“What our forefathers have known, we will not hide from our children,” so sang the psalmist (Ps. 78). He, or she, goes on to praise the groundwork needed for generations yet to be born to know the story. We are not too far from Passover (April 10-18) when observant Jewish families will do that when they once again sit down to dinner and rehearse the story of their deliverance, prompted by a child’s age old question, “Why is this night different from all other nights?”
It is something we Christians have not done well, and it may be one reason why so many “Nones” have arisen. I was a boy in Sunday school in the 1950s when churches were packed. What happened? For one thing, Sunday school was a silly waste of time during which inquiring minds were set to doing crafts as they listened to stories no more believable than fairy tales told by teachers who knew little more than what was on the page of the book they read from. Why should it be a surprise that these children grew up to treat their religion in a cavalier fashion, passing on to their children, and the children after them, an accelerating disinterest in church, and no interest in Christianity?
Two things made a difference in my life. One was my dad, the spiritual leader of our family who insisted that we would attend church, in spite of my disdain for Sunday school, and even in the summer. A blessing was offered at each meal, and the moral teachings of the bible were to be taken seriously. No Puritan he, his was a gentle, unsophisticated faith that lived comfortably with the habits of ordinary life including laughter, singing, cocktails, parties, dancing, card playing, golf, cigars, and black licorice. It wasn’t unusual to spend some part of an evening with mom at the piano, dad leading the singing, and the music a mix of cowboy, gospel, and pop. Christianity was not a religion stuffed into a box reserved for Sundays. It was unceremoniously incorporated into everyday life. No fanfare. Just there.
The second was the pastor of our (Lutheran) church during my teenage years. A stern Scandinavian, he was determined to bring us to confirmation and beyond through lectures suitable for entry level college teaching. He didn’t pander to our immaturity. Not that we agreed with everything he said. Stern as he was, he was open to probing questions. He was a little old fashioned. For him there were few after Luther who had anything useful to say. He was more than prudish when faced with our hormonally driving teenage urges. That may have been because, as a chaplain during the war, he had seen more of what that could lead to. In any case, when I finally ended up in seminary at age 50, I was surprised to recognize as strangely familiar some of what the faculty taught. It came from Pastor Ranum all those years ago.
What’s the point? The point is that it’s the bounden duty of adult Christians to tell the story so that it will not be hid from the generations to follow, and to tell it in depth, challenging intellectual capabilities, not dumbing it down. Within the family, no matter how family is defined, it is a story that must be incorporated into daily life, not as a barrier to keep out “the world”, but as a way to enter the world in all of its wonderful complexities. In a sense, it is a story about who we are to be unconsciously woven into the fabric of ordinary living.
Maybe we could learn something from our Jewish brothers and sisters. Liturgical churches set aside Maundy Thursday as a special day of worship to remember the gift of Holy Communion and the new commandment to love one another as Christ has loved us. It prepares the way for a fuller celebration of Easter. Many congregations include a meal, certainly not an imitation seder, but an appropriate remembrance of the Last Supper. Maybe that meal shouldn’t happen in the church fellowship hall. Maybe it should be a family meal during which a young person asks “Why is this night different from all other nights?” We Christians have our own story of deliverance to tell. We need to tell it over and over again so that it will not be hid from our children. It needs to be told not in the church but outside the church because that is where it must be lived. But what story are we to tell? That’s were priests and pastors come in. Who are they if not the ones called to teach others about how to tell the story? To be sure, they are primary tellers of the story, but even more important, they are primary teachers of others about how to tell the story, and why the story must be told. We are coming up on Maundy Thursday. It’s only a few weeks away. What a good time to teach others how to tell the story.