One of the earliest Easters I can remember – possibly sixty years ago, now – included polished wood, the scripture reading from John’s Gospel in the King James Bible, “The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre …” (John 20:1) … and daffodils.
The polished wood was the pew seat, cold to my legs (I was probably only about eight, so would have been wearing short trousers) and also the wooden pulpit towering above this row of boys of whom I was one. The daffodils must have been used profusely to decorate the church: I just know they were there, somewhere. What above all else stuck in my mind, I think, was the way those words were ‘the wrong way round’, verb before subject.
It wasn’t that they always spoke that way 400 years ago, of course. I now believe that the reason for the reversal was to emphasise the fact that Mary came early. There may be a link between that fascination and my later interest in languages; why, indeed, I’m learning Welsh – a language I’m unlikely actually to need – in my retirement! Whether connected or not, ‘cometh Mary’ has stayed in my memory down the years.
What else do I remember? Never a great lover of poetry, I can still recall a couple of famous lines, learned by rote in those times, meaningless on their own, of course, but still there. I had an interesting conversation about memory in a shop recently, comparing my recollection of part numbers learned in a factory 45 years ago to the fact that we no longer need to remember phone numbers because they are all stored in the phone, just where we would want to use them!
In Biblical times, memory played an even greater part in life. After Jesus’ death, the story of his life on earth wasn’t written down for decades; those who had lived with him had no need of a written record, because they remembered the experiences … vividly! The Gospels were produced in order to pass the Good News on to future generations, the job they’re still doing after 2,000 years!
During the exile, memory was important, too. You may remember a popular song a few years ago, ‘By the rivers of Babylon’. The words come directly from Psalm 137: “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion … How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land? If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill.” (Ps. 137:1,4-5). It’s well known that Terry Waite, in his long captivity in Lebanon, found spiritual nourishment in prayers and scriptures that, used throughout his life, had become embedded in his memory.
One of the purposes of these ‘Gospel Around Us’ blogs is to link everyday objects and experiences to the Faith. I heard an interview on the radio the other week in which the speaker said that he had “… told this story so often that I now remember the story but not the experience.” It’s important to have some- thing that is solid, like a sequence of words, to remind us of experiences that, of themselves, will inevitably fade over the years.
Consequently, it’s a good idea to exercise our minds and commit to memory prayers, hymns, verses from scriptures and so on, so that, at times when we don’t have the written word before us, they can still provide us with spiritual nourishment.
So, what will you link memories of this Easter to? … maybe a daffodil.