I’ve been thinking a lot about ancestors recently, specifically my ancestors. Most often when the topic of ancestry comes up we think of our blood ancestors, those family members who have come before us going back generation upon generation. Familial ancestry is for many people, including myself, important, but there are other kinds of ancestors as well. In our Christian faith we have the saints, that great cloud of witnesses, that have come before us as spiritual ancestors.
In scripture lineage and ancestry are important, as attested to by all the lists we see naming who begat who begat who. For many, most importantly Jesus, this ancestry gives credibility to who they are and what role they are given in the life of the people of Israel. The entire people of Israel share ancestors who are often named by God; Abraham, Issac, and Jacob, as well as the less often named Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah. These shared ancestors provide a common tie between all the people as well as between the people and God, who is also the God of their ancestors. For Jesus, his lineage, especially back to David is important, as it gives him a claim to the very throne which David occupied.
It’s oftentimes the positive and celebratory aspects of our ancestors that we want to cherish and remember, yet we’d be remiss if we left out the less than good pieces of our ancestor’s legacy. David for instance lusted after a married woman he saw bathing, called her to him and slept with her, then had her husband placed in a position in battle where he died, effectively committing murder. This part of David’s story and kingship is not the part we wish to remember, rather we’d prefer to forget it.
Looking at my own family I’ve got some not so great legacies in my ancestry as well. One ancestor on my mom’s side, named John McConnell, had enslaved a woman named Roena. On my dad’s side we can trace our family back to Myles Standish, who was a military leader in the Plymouth Colony, which means that he was responsible for the theft of land from Native Americans. Less seriously one of my McConnell ancestors was called before his session for church discipline and he never showed. What was he in trouble for you ask? Dancing, yes dancing at a wedding.
Our ancestry, both familial and spiritual is a mixed bag, it’s got stories of beauty, kindness, and imagination as well as stories of theft, abuse, and much more. So what do we do with the legacy of our ancestors? We can begin, as in all things, with gratitude for all the good that has come to us and others through our ancestors. We can also learn from them, learn the wisdom they have to teach us from their experience. We can do our part to make reparation for any harm they have done, not ignoring it, but doing what we can to set things right. Lastly we can honor their memory by learning from their lives; seeing examples how to live and love, and how not to. Because some day we will all be ancestors; familial, spiritual, or both. A question to ask ourselves is what sort of legacy do we want to leave behind? What sort of ancestor do we want to be?
God’s grace and peace be with you,