Memorial Day weekend is always an interesting and somewhat confusing one for me. I am extremely grateful for the life I am free to live. I am for witnessing to Jesus’ peace in the world in a manner that is international. I have a grandson in the military whom I respect very much, and for whose physical, emotional, mental, and relational safety I pray for regularly. There is no need to pray for him to have courage; he is loaded with it.
I was, however, very much against invading Iraq and Afghanistan from the beginning, not just because I knew Iraqi Christians would be decimated, but also on pragmatic grounds as a US citizen. And, in addition to “remembering” how blessed I am to be living the life I am graced with as an American citizen, I also “remember” how many Indians, Mexicans, Asians, and Africans were slaughtered or enslaved as a part of how I received the land I live on.
So, remembering can be confusing to me, and Memorial Day brings it all out in powerful ways.
But, one thing is not confusing to me: I want us to be “remembered” by God, and I want to “remember” what God did for us through Jesus. To understand the depth of what such a statement means, we need to push ourselves back toward a less abstract meaning of “remember” than tends to flow from our current usage of the word. In Biblical language, “remembering” was not just a mental act; it was also the initiation of a behavioral response. This is true when it is used of God’s “remembering:”
Genesis 8:1 “But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and all the domestic animals that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided….”
Exodus 6:5-8 “I have also heard the groaning of the Israelites whom the Egyptians are holding as slaves, and I have remembered my covenant. 6Say therefore to the Israelites, ‘I am the LORD, and I will free you from the burdens of the Egyptians and deliver you from slavery to them. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. 7I will take you as my people, and I will be your God. You shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has freed you from the burdens of the Egyptians. 8I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; I will give it to you for a possession. I am the LORD.’”
The same is true when “remembering” is asked of us humans in our responses to God and to other humans:
Exodus 20:8 & Deuteronomy 5:15 – “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy” was not a commandment to give mental assent to the fact that it was Saturday again. It was a demand that people act differently each time that day of the week rolled around.
Deuteronomy constantly uses the phrase “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt,” and each time it is a reminder that we should act positively toward God and other humans – even illegal aliens and the poor.
And, when God brings history to its goal in God’s great age to come, all nations will not just give mental assent to the fact that there is a God, but will begin to behave like it.
Psalm 22:25-28 “From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows
I will pay before those who fear him. 26 The poor shall eat and be satisfied;
those who seek him shall praise the LORD. May your hearts live forever!
27 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him. 28 For dominion belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations.”
So, for those of you who attend church and share in the Communion/Eucharist; perhaps you can hear the “memorial day” words of Jesus a bit differently next time: “This is my body broken for you, do this remembering me….” “This is my life-blood given for you, drink this remembering me….”
What if we leave the table, not just with a mental assent to the fact that Jesus was executed, but with a decision to behave like someone who is loved so much that a loving friend gave his life so that you could have more grace, mercy, blessings, peace, and life?