Thursday, April 28, 2011

Johns Hopkins 50th Reunion Memorial Service

May the great Name of God be exalted and sanctified, throughout the world, which he has created according to his will. May his Kingship be established in your lifetime and in your days, and in the lifetime of the entire household of Israel, swiftly and in the near future; and say, Amen. May his great name be blessed, forever and ever. Blessed, praised, glorified, exalted, extolled, honored, elevated, and lauded be the Name of the holy one, Blessed is he, above and beyond any blessings and hymns, praises and consolations which are uttered in the world; and say Amen. May there be abundant peace from Heaven, and life, upon us and upon all Israel; and say, Amen. He who makes peace in his high holy places, may he bring peace upon us, and upon all Israel; and say Amen.

That is an English translation of the Mourner’s Kaddish, recited in the synagogue service in memory of the dead. Records exist of its use in the synagogue service since the 13th century, and it reflects a tradition from the time of the Prophet Ezekiel in the Exile to Babylon roughly 600 years before Christ.   

We’ve been remembering the dead for a very long time.  About 200 years before Ezakiel’s time Homer’s Iliad includes memorial speeches for the heroes of Greece and Troy. Greek and Hebrew reflect a double tradition about memorials in Western culture. The Greek tradition is the eulogy. We talk about the events in the life of the person, remembering that person’s great deeds and their contribution to the life of the community. The Hebrew tradition includes the Kaddish which looks beyond the person to the God who created him, body and spirit, and inspired his life.

We are heirs of this double tradition. We have spoken the names of the members of our class who have died, and we have prayed “We remember them . . . From the rising of the sun, so long as we live, we remember them.”  We have also heard Psalm 121, “from whence comes our help, our help comes even from the Lord.”

There is a third part of the tradition of Western memorial services that focuses not on the person who has died nor on his creator but on those who offer the memorial, on us present. How shall we then live – we who remember the dead and their deeds and their influence on us and our lives – we who give praise to our Creator whose Spirit lives and moves in us – how shall we live in the remaining time we have. We who are here for our 50th, how many of us will be present for our 60th, for our 75th?

We gather this morning to remember our classmates who have died, to give thanks for their lives, and to think about our own lives and the time we have left to live. What values did we learn here 50 years ago? How have we lived out those values? What values do we offer to the class of 2011?

The university motto is drawn from the gospel of St. John  8:32  in the Latin, “Veritas vos liberabit” the truth will set you free. Truth and freedom are important values we learned here 50 years ago, values which have formed our lives over the past 50 years, values we trust the university to teach today.

Our understanding of the meaning of truth and freedom has changed over the past 50 years. We now recognize a subjective element in truth. Our understanding of truth reflects our personal history and our situation in life; what I find to be true you may find problematic. But I continue to believe with Thomas Jefferson that some truths are self-evident and that with some effort we can find sufficient agreement to live in freedom and peace in a civil society. There was a time, not too long after we graduated, that some questioned that, but we have moved on from that crisis to face new ones.

We have a broader understanding of freedom now, and we have fought and continue to fight for freedom. We honor those of our classmates, other members of the university, our fellow citizens, and others throughout the world whose lives and deaths witness to the cost of freedom. Freedom includes political liberty, and economic freedom, and freedom in our personal lives. We have learned that we cannot be free when others are slaves.

And so as we remember and honor the members of our class who have died, as we give thanks to the Creator who made and inspirited them and us, let us also give thanks to this university and resolve to live by its motto – the Truth will make you free.

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