Trevor Morrow was born in Lambeg. He ministered in Lucan Presbyterian Church for 31 years before his retirement in 2014. He has worked across the communities in Ireland and was given an honorary doctorate by the University of Ulster for his services to reconciliation. This week, Trevor is speaking at three of the evening celebrations. Here the NH Media team brings you a summary of his message on Monday 8 August.
When I received the invitation to speak into what God would say to us during this year of commemoration, I confess I was fearful. I wondered why they did not send me a flak jacket with the invitation.
My concern is that we learn how to remember rightly.
In quiet moments, I remember my dad who had a profound influence in my life. He had planned to be a missionary but He was the eldest of 14 and when his father died, he was left with the responsibility of caring for his siblings. He became a butcher and eventually opened his own business.
I loved my dad. He did the most amazing things as a follower of Christ. He sought to practice grace. My father planted seeds in my heart that established a pattern for my ministry.
For some, the memories you have are so traumatic and so distressing that you can barely talk about them. There will be those who have mentally and physically abused. Some have been raped . It is inevitable that as a result of what we euphemistically call “The Troubles,” many carry the pain of losing loved ones. You crave for justice and yet you have not received it.
I had the honour of speaking at the anniversary of the Enniskillen bombing. There were members of Gordon Wilson’s family who sought to practice forgiveness. There were other who still could not forgive because the pain were so great. There were those who would not forgive because they considered it an insult to their families. Forgiveness is one of the most difficult things you will ever be asked to do.
We in Ireland love to remember the past. I was raised in one narrative and I have lived my entire ministry in another. It is important to distinguish between a narrative and a history – historians look objectively at what happened. When you have a narrative, you select material from the past that is important to you in terms of your identity.
In this land, we have different narratives and different stories. I come from Lambeg. My father showed me pictures of family members who had died at the Battle of the Somme. He was proud of the sacrifice they had made. I thought I had almost put it aside until 1st July and at the time of the commemoration on the radio the tears began to flow.
But I have lived my entire ministry in another narrative. I live with brothers and sisters who understand Irish history very differently. For them, 1916 and the uprising was the opportunity for them to seek independence and freedom after 800 years of English oppression. It is difficult to remember the past.
We remember also because of the importance of justice. We want people to remember what happened. If you were a Jew, you would want to make sure everybody remembers the Holocaust. Justice without memory would be an injustice. To forget would be the enemy’s final triumph. Even if full justice could be achieved it would not be enough because it cannot bring back the dead. To remember denies the perpetrator the ultimate triumph.
Is there a right way to remember for those whose loyalty first and foremost is to Christ? How are we as followers of Christ in Ireland to remember?
To remember is a key element in the Bible. We are told 167 times to remember but there is a special way of remembering that I want to focus on this evening. It is the Hebrew word Zakar.
A mutual remembrance
In terms of the covenant, Israel remembers God, who He is and what He has done for us and, at the same time, God remembers the covenant He has made and the promises He will fulfil.
They look up and see the rainbow and remember the promise to Noah. They remember God’s promises to Abraham. Above all they remember the Exodus, the great deliverance of God’s people from Egypt. At the same time, God remembers.
A tangible reminder
At a Zakar moment, there is something tangible to help you remember. This is why Abraham and his child were circumcised (Genesis 17:11). When they saw the rainbow, they remembered the promise (Genesis 9:13). When they saw the 12 stones, they remembered (Joshua 4: 8 – 9). The Passover was all about remembrance. For us, the water of baptism and the bread and wine are all about remembrance.
Too often in communion, however, we simply recollect the past. At that moment, we feel awful because of what Jesus suffered and then we feel thankful that He died for us. To think “Hebrew” we need to think more deeply. We need to participate and to renew covenant. Essentially at their core the Passover and communion are almost identical.
In the Passover, the people of God remembered that they were slaves and they had been set free and now they were experiencing redemption. As they participated in the Passover meal, they re-affirmed their identity as the covenant people of God.
When NT Wright talks about the Communion, he describes it as the most radical thing Jesus did before he died. For a Jew, this was the most sacred night in terms of their identity. Jesus took break and broke it saying, “This is my body broken for you.” The lamb was not on the table. The Lamb was at the table.
These Zakar moments are amazing. They determine our primary identify. They have powerful consequences for us and we need to grasp these if we are to live for Christ in Ireland and to remember rightly.
We are to remember that we were once slaves
This affects how we treat the “slaves” among us. When we see people who we are naturally alienated from how do we react? To eat and drink unworthily is to exclude others rather than welcome and care for them. We are to embrace and welcome those we naturally feel prejudiced towards because we too were once slaves, crying out in our misery.
We are to pursue justice
We worship a just God. There will be justice on the final day. The innocent will be vindicated and the guilty will be condemned. In Zakar, moments we remember that God has borne our judgement (He died the just for the unjust) so that we might pursue the righteousness of God.
I wish I had time to talk about the legacy of people like Elizabeth Fry and William Wilberforce who responded to injustice in their times. Today women around the world are being constantly abused. In the past, we treated our neighbours unjustly. It is right for the victims of terrorism in this country to seek justice.
We are to remember God’s love for us and for our enemies
Listen to Paul in Romans: Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone died for a righteous man but God demonstrated His love for us in this, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Christ us when we were His enemies and He died for our enemies as He died for us. If we have received such love, we are to love our enemies. (Romans 5: 6 – 8)