The risen life: the Spirit of unforgetting
1 Peter 3.13-22
The proud parents bring their new baby boy home from hospital. His older sister, all of four, asks if she may have time alone to speak with her new brother. Mum and dad agree, but they decide to listen in from behind the door. They hear big sister leaning over the cot and saying, ‘Quick, tell me who made you. Tell me where you came from. I’m beginning to forget!’
We are frail, forgetful creatures. Jesus knows that, so he says:
I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
The Spirit ‘abides’ with us, stays with us as our Advocate, our Friend in high places. Jesus calls the Spirit ‘the Spirit of truth’; and ‘truth’ is a very interesting word in the Greek language in which John’s Gospel was originally written. The Greek word for ‘truth’ is aletheia.
A-letheia means ‘not forgetting’, ‘not hidden’, ‘unforgetting’, ‘unhiding’. In the Greek language of the New Testament, we find ‘truth’ as we recall things we have forgotten. And the Spirit stays with us partly so that we may not forget.
As far as the people of the ancient world were concerned, it was the dead who forgot.
In Greek mythology, Hades was the world of the dead. It wasn’t necessarily a bad place, though you wouldn’t write home about it; it was a shadowy kind of half-existence for most of the dead. One of the rivers of Hades was named ‘Lethe’. Lethe means ‘hidden’, it means ‘forgetfulness’, it means ‘oblivion’. Once you drank the waters of the Lethe, you forgot your earthly life for evermore.
Perhaps you’ve already realised that the word aletheia is related to lethe. Perhaps you can see why a-lethe-ia is ‘unforgetting’ and ‘unhiding’.
The ancient Hebrews had a similar idea. ‘Sheol’ was the name of the shadowy netherworld where their dead went. In Psalm 88.12 we read,
Are your wonders known in the darkness,
or your saving help
in the land of forgetfulness?
There’s that ‘forgetfulness’ again. When you die, you forget. When you die, you go to ‘the land of forgetfulness’. As far as the people of the ancient world were concerned, if you were dead you forgot; and if you forgot, you might as well be dead.
Like that big sister, we forget where we’ve come from and who made us. But God’s Holy Spirit is the Spirit of unforgetting, the Spirit who reminds us of the truth of Jesus Christ that we’ve forgotten. God’s Holy Spirit is the Spirit of awareness.
When we baptise someone, we talk a fair bit about this Spirit. We claim that the Spirit is active when we baptise someone.
Our reading from 1 Peter mentions baptism. It says:
baptism…now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…
Baptism is part of the way God saves us, not because of what we do—not because it washes our body. Baptism is important because of what God does through it.
Our liturgy says:
Baptism is Christ’s gift.
It is the sign by which the Spirit of God
joins people to Jesus Christ
and incorporates them into his body,
And it says,
By water and the Spirit
we are claimed as God’s own
and set free from the power
of sin and death.
Thus, claimed by God
we are given the gift of the Holy Spirit…
The Spirit joins us to Jesus Christ and his people; the Spirit claims us as God’s own children; and the Spirit is given to us—all through baptism.
Once we’re baptised, we are called to a life in which we grow to become cooperators with the Spirit of God, ‘the Spirit of Truth’. I said earlier that we could call the Spirit the ‘Spirit of awareness’.
Being baptised doesn’t make us more aware. But baptism declares that the Spirit of awareness, the Spirit of unforgetting, is with us to bring things to our awareness. What things? The things of Jesus Christ. The Spirit’s work is to prompt us to ‘unforget’ Jesus. Because we forget him so easily. (Being baptised doesn’t suddenly get you a good memory!)
Since Easter Day, we’ve been looking at several stories about Jesus Christ. Let’s remember them, let’s allow the Spirit of truth to help us ‘unforget’.
We’ve looked at how the risen Lord Jesus walked with Mr and Mrs Cleopas on the road to Emmaus. Do you remember the story—do you unforget it? Do you recall that these discouraged disciples were hopelessly trudging back home to Emmaus, when a stranger joined them on the way? And he told them how the Messiah had to suffer—and then when he broke the bread with them they realised—it was Jesus, risen from the grave!
That day, they discovered the truth that Jesus would always be with them, no matter how hard things got in life. They’d thought they were alone; they ‘unforgot’, once they remembered that Jesus was always with them.
And Jesus appears to the disciples, who had locked themselves away for fear of what the authorities might do. He greets them with ‘Peace’, and in this way forgives them for deserting him in his hour of need.
The truth is—what they and we have to unforget is—that we are a Christian community, that is a community in which people forgive each other. Make no mistake—mutual forgiveness is a hallmark of the church family.
Thirdly, let’s not forget what we heard two weeks ago—Jesus is our Good Shepherd. He will guide us through life; but we must learn to listen for his voice. And we must teach the children among us to recognise his voice.
This is what we’re declaring for W, H and E. Jesus is with them always. They are part of a family of faith marked by forgiveness. Their Good Shepherd will call them by name. And that’s what we declare for ourselves too, as people who are baptised into union with Jesus Christ.
I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth… You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
The Spirit put us in our right mind, because the Spirit reminds us of the truth of Jesus. God is indeed good to us and to our children. Amen.