Lent is traditionally a season of contemplating the Ten Commandments, or words of life. How many of them can you call to mind? Here’s the fifth:
Honour your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
It is worth remembering that these words are spoken to a generation of adults who have just escaped from generational slavery lasting several hundred years. In other words, for many of them, their father and mother never lived to see the freedom they have just stepped into. True, never had to do the hard work of forging a new society, a whole new way of being in the world. But these former slaves were only where they were because the parents had passed on the dream of the god of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, the dream their parents had handed on to them, having in their turn been entrusted with it by their parents, and so on and on back through centuries. Promises, and a story, held close even though everything about the world around them told them that it wasn’t true.
They did not grow out of their story, and now, they would enter into the land God had promised to give to Abraham’s descendants. They would work that soil, and, when the time came, be buried in that soil, their personal dust returning to their communal dust.
Except that they wouldn’t. Moses, and essentially all of the adults who left Egypt, would die in the wilderness before they ever reached the Promised Land. Why? Because they didn’t honour their father and mother. Didn’t continue to hold the promises, to love the story, of this god and his people. While the bones of long-dead Joseph were carried ‘home’ to the land, the living were less faithful.
Their children came into the promise. And there, in the land, if they wanted to live in it and enjoy it for generations, they would need to keep faith with their fathers and mothers, with Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rachel, Jacob and his wives ... and with their own parents, despite their failure. Living with disappointment, learning to forgive, honouring our heritage without becoming captive to it, releasing our predecessors and our heroes from impossible standards and learning to trace God’s faithfulness through the at times messy reality of human history. These are the lessons that will enable us to live long in the land that Yahweh is giving us — and to share it, living peaceably alongside whoever else he may see fit to give it to also.
What dreams, unfulfilled, did your parents (biological, adoptive, or communal) hand down to you?
What ghosts do you need to lay to rest?
What long-dry bones do you need to call to new life?