As a small child, I would hear my mother asking my step-grandmother what she would like for her birthday gift, and Williamina, a sea captain’s daughter from Leith would reply, “Just some wee remnants please dear. That would be nice.” They would drive off to some Aladdin’s cave and return with a selection of lovely fabrics that would keep Grandma happily busy at her sewing machine for hours, creating her summer collection. Then, with elegant accessories, she would emerge into the season, looking fabulous.
The word remnant is often used as a dismissive even derogatory term denoting apparent insignificance as something left over, or all that remains. To Grandma however, a remnant of fabric presented a delightful challenge, an opportunity to bring value to something just as precious, just as beautiful as the entire bale had been.
Indeed, a remnant despite its small size or quantity, represents all the substance, texture, design and essence of the whole, when all else has been used up or lost. The term remnant is used in historical and in spiritual contexts to describe the special status of those who represent and preserve the essential core values of a faith system or a shared purpose that is under threat of extinction.
A young Jewish friend treasured the account of his ancestor, the only remaining member of a family left alive in times of severe persecution. His life was spared because his expert skills in watch making and mending were so highly regarded. In more peaceful times he became the father of a new family of notable people, so the remnant carried forth the essential ingredients of a dynastic line.
Around the world at this moment, where the Christian faith is under threat politically and ideologically, small remnants of adherents risk death and imprisonment without mercy. Their courage and fortitude shame our lethargy, as we take for granted our freedom of worship. Christianity in countries like Egypt and Tunisia and many more, where the early church once flourished with great vibrancy and enthusiasm, now shrinks to a threatened minority. They cling, as a precarious remnant to the hope of better times or even revival when the message of love, forgiveness, compassion, justice, truth and peaceful co-operation will return to honour.
In terms of faith, certain principles stand for those who find themselves designated to the remnants of a once greater mission. They are not to consign their beliefs and hopes to the dust-heap of history. They are to maintain the responsibility of those who guard a great treasure committed to their safekeeping. This is not a display of bigotry, prejudice or rigid adherence to unchanging ritual, but rather a realization that the light of some deep and precious truth is in danger of being extinguished either by subtle shifts or by outright onslaught. Their clear conviction of its efficacy will compensate for discouragement and conflict.
The prophet Isaiah noted that the remnant of God’s people were those who would bear witness to the great things he had done and who carried the privilege of preserving God’s laws and statutes. When Isaiah confronted King Ahaz, he was accompanied by his son Shear-Joshub whose name means ‘a remnant will return’ (from exile). It was a reminder that even in the darkest of times, the nation would not entirely perish. God would be faithful to his covenant of protection and provision for “the little flock”. Psalm 91 provides a stirring message for today. Read it and be encouraged. It begins with,
“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge
and my fortress, my God in whom I trust.”
Best wishes to Mandy and family as they look to new horizons and opportunities.
Be strong and of good courage.