Major historical events have a way of marking our memory, yet the mark gradually fades. Today, R.C. Sproul contrasts this with the way that the Lord’s Supper helps Christians to continually remember the death of Christ.
I had an experience a few years ago where I had to speak at a college that was in a very depressed area, in an industrial area north of Pittsburgh. And though I had a ride by car up to the college and enjoyed myself there, I had to return to Pittsburgh by bus. And that particular bus that I got was a bus that went through every little town along the river in this steel mill valley. And it was a very grim, gloomy, overcast day, and the bus would stop every block and pick up more people who were living in this economically deprived and depressed rundown area.
And I sat there, and I watched the people get on the bus, and every person who stepped on that bus looked as if they carried the weight of the world upon their shoulders. They looked like they were defeated people. There was no humor, there were no smiles, there was no sense of life, but the people just looked like they were crushed, and it was very depressing. Not only the people—the bus was rickety, and the city streets that we went through, you see, was just totally dirty and sooty, filthy, run down. And the whole atmosphere was one that was leading me into a feeling of depression as I rode through these old towns.
And my soul was moved within me. And I began to ask myself: “Is there any hope for these people? Is there any hope in the world? Is it all this gloomy?” And as I was asking myself that question, I rode past a little storefront church, a dilapidated thing, you know, with a neon cross in front of it and a little sign, “Jesus saves,” or something like that. Looked like an anomaly in the middle of this town, and it was as depressive as everything else, but at least I thought: “There’s the cross. It is the only sign of hope I know anywhere in the world.”
So, I began to just play a little game to pass the time to get myself out of the depression. I wanted to see how far I could go without seeing some kind of visible sign of Christ. And I discovered that on all that road, all the way back to Pittsburgh, I couldn’t go one block without seeing either a cross, or the name of Jesus, or some concrete visible evidence, as minute as it may be and as formalistic as it may be. Nevertheless, the sign was there of the redemption of Christ.
And then I began to think about the whole concept of memorials, the whole idea of remembering. And I asked myself what was the most memorable episode in terms of world history that I had experienced in my life, the most unforgettable thing. And I thought back to the day that World War II ended. I remembered that, but the memory was vague, fuzzy. I remembered vaguely the announcement of the death of FDR, but I could tell you exactly where I was sitting, exactly what I was doing, when I heard the news that Kennedy had been shot. And I thought, “You know, I bet everybody else does, too.”
And so, I started going to conferences and I asked people, I said, “How many of you know what you were doing, where you were, when Jack Kennedy was shot?”—and everybody in the room. And I would ask them, “Okay, how many of you know the name of the policeman in Dallas who was allegedly shot the same day by the same man, Lee Harvey Oswald?” And maybe 5 percent of the people that I would ask this would remember that policeman’s name. The years have dimmed the memories. We all sat in front of the television. We all heard that man’s name time and time and time and time again—everybody. But nobody remembered it except for a handful of people. Officer Tippit was his name for those of you who have forgotten.
And I would ask myself, “Why is it that these people remember precisely what they were doing and where they were when they heard that Kennedy was shot but couldn’t even remember the man’s name who was shot the same day?” And it’s two men shot in Dallas by the same man on the same day in history—everybody remembers the one guy, nobody remembers the other guy.
Well part of it has to do with the dignity of the office. When the President of the United States is shot, that’s an unforgettable experience. When a policeman is shot, that’s a gruesome and horrible thing. In terms of the intrinsic value of the men, there’s no difference, but in terms of the dignity of the office that those men hold, there is a difference. In fact, we have a special word for the killing of the President—that’s an assassination. The policeman was murdered, but Jack Kennedy was assassinated because we want to distinguish that.
But not only that, all the commentators in America said at those days, “Let us never forget what has happened in this day of infamy.” And so, all kinds of memorials sprang up. It used to be Idlewild Airport; now it’s Kennedy Airport. It used to be Cape Canaveral; now it’s Cape Kennedy. And it’s this Kennedy school that and this Kennedy plaza that. In fact, you can’t go into any of the large cities in Western Europe without finding at least one boulevard or highway named after Jack Kennedy. We have the perpetual flame at Arlington—all of these things designed as memorials to cause us to remember the death of Jack Kennedy. But have you noticed almost the total cessation now of attempts to build memorials to Jack Kennedy? The hoopla’s over, and the culture is already beginning to forget, just in a few short years.
All of this I was thinking about on the bus as I was going down the road. I thought, “How quickly we forget.” And then I thought, “You know, isn’t it incredible that even now while I’m sitting on this bus contemplating this, I know that all over the world, at this very second, there are people who are sitting down at a table who are eating and drinking in the memory of the death of Jesus Christ.” And I realized that not one second passed on the clock, but that somewhere in the world, somebody is celebrating the Lord’s Supper, that there’s a certain sense in which God is saying, “I will not let you forget what happened on that day when Christ was killed.”