Of Lilacs and Remembrances
Lilacs, Vibert Vase, Sullivan, Maine
“ Look, the winter is past, and the rains are over and gone/ The flowers are springing up, the season of singing birds has come, and the cooing of turtledoves fills the air… “Lilacs are exuberantly purple and perfumed, and cherry trees fragrant with blossoms….”(Song of Songs 2:11-12, NLT2; 2:13 MSG)
In late May, beautiful purple and white lilac blossoms renew Maine’s countryside with color and fragrance after having been draped for months in winter starkness and long spring drabness. They bloom everywhere.
“Lilacs in dooryards/Holding quiet conversations with an early moon/ Lilacs watching a deserted house/Settling sideways into the grass of an old road/ Lilacs, wind-beaten, staggering under a lopsided shock of bloom/Above a cellar dug into a hill. You are everywhere.” (excerpt from “Lilacs” by Amy Lowell)
These late May blooms are not only lovely, aromatic forerunners of summer but are also happy reminders of my Mother, who loved lilacs not only for their beauty and fragrance but because her Father did! On Memorial Day, she would place a bouquet on his grave.
Memorial Day began as Decoration Day, a day commemorating Civil War soldiers who had died in the war. Currently, it is designated a national holiday day set aside to remember all veteran women and men, living or dead, with patriotic parades, memorial services of gratitude and commemorations, and flags decorating graves.
And then there are red poppies! Historical reminders, symbols, and perspectives are so important. Wynne McLaughlin reportedly said, “Maybe history wouldn’t have to repeat itself if we listened once in awhile.” In 1915, John McCrae, a Canadian Army Lieutenant wrote the poem “In Flanders Fields” to honor the memory of his fallen comrades who fought the sad, bloody battles of WW1 through the poppy fields of France and to hold future generations responsible for keeping the world free from tyranny: “In Flanders fields the poppies blow/Between the crosses, row on row/ … We are the dead. Short days ago/We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow… Take up our quarrel with the foe: To you from failing hands we throw/The torch; be yours to hold it high/If ye break faith with us who die/We shall not sleep, though poppies grow/In Flanders fields.” (Excerpts from In Flanders Fields)
Similarly, Scripture calls us to this wisdom of remembrance. It exhorts us to never lose sight of the character and works and words and presence of God because He knows what is best for us. Jeremiah recognized our strange reluctance to seek the moral guidelines which bring us peace: “Thus says the Lord: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls…” (Jeremiah 6:16) Isaiah urged Israel to “Remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me.” (Isaiah 46:9) The Psalmist reminds us “…to forget not all (God’s) benefits” and then lists some: forgiveness, redemption, healing, righteousness and justice; God is merciful, gracious, compassionate, and patient and abounds in love; He is sovereign but gentle with us because He remembers we are dust. (Psalm 103)
If we are to remember God, then we must seek knowledge of Him. Creation speaks to us of God’s nature. (Romans 1:20) The Scriptures tell us who God is (2 Timothy 3:16-17) Christ showed us the character image of God.. “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” (Colossians 1:19-20) And through the Communion symbols of broken bread and poured out wine, Christ opened his heart of grace and mercy to his disciples as he drew them close to his cross and called them to a regular remembrance of his redemptive action for all. “Do this in remembrance of me,” he said. (1 Corinthians 11:24-25)
But there is a very happy and blessed contrast to God’s remembrances. God forgets! In His gracious ways, in His detailed knowledge and understanding, and in His compassion for us who live in this fragile, dusty, mortal state, God is gentle and patient and loving and willing to “forget” our sins. When we come to Him by faith, “as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us”. (Psalm 103) He promises to remember them “no more.” (Isaiah 43:25) (Hebrews 10:17)
That is the confidence of faith.