‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ is a BBC show tracing the family tree of well-known actors, presenters, sports-people, and the like. The eighteenth series kicked off last night, following comedian Josh Widdicombe. I can’t claim to have seen every single episode, but—no spoilers—this latest was the most incredible I have seen, in part because of the stories uncovered, and in part because Widdicombe is so engaged and engaging.
When genealogy is brought to life by historians who raise the dead for us, the pursuit resonates with our shared human experience. The ancient writer Qohelet (aka Ecclesiastes) explored these themes. Qohelet impresses upon us the acknowledgement that life is as ephemeral and fleeting—and wonderous—as breath, wind. Moreover, we experience a great evil—not a moral evil, but an existential one—that all are brought low by death. Time and chance happen to all. The powerful are brought low; we work hard, only for some other, some stranger, to benefit. This being so, Qohelet advises that we take joy in the gift of life while it is ours. That we embrace life fully, while holding it lightly, and always mindful of the One who is Giver and Hallower and Sustainer of Life.
We see just such things in the stories of our great-great-many-times-great-grandparents, in their rising and falling, their opportunities and tragedies. In death, we sleep with our ancestors. In life, we work and eat and drink with them, hopefully finding satisfaction. In the lives to come, generations as yet unborn, the story continues, held in the love of God, who has made the world this way, in hope that we might ever reach out towards that love and hope held for us.