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The Christian Memory

Today Americans take time to remember the horrible events of Sept. 11th, 2001. It is well we should. National memory of formative events, positive and negative, are important for the health of a people. The act of remembering can serve to remind us of core values or to stir us to action or vigilance. Soldiers were rallied to war by calls to ‘remember the Alamo’ or ‘remember the Maine.’ The terrorist attacks of 9/11 are seared into the memory of those who can remember where they were when they heard the first reports. Some of us had a personal connection (my next-door dorm mate in college was on one of the doomed planes.) Some saw fortunes ruined. Nobody was entirely unaffected. Yet even now the memories are beginning to fade. Each year’s public commemoration seems less impressive than the year before. I talk to teenagers who have no living memory of that day. My children will only know of it second-hand. While it is unlikely that the day will ever be entirely forgotten, eventually the calls to remember will go largely unheeded and the effectiveness of that day as a rallying cry will be negligible. As we forget that price that was paid, we become unwilling to pay the price ourselves. Forgetfulness always seems to coincide with a decline in or neglect of those values that make us who we are. But if memory is important in our civic lives, how much more so in our spiritual lives?

This Sunday we will partake of the Lord’s Supper together. It is, among other things, an act of collective memory – ‘do this in remembrance of me.” Prompts to remember, even ritualistic ones such as communion, serve an important function in our Christian lives. A crucial element of our faith is our recollection of what God has done for us. That is why God consistently reminded the people of Israel of how he had delivered them.The law called for memorial offerings and the erecting of memorial stones. The people of God were not told to observe the sabbath day, but to “remember it.” Memory was institutionalized in Jewish holidays such as Passover, which calls to mind the deliverance from Egyptian captivity or the Feast of Booths, commemorating the provision of God in the wilderness. Faith makes most sense in the context of memory. Christ expected His disciples to trust Him not only for who He was, but for what they had seen Him do. We are prone to forget – and amnesia, which so often brought the people of God to grief, is lethal to our lives of faith.

Christian acts of memory are active not passive. The memory of God’s work for us in Christ is both an action and a call to action. As often as we take of the bread and the cup, we “proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” It is also, as Paul reminds us, “a participation in the body and blood of Christ.” The act of partaking of the elements reminds us that we are participants in the sufferings of Christ as we take up our crosses and follow Him. In remembering the price that was paid, we are willing ourselves to pay the price that is expected of us as followers of Christ. Collective memorials not only connect us to the past, but commit us to a common future. Remembering the work of God for us in the past strengthens our confidence in that most glorious hope – eternity in His presence.

Pastor Brent Whitefield