“Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught” (Lk. 1:1-4).
Barney: “Have you seen my shoes? I need to put them on before I go home.”
Me: “You are home, Granddaddy.”
Barney: “No I’m not. This is just where I’m staying until I go.”
Me: “But… I see…”
[So I went and found his shoes.]
—A conversation with my grandfather
My grandfather was a minister for 64 years. He began showing signs of dementia many years ago. Since my grandmother passed, his mind has been slipping more rapidly into the void. Watching his decline, I have learned that the world of humanity consists in memories. I’ve also learned that memories are married to names. When one is lost, so the other, and whatever piece of the world went with them.
Of all the names that have fallen into that inglorious abyss, mine included, it was saddest to see my grandmother’s go. Never again will I get to hear the story about the first time he saw her, standing on a sidewalk in a white dress: “She looked like an angel.” Never again will I get to see her memory become wet in his grieving eyes only to be consoled back into laughter by yet another moment shared still in his mind. She was always visible as a glow in his face, even under the hanging weight of his grief. But now there is neither glow nor grief. That part of his world and that part of his face are gone. And I suspect, were it up to him, he would welcome the grief back in endless waves if only to salvage a few glimpses of his long lost angel, forgotten at sea. But she is lost to him.
But she is not lost. And she is not lost to him forever. Because the one Name that still puts color in his face and fills his mouth like lead is the Name of the One whose hands first joined them together. And His grieving hands are as stubborn as nails that refuse to let go of the dead. So my grandfather may not have my grandmother’s hand anymore to hold, but he still daily folds his hands in prayer—and he has never forgotten in whose Name his prayers are made. That world still belongs wholly to him, and he wholly to it.
From this vantage, he has forgotten nothing. For those who remember where they are going, not even a single drop of the past will be lost.
It was this insight that prompted Luke to compile the memories of of those who had seen Jesus with their own eyes. He wanted to give a friend, perhaps some dignitary, Theophilus, “certainty concerning the things you have been taught” (Lk. 1:4). Typically, if you’re looking for certainty, you look in the future, where forecasts become rain or shine, where promises are kept or broken, where potential becomes actual. But the truth is, the future is a bad place to go looking for certainty, because forecasts are often wrong, promises come with contingency clauses and, besides, as the days go by the future has less and less to offer us. And one of these days, the future will no longer even offer us another day. Of that we can be certain!
So Luke offers Theophilus, and the rest of the human race, certainty by pointing us in the opposite direction. If you want to find certainty, you need to look back and discover “the things that have been accomplished among us” (Lk. 1:1). What Jesus accomplished, among all else, was certainty about our future, because he entered into the only certainty we have about the future–death!–and bust the door open on the other side. Death, then, is not, as Shakespeare once described, that “undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns.” It has been discovered, traversed, exited and exiled. Jesus has gone before us all to come after us all.
And so he meets us through the memories of eyewitnesses, and soon we begin remembering him ourselves. We read about him calling his disciples to follow him, and soon we find ourselves following him, because although we didn’t share the same past as those first eyewitnesses, we are invited to share the same future with them (along with a great cloud of witnesses besides). We cannot be exactly certain about all the future will hold, but we can be certain it will hold us–He will hold us–come hell or high water or a 6-foot hole in the ground, because although death is the certain end of life, Jesus is the certain end of death.
So as the days go by, don’t forget to keep refreshing your memory with these eyewitness memories of Jesus. One of these days you’re going to see him face to face and you’re going to want to be able to put a Name to that face. And if your memory is married to his Name, your name will be married to his future.