My father was one of thousands of Polish soldiers interned in Switzerland during World War 2 and who stayed there after the war (choosing not to return home because Communism ruled there). Our family knows little about this decade of his life and my sister who has done our family history wanted to follow up on some things and so this week I went to Zurich to meet her and visit the sites and see whether anyone remembered him. Somewhat to our surprise, we did meet someone who know about ‘a Polish man’ but who didn’t know his name. We found some material about his time in Switzerland but most of it we knew. Nevertheless it was good to walk in the places and see – imagine – the places he would have known as well.
In the course of the time my sister and I talked about the family story we knew and to my sur-prise, she said things I didn’t know – or didn’t remember. My father, as a displaced person, had written to three countries seeking a visa – Australia, Canada, and ‘America’ my sister said. ‘What about Argentina?’ I said. She had never heard of Argentina. I had never heard of America. In the ongoing discussion she pulled out the shipping records of the ships that came to Australia that year from Europe with displaced people. One of those ships was ‘Argentina’ which de-parted from the same port as the ship on which my father travelled. Perhaps what I took to be a country was actually a ship. And the family history sails on …
Of course, I don’t wish to think, recall, or perpetuate the re-telling of falsehoods. I would like the story of my parents and grandparents to be accurate, truthful, and with some sense of understanding and compassion (no one is perfect – and families especially know that) told to my grandchildren. My sister has read several family history books of the various branches of our extended family tree and I’ve heard her say on a number of occasions that the material is incorrect, or it is a guess, or more research needs to be done. In family history, it seems, a lot of people are related to royalty and other historical famous persons!
If I’ve made a mistake about something one generation ago – minor I think you’ll agree – how can I be sure about things a hundred generations ago? That is the type of query or concern I often face when talking about Jesus. It is not an unreasonable query. My reply has two answers. The first one is more historical, if I can put it that way, in that the Biblical record – the manuscripts, parchments, scraps, complete editions, fragments – when consolidated from all the museums and churches and universities provide a consistent message. What was written way back then is what we have today. Opponents mightn’t agree or like the message but there is no evidence that the manuscripts have changed substantially – have changed the story – have said different things about Jesus. And when different teachings did come about, we have the evidence of the Church defending the truth of Jesus – consider the Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds for starters.
The second answer is more a ‘faith one’ in that Jesus promised that he’d send a Helper, a Comforter, an Advocate to help us remember what Jesus said and did – in effect to keep us focused on Jesus. This is what the Holy Spirit has been doing since Pentecost – keeping the followers of Jesus focused on him – so that we agree where, when, and how Jesus was born, lived, died, and rose again – and why. And so Christians tell the ‘family story’ of Jesus – truly human, truly God who lived and died and lives again so that we might be forgiven, blessed, and live a new life in this old world. And should we find ourselves meeting a Jesus we don’t recognise or hear something about him we hadn’t heard before or hadn’t remembered, everyone can go to the Gospels in particular and check.
The mystery is that no matter how long this world spins, there will be people in the future following the same Jesus – and trusting this amazing God of grace. The Holy Spirit will never cease helping us meet and follow Jesus.