I never knew there was a Stephens family plot, especially one in Georgia, until March of 2008. When my father died, my grandfather suggested we scatter his ashes at the Stephens family plot at the Zion Hope Baptist Church Cemetery in Crisp County, Georgia, just outside Cordele. The irony of it all? My brother who is a Southern Baptist pastor lives nearby and Zion Hope was originally a Methodist Church!
As we walked around the Zion Hope Cemetery that day, I noticed all the headstones with the name Stephens. My grandfather began to share stories with me.
“Here is where my father is buried, Rome O. Stephens,” he said. “He was born January 19, 1880 and he died September 30, 1937 when I was a teenager.” My grandfather walked my down a little farther, “Over here is your great, great-grandfather, John Anderson Stephens, born 1848 and died 1926. He lied about his age at 15 to join up with the Confederacy because his father was killed in the Civil War at a battle in North Carolina.” As we walked down some more he said, “And here is his father, Jasper B. Stephens. Born 1820 and died 1864. He never made it back home, but they brought his body back to be buried here in the family plot.”
I’m standing in this cemetery, with all of these headstones, hearing all this history and at first it was just information, remembering something that happened in the past. And then, for a brief moment, something transcendent occurred. I’m not going to tell you it was a spirit or spirits…nothing like that. But for a moment, I was caught in the moment where time and space just seem to cease for a second. I realize that I am standing among stories that are alive in me. Stories I never really realized, yet they are a part of who I am. I just marveled in the past, the present, and thinking of my girls in the future. I was overwhelmed by it all and I just stood there for a moment in gratitude, humility, awe, and respect.
In a way, this is part of what happens in Holy Communion.
In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul talks about the importance of the Lord’s Supper and recounts the words of Jesus when he shared Holy Communion with his disciples. Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” But the interesting thing about Jesus’ words, and Paul’s recounting, is that the word “remember” is not really a good translation of the original language. The word in the Greek is ‘anamnesis’. It has been translated as remembrance, commemoration, and memorial but it means so much more. In a way, it is remembrance combined with a “living knowledge”…a knowledge of the living presence of the Savior himself as if we were witnesses to his presence. As James F. White says in his book, Sacraments as God’s Self Giving, “Christ is again present to give himself to us through our re-experiencing his past works.”
We are remembering, but the remembering actually makes Christ present in the now. Something mysterious happens. It is the actual presence of grace in Christ. It is sacramental. Anamnesis means past events become present; we overcome time for a moment.
When we come and share in Holy Communion, we do much more than remember. We participate again in the event of Christ saving work. May it always be real and present for us.