vacation with friends. Mom correctly protests that she doesn't need someone to watch over her, but I suspect she enjoys having the company, and it's no problem for Linda and me other than we're not used to just sitting around. A few weeks ago we planted a flower garden for mom to enjoy, and Linda thought it needed just a few more flowers to brighten it up a bit, so we went for a drive, purchased a few seedlings at a nursery, and came home to plant them. On the way home we passed the first home I remember growing up, a small bungalow at the corner of Elm Grove and Spencerport Roads in Greece, NY. The corner used to boast a Texaco station where I remember waiting for the school bus and making a little girl cry by scraping my fingernails down the old steel sign that hung by the road.

On the opposite corner, the old Methodist church has since been converted (imagine the irony in that!) into a hardware store, but the graveyard behind the building holds the earthly remains of four generations of my ancestors. My dad lies there, waiting for mom to join him. My maternal grandmother lies in another cemetery next to her first husband, my poppa Henthorn, but her mother Josephine Hafner, her aunt Stahlecker, my great grandfather and grandmother Wink all rest beneath the sod, awaiting the resurrection. It's those four generations that command my attention today.

The Bible says that God visits people's sins upon them to the third and fourth generation, but his mercy is to a thousand generations. Why three and four? I believe it's because that's the limit of our personal remembrance. I remember well my great-grandmother Hafner, but only the faintest memory of my great-great-grandparents the Winks remains. When my father died on Father's Day 2012, my boys and my brother's boys were among those who spoke eloquently of his influence in their lives. That's the third generation. My boys remember my grandfather Bailey who died before they reached their teens, but they couldn't tell any stories of that fourth generation removed. One's influence rarely outlasts others' personal recollections.

Scripture repeatedly tells us that God remembers us, but not our sins (Isaiah 43:25). "How can I forget you?" God asks his people in Isaiah 49:15. He cannot, and will not. Our Christian hope is unlike that of any other people, for whom the grave is the only future they see. We are resurrection people, who look beyond the grave to the Christ who conquered it and promises to return to receive us unto himself. The world may not long remember even the most famous of us, but God will not forget. Four generations. Ordinary lives counted out in years of struggle, success and defeat, sin and grace. Most is already forgotten except to God to whose grace we commend our lives in confidence that he will never forget his covenant of love to those so desperately in need of it.

On that note, I honor the memory of my late father in law who was born on this day in 1912. His legacy of faith and faithfulness, like my own father's is etched deeply into the hearts and lives of his children and grandchildren. But like generations before him, those memories will fade. What lasts is the legacy of faith that we hold, but it only lasts if we hold it firm and share it boldly. I am grateful for the reminder of the shortness and frailty of life, but also for the significance it has when daily it is entrusted into the care of God, the only Wise and Eternal One, revealed to us in Jesus Christ, his Son, our Savior.

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