Never Forget: Celebrating the Memorial of Our Redemption

This week, more than any other week in America, we are reminded to “never forget.” […]

Sam Bush / 9.10.19

This week, more than any other week in America, we are reminded to “never forget.” While those words convey a broad message, they somehow recall a set of very specific images: a passenger plane flying into the South Tower; a firefighter climbing a crowded staircase; a man, upside down, in free fall. If you were of age on September 11th, 2001, chances are you remember exactly where you were when you heard the news. Images of a helter-skelter school meeting and a classmate telling me that the world was ending hold a distinct place in my mind.

Eighteen years after the tragedy of September 11th this call to remember is still one of the more popular bumper stickers on the road. While the cause is noble and good, I have to admit that my inner cynic scoffs at the idea that we could possibly remember such a day, no matter how infamous, forever. Surely people vowed to never forget Pearl Harbor, but how could the following generations hold on to a memory they never had? While December 7 has embedded itself in the national calendar, it tends to come and go each year without its due reverence; and September 11 seems to be following suit.

As humans, it is in our nature to forget. This is why the demand to never forget is an unattainable law. The reason history repeats itself (both in the world and in one’s personal life) is because people simply aren’t very good at remembering things. It’s hard to remember someone’s name or what we had for lunch yesterday, let alone remember each loved one’s birthday and yearly observance.

The oh-so-clever Billy Collins reflects on enjoying a good book, but not being able to hold on to the experience in his poem, “Forgetfulness”: “The name of the author is the first to go, followed obediently by the title, the plot, the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel which suddenly becomes one you have never read, never even heard of.” Preach it, Billy. As an English major, I feel more than a little pressure to prove myself by remembering the books I’ve read. The other day, someone was talking about Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. I told them that I loved that novel, that I remember feeling deeply moved by it in high school, but could I actually remember the specifics of what it’s about? Not really (I remember there being a monster). These moments happen more often than I’d like to admit. Recently, I read a Robert Capon interview in a magazine and was dumbstruck by the man’s ability to articulate the gospel so well. I thought to myself, “I need to read this interview every morning for the rest of my life. In fact, I need to read it every hour on the hour so it can remind me of what I believe.” Truth be told: I haven’t read the interview since and I completely forget what it says.

Sometimes, you might experience the gospel as forgotten good news. One Sunday morning, you hear that Jesus actually loves you, that God is gracious, and that your sins are forgiven. This news penetrates your heart somehow and it brings you peace for, let’s say, four minutes before you’re beset by your anxieties again. Or maybe you get in a fight with your spouse later that night, leaving you a little shaken up. This contradiction — between what you believe and what you experience — might cause you to wonder if you can trust that feeling of relief you had in church just hours before. It seems people will often become Christians and, because their life doesn’t necessarily improve post-conversion, they doubt whether or not their newfound faith was ever real. This is why our hope and salvation is not hinged upon our experience but our newfound identity in Jesus Christ. Through the substitutionary atonement that happened on the cross, we find that our experience and our identity are actually two different things.

The structure of our church service is mercifully built upon the act of remembrance because of our unfailing tendency to forget. Every week, we take the Body and the Blood as the “memorial of our redemption.” We do not consume it as a one-time cure-all, but we receive it as routine nourishment. And, as we receive it, the one thing Jesus charges us to do is to remember. “Don’t forget that I love you,” he says. Of course, we will forget, but rest assured we’ll be reminded again and again and again. What does this mean for you? Well, if you happen to have a terrible memory — if you’re constantly saying to people, “I’m so sorry, what is your name again?” — this will come as a relief. While we are forgetful, God is faithful and He is patient in our inattention. “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?” He asks. “Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands,” says the Lord (Isaiah 49). What God has written on His palms, you see, cannot be erased or forgotten. It — your name — is there to stay.

O heavenly Father, in whom we live and move and have our being: We humbly pray thee so to guide and govern us by thy Holy Spirit, that in all the cares and occupations of our life we may not forget thee, but may remember that we are ever walking in thy sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.