The Continuing Memory of Easter
William Willimon, Professor of Christian Ministry at Duke University, relates a personal experience that is particularly relevant to the continuing truth of Easter. Traveling in the South of England, Willimon’s car broke down. While waiting for repairs, he wandered through the yard of the nearby village church. Eventually, he found himself in the cemetery surrounding the building. In one corner of the cemetery was a beautiful, low, brick wall enclosing fifty graves. The grass had nearly choked the plot. A large granite slab, set in the wall, bore the words “WE SHALL NEVER FORGET YOUR SACRIFICE.”
The graves held the remains of fifty young men, around the ages of 17 to 25, and all from New Zealand. Willimon wondered who they were and why they died in this little English village, so far from home?
Since there was no clue at the churchyard as to who they were or the circumstances of their deaths, Willimon wandered back into the village for any information to quench his thirsty curiosity. Finding the town’s museum, Willimon inquired about the graves. The attendant at the museum responded; “Strange that you should ask, I have no idea, but given a few days I could certainly find out.”
Since Willimon would be gone by then, he asked around the village. Now one knew. Despite the impressive inscription in granite, they had been forgotten. No one could remember the circumstances of the unforgettable sacrifice.
Willimon’s story has profound implications for the Christian story. Try as we may, our finite human memories tend to obscure, and eventually lose the vivid picture of those who lived before—even those we love. As in the case of the New Zealanders, time tends to erase the memory of even great sacrifice.
That’s what makes the Easter story so impressive. We don’t simply keep Jesus alive in our collective Christian psyches, proclaiming him forever “alive in our hearts.” The Easter story is not a mere emotional recreation of a long-dead, Jewish hero. The resurrection of Jesus is a historical reality that continues to exert power in our broken world—that’s why we remember.
So, while Easter Sunday has come and gone for another year, we continue to remember Jesus. In so doing, we are not only reflecting on the gracious sacrifice of the innocent One. We are embracing—and encountering—the risen Lord of history, the continuing intrusion of God into our world. Hence we remember—and proclaim—“He has been raised.” Now that’s something that’s hard to forget!