I’ll admit it. When my pastor asked us to memorize parts of the Catechism and Bible passages, I would think to myself how boring and useless it was. I did my best (I told myself) and took the quizzes and passed. I had to memorize the six chief parts of the Catechism again in a college religion class and again in the seminary.
I finally began to understand the importance of memorizing sometime in high school when I learned more of my family history. One side of my family was Russian German. They had left Germany in the 1700s for a new life colonizing an unsettled part of Russia at the invitation of Catherine the Great. They, among thousands of others, had successfully built villages, farmed the land, and started businesses. Then came World War I. My grandmother’s husband was killed fighting for the Russian Imperial Army against the Axis powers. Then came the Bolshevik Revolution. Many of the German settlers fled, knowing that communism would destroy their lives. My grandmother and her young son walked, along with many others, from western Russia all the way to Germany. Eventually, they emigrated to the United States.
They had lost everything: land the family had owned for nearly two hundred years, a large herd of horses, their home, and all their belongings. The farm, like all the others, was collectivized. The Lutheran church of her son’s Baptism was burned. The gravestones of my ancestors were removed and used as foundations and road bases. There was no returning.
My grandmother wasn’t able to take much with her. But she took the most important thing she had: her faith. She taught her young son the faith from memory. The passages, hymns, and Catechism she had memorized helped her through some very trying times.
As we now sit in our homes during a worldwide pandemic participating in online services, that memorization suddenly becomes vital. When the internet feed stutters during the creed, we keep speaking. When the streaming fails during the Lord’s Prayer, we keep praying. When we start to be overwhelmed by everything happening, comforting passages spring into our minds.
The time of the pandemic will eventually pass, and we will again be able to worship in our churches. The memorizing will probably seem less important again. Students will roll their eyes and maybe sigh as their pastors and teachers assign memory work. As the memory of isolation fades, we need to remember that memorizing is one of the ways our faith was sustained.
We pray that our country remains strong and that our religious freedoms are never tested to the extent that they have been in other nations. But while we are free to do so, we should never neglect the opportunities to worship, even imperfectly from our homes. And, while we have the time and opportunity, we can continue to study and learn and yes, even memorize.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16 EHV)
Rev. Paul Fries