Not very far from Jerusalem, you will find the abandoned ruins of Masada. After the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., the last Jewish holdouts retreated to this mountaintop citadel. Masada had become a bastion of defiance against Rome’s stranglehold over the land. Flavius Silva, the Roman General pursued these last defenders of the Jewish revolt. The General laid siege and had his troops construct a ramp that lead up to the fortress’ ramparts. In fact, the remains of the ramp and portions of the Roman army’s encampment have been excavated and are still visible today.
When the ramp was finally completed, the Roman soldiers invaded Masada. To their amazement, the Romans discovered that a mass suicide had taken place! All the inhabitants of the fortress, men, women and children, were found dead. They had decided to take their own lives rather that succumb at the hands of their enemies.
Today, recruits in the Israeli armed forces are taught what happened at Masada. When they are sworn in as soldiers they are actually taken to the ruins of Masada. As part of their ceremony the recruits are asked to repeat the phrase, “Masada will never fall again.” It has become a ritual which is repeated again and again for each group of recruits. Indeed, Masada is burned into the consciousness of a nation through remembrances. “Masada will never fall again” is a symbol of a nation’s resolution. It is an oath of loyalty recommitting faithful soldiers to “remember the past in order to live for a brighter future.”
“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands. One nation under God….” “Oh say can you see by the dawn’s early light what so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming….” Perhaps there is that family heirloom passed down from one generation to another. Could there be a wedding band worn as a visible reminder “to love and to cherish until death us do part?” We may wear a cross or some other symbol of our faith. Maybe a simple commemorative meal can help us to honor an event or cherish the memory of a person we love. All of these are powerful symbols that will help us to remember the past in order to live for a brighter future.
In the midst of these different experiences we can well-up with emotions and tear-filled eyes. To be sure, these powerful national and personal symbols can recommit us to our deepest convictions and longings. All of us need these viable symbols that help us to remember the past in order to live for a brighter future. In his book The Lord is my Shepherd (Knopf, New York 2003) Rabbi Harold S. Kushner brings it into focus with the following observation: “He (God) has given us memory that we might learn the lessons of the past.” Indeed, the past can be filled with invaluable lessons that we can remember either in celebration for the great times or guarded awareness for past mistakes lest those mistakes be repeated.
In my faith tradition I am often reminded of the important role played by promises, oaths and the symbols that point to their efficacy.
“Yeah, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for thou art with me.” (Psalm 23:4)
“I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Joshua 1:5)
“I will not leave you comfortless.” (Gospel of John 14:18)
“In my Father’s house are many rooms… I am going there to prepare a place for you….” (Gospel of John 14:2-3)
As I am reminded of God’s oaths of loyalty to me I become involved in a type of prophetic activity. I remember the past promises, reaffirm their present reality and set my eyes on a brighter future. If I do so faithfully, I can discover the two greatest adventures of the purpose-filled life: discovering God’s will and obeying God’s will.
As I remember the past I will live presently for a brighter future because if the future belongs to God (and it does) then my future can only be as bright as God’s light.
-Chaplain Joe Molina CDR, UMSC / Chaplain to the Corps of Cadets (© all rights reserved)