As the ancient Israelites prepared to enter the Promised Land, following their remarkable forty year trek, the book of Deuteronomy records:
Ask now about the former days, long before your time, from the day God created human beings on the earth; ask from one end of the heavens to the other. Has anything so great as this ever happened, or has anything like it ever been heard of? (Deuteronomy 4:32)
In the course of my now more than half century of life, one of the things I’ve noticed is the difficulty I sometimes experience in bringing to mind how I’ve survived past crises—especially when I'm in the middle of a new one. I believe that part of the reason for that has been my failure to rehearse the past events. Time erodes memories, both good and bad. I find that if I can force myself to think about past problems and how they turned out, it helps me put current difficulties into perspective.
In reading through the Bible, one of the things I’ve noticed is its repeated call to remembrance. Jesus commanded his disciples to perform the ceremony of the Lord’s supper regularly until he returned, so that they would remember him (see 1 Corinthians 11:24-25). The ancient Jewish people, and their modern descendants, regularly celebrate holidays that are designed to bring to mind what God did for them in the past: Passover is celebrated annually to recall how God rescued them from slavery in Egypt. There is the Festival of Booths—Succoth—to remember the years of wandering in the wilderness and God’s provision during that time. There is the Day of Atonement, reminding them of sins and the gift of forgiveness.
Today, some churches follow a liturgical calendar, with days set aside for various celebrations. For instance, Lutherans celebrate Reformation Day in October to commemorate Luther’s stand for key doctrines: salvation by faith, Scripture as the sole authority for faith and practice, and the priesthood of all believers. All Christians, regardless of whether they are liturgical or not, celebrate Easter and Christmas each year, remembering Jesus’ birth and resurrection.
Those things that we do not rehearse in our minds we will forget. I remember my phone number and the times table because I was forced to memorize them, by repeating them over and over again in my head—and because I still need to use the information on a nearly daily basis. But other things I have learned are fading away, such as many of the details of Russian history from a college course I once took, and the names of coworkers on a kibbutz in Israel I labored on more than three decades ago. I’ve forgotten most of the faces of my friends in high school. Separated by decades, we can’t help but lose touch with those we once counted as our dearest companions. If forced to attend a high school reunion, I’d be staring at name badges, hoping to jog my mind to recall those I once knew well.
The concept of the synagogue was developed by the ancient Israelites following the Babylonian captivity. By coming together regularly each week, rather than just on the occasional annual holiday, the Jewish people hoped to better remember God and their relationship with him. Their intention was to prevent the nation from ever again falling away from God.
The early Christians adapted this same Jewish synagogue system as they established churches. Ever since, the followers of Jesus meet together every week to remember their relationship with God and with one another. We’d do well to recall not only the great works of God as recounted in the Bible, but also his great works in each of our lives. Otherwise it is too easy to forget, with the passage of time, just what God did for us during yesterday’s disaster, so we can find comfort in today’s frustrations, however great or small.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus told his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” But just before he told them that, he explained, “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (John 14:26-27)
There is a need in the human mind for reminding. As a theologian and a Christian, I believe that it is important for us to remember what has gone before: the lessons we learned in the past, the times we stood astride mountains, the valleys we walked, the rivers that overwhelmed.
Don’t let your faith weaken by forgetfulness. Recount the good times you’ve had with God, as if you were recounting old high school memories with your chums. Remember the dark times that you survived. Do it regularly, and do it before the next crisis hits.