At the Heart of Life is Memory
After my father died I enjoyed many evenings sitting at the table after dinner with my mother talking about people: family, friends, neighbors, coworkers and shared experiences. My mother was blessed with a very happy childhood and loved to reminisce about her siblings and parents. I treasure those stories and only wish I’d asked more questions. My father’s childhood was not a particularly happy one but it was filled with interesting characters I loved hearing about. Though my parents are gone these stories and shared memories bind us together beyond the grave. I have, of course, my own repertoire of stories from my increasingly long and happy life and enjoy sharing them with my children. In time I hope to pass them on to my grandchildren.
Shared memories bond and bind families together.
The Church is the family super-naturalized. As I never tire of pointing out, to be a Christian means to be an adopted child of the God and Father of our beloved Brother and Lord Jesus Christ. And remembering is essential to our super-natural family of God in Christ. To begin with, it is essential to remember who we are. “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are…Beloved, we are God’s children now” (1 John 3:1-2). It is imperative to remember how we became children of God.
Israel was created by God to be His own people and the bearer of His covenants and law, and so God commanded Israel to remember for she could only be His people if she did so.
“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy…..For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day and hallowed it” (Exodus 20:8). In Deuteronomy 5 we find a different but complimentary reason given for observing the sabbath day. On the sabbath day, “You shall remember that you were a servant in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out thence with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.”
Every seventh day an observant Jew is to stop all that he’s doing and remember that God created all things and that he created Israel through the Exodus from Egypt and the subsequent giving of the covenant Law.
In many ways, the entire Old Testament is a continual recitation of the mighty acts of God, a never ending act of remembering. And when Israel forgot it fell into idolatry and every evil. The prophets were sent by the Lord to remind Israel of her vocation, to call Israel to remember. An observant Jew is one who remembers who the Lord is and what the Lord has done.
The sabbath is Saturday but Christians from the beginning have gathered on Sunday, the Lord’s Day, to remember the New Creation and the Exodus of Christ, not through the Red Sea but through death. Our Lord Jesus Christ is the final Moses, the One Moses himself anticipated. And Christ leads all who will follow him through death to the Kingdom of God, the true and eternal Promised Land. For here on earth, the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us, we have no lasting city but seek the city which is to come. Thus, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in remembrance of me.” The Church is constituted and bonded by memory. Every Sunday we listen to the stories of God and his people from the creation, in the book of Genesis, to the consummation of all things in the Revelation to St. John. We then celebrate the Eucharist, which is the sacramental presence of our Lord’s death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead. To commune is to become one body with him in his death and receive a share in his resurrection and ascension to the right hand of the Father.
The problem we face (and the reason I have written this response), is summed up concisely by Anthony Esolen, a devout Christian and professor of English in his book, Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture. “Modernity is all too often a cult of erasure and oblivion.” He adds this observation, so true but so forgotten, “When the monks of the Rule of St. Benedict built their monasteries across Europe, planting them even in the dark pagan forests of northern Germany and Ireland and England, they were outposts of memory.” The monks remembered the pagan as well as the Christian past – and this is our God-given task as well. In another place Professor Esolen has declared, “Academe has largely become an institution devoted to the destruction of cultural memory.” He’s in a position to know.
Today we live in the presence of an unrelenting assault on the past, vilified as the haunt of every evil from which we must be liberated in order to enter the sought after but never achieved heaven on earth. In order to achieve this never before seen perfect world the past must be obliterated. The Chinese Communist Cultural Revolution of 1966 to 1976 declared the agenda openly when it stated that a goal of the Cultural Revolution was the absolute destruction of the “Four Olds”: Old Customs, Old Culture, Old Habits, and Old Ideas. Moa is dead but the cultural revolution known as Modernity continues everywhere warring against the Four Olds. This includes warring against our ancient Christian faith and culture and all the memories that are carried with it. In tenacious and insidious ways we are exhorted to forget.
Nevertheless, God calls us to remember. We are called to remember all that He has done and taught and all that He is doing and has promised to do. The Bible and liturgy and sacraments are the foundation of our Christian life and culture. They are the source of our collective memory in God. To forget all they teach is to forget ourselves and lose ourselves.
The Kingdom is for those who remember.
This article was written by Fr. Ivor Kraft and was published in the 2017 Spring Messenger.
Photo: Miriam’s Song; Samuel Hirszenberg; Late 19th / early 20th century; stmbts.com/2lGcAqJ; Depicting Exodus 15:19-21.