What's a Letter?
If you have a sense of what a handwritten letter is, then you most likely have been a part of the pen and paper, envelope and stamp, drop in the mail at the Post Office kind of person for much of your life. For our kids and grandkids today, they may not have a genuine understanding of why one would even spend the time to do all the above when you can send an instagram, text, tweet, or video chat with someone you want to connect with! Ok, let the nostalgia pour over you right now as you remember "back in the day" when your main source of communicating with those at a distance was a handwritten paper instead of a computer or smartphone.
When I was in college, my wife (who was my girlfriend at the time) would write letter after letter to communicate what life was like for us without the other. We expressed our emotions and love for one another without emojies. We would read those letters over and over, store them in a box, and then read them over and over again. Oh yes, the good ol' days.
As one person stated recently, "It is a well-established fact that letter writing is a dying custom. The only things we might put in the mail today are greeting cards and payments — and we can do both online. In the past, however, the writing of letters was an important exercise." For example, Jason Emerson, wrote "America's Most Famous Letter," in Heritage, February/March 2006, americanheritage.com. The Bixby letter is famous for its perfect use of the English language. Along with the Gettysburg Address and Second Inaugural, it is one of [Abraham] Lincoln's most revered literary legacies. The letter was published in the Boston TranscriptNovember 25, 1864, the same day Mrs. Bixby received it:
I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts, that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle. I feel how weak and fruitless must be any words of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering to you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save. I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours, to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of Freedom. Yours, very sincerely and respectfully, A. Lincoln
While some mourn and try to come to grips with the fact that letter writing is a dying custom, we need to continue to seek the importance of writing letters as an vital exercise — not just for lovers who are separated by distance; not just for "catching up" with friends and families; but to take out and read over and over to reflect on those relationships. In the New Testament scriptures, we read several "letters" (epistles) that were some of the most important letters ever written to the church. These letters call us as people of faith to "take out and read over and over these handwritten letters" to make reflect on and try to make sense of our relationship with God and with others. One such letter we will focus on in worship this Sunday is what the apostle Paul, the letter writer, wrote in his letter to the Ephesians about spiritual maturity.