One of my favorite stories can be found in One Hundred Years of Solitude, by the Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez. For this extraordinary book, García Márquez was awarded the 1982 Nobel Prize in Literature. The story I like so much is about an insomia-like illness that one day descends upon Macondo, a fictional village somewhere in Colombia’s deepest jungles.
“No one was alarmed at first,” writes García Márquez. “On the contrary, they were very happy at not sleeping because there was so much to do in Macondo in those days that there was barely enough time.” But insommia slowly turns into a frightening loss of memory. Aware of the impending catastrophe, the old man who runs the village decides to do something about.
So, he paints hundreds of little sings with the names of every thing around.
“Mesa” (table), “silla” (chair), “reloj” (clock), “cama” (bed), “naranajo” (orange tree), “gallina” (chicken), “vaca” (cow), and so forth –and then places those signs on everything so named. “Studying the infinite possibilities of a loss of memory,” the old man begins to realize that very soon things will be recognized by their names, yet no one will remember their purpose in day-to-day life.
So he goes back to work and painfully adds to those names what each of those things and creatures are for. The sign that he hungs from the neck of the cow, for instance, now reads: “Cow –she must be milked every morning so that she will produce milk, and the milk must be boiled in order to be mixed with coffee to make coffe and milk.” No sooner he is done with the naming and renaming of everything around, the illness of insomnia, now in its most advance stage as a total loss of memory, hits the village.
García Márquez tells us that Macondo’s people “went on living in a reality that was slipping away, momentarily captured by words, but which would escape [forever] when they forgot the values of the written letters.” “Almost on the brink of total, irreversible forgetfulness,” the old man suddenly realizes he still has two more signs to paint and to plant before is too late.
So, he walks to that spot on a dusty road where the village begins, and there he plants a sign that says “Macodo.” And close to it, a larger one that says, with capital letters, “DIOS EXISTE” (GOD EXISTS).” Just in case you would like to find out what happened to Macondo – here the spoiler! Very slowly Macondo emerges from its forgetfulness and returns to its normal life thanks to those signs – large and small.
Friends, this captivating story reminds me of our own episodes of forgetfulness.
Our senior moments, for instance, when we forget where we left our car keys or whether we have takeng ourmy pills. But there are other moments in life when our loss of memory has little to do with physical and mental aging. Rather, it has to do with that kind of spiritual wear and tear that follows so many crisis and disappointments.
A friend of mine, reflecting on his ugly divorce after 29 years of marriage, recently told me, “I can’t believe I’ve all but forgotten the love that kept us going with Mary for many wonderful years.”
You may agree with me that our best memories of family, profession, friendships, even church life can gradually fade into obliviom because of this wear and tear that sooner or later catches up with all of us. In other words, we too have our Macondo moments. And when that happens to us, we can either surrender and do nothing about, or beg for help. Anyone there who could help us reclaim our names and also our purspose in life? And this is where one of my favorite stories in the Bible enters the picture.
I’m sure you remember Mary Magdalene, how she “goes back” to the tomb even though her first visit may have been as tragic as frightening. I believe she didn’t expect to find anything real and meaningful in such a nonsensical place.
Yet she went back, and on her second visit that same day, something extraordinary happened.
This time, my friends, Mary Magdalene discovered that God was busy at work re-writing with a heavenly brush and eternal ink her very best memory of Jesus – “MARY, WHY ARE YOU LOOKING FOR JESUS AMONG THE DEAD? And with capital letters, “HE IS ALIVE, MARY, AND DOING REMARKABLY WELL!”
Imagine — imagine for just a moment when out of nowhere in some darkness and forgetfulness of your lives someone may come to you and call you by name, and say to you, “HI! I’m Jesus, your friend. Do you remember me?”
As we said during our sunrise service early this morning, all the resurrection stories are like this one. They are stories of believers who seem to have forgotten they are children of a wonderful God that is always seeking the very best for us. Folks who keep going to empty, meaningless places.
Yet one by one all the Marys, all the Salomes, all the Peters, all the Johns and all the Thomases of the story come to realize that God was not kidding when he promised them a new beginning of sorts. And here is our Easter question – friends, if you feel or believe this morning that your own best memories of your friendship with Jesus have fade into oblivion, would you like to “go back”, try to reclaim them with the help of God? To paraphrase Macondo’s old man – a God who is loaded with heavenly brushes and paints and a rainbow palette?
As you know, I like to spice up my sermons with a good story or illustration – real or fabricated, it doesn’t matter that much if it carries a message and help us smile a little.
It works for me — I must confess — for I tend to forget a sermon, a lecture, even a movie unless it comes with some goodies to enjoy for a long time. So let me try this one –and if it works, I promise, this homily will end in two minutes!
With or without Sarah’s permission, I will tell you a real story about a church organist –her name is Carol. An outstanding, beloved musician like our own Sarah, whose ministry, and her musicians today and every week deserve a great clap of hands [applause]. Now, Carol did something no organist should ever do. She overslept on Easter morning and missed the sunrise service –she was so embarrassed.
Of course, the pastor and the church forgave her, and they teased her about a little, but it was done lovingly and in good fun. However, the next Easter her phone rang at 5:00 in the morning. It was the pastor — “Carol, it’s Easter morning! The Lord is risen! . . . And I suggest you do the same!”
The message of this story seems to be quite clear: We too can be resurrected, for Christ shares his resurrection with us. He rises, and so can we. He makes a new start, and so can we. He gets a new name and new purpose in life, and so can we.
Thanks be given to Almighty God who, as the Scripture remind us today, has our names written in the palms of his hands. (Isaiah 49:16).