“Do this,” Jesus said, “in remembrance of me”, and his friends thought he was talking about bread. But then, they already understood the more important part of the formula – the part that never seemed controversial until today.
Remembrance is the sacrament behind all sacraments, a mechanism by which God does for every man what he did only once, for all mankind. Israel was led out of captivity in Egypt just once, but the event is remembered in scripture more than 100 times, over many generations. Jesus was crucified once, but the event is remembered dozens of times throughout the New Testament.
Remembrance is at the heart of all human experience. We don’t leap off buildings, for example, and not merely because our previous flight ended badly. We don’t start the barbeque with dynamite just because that experiment had not yet been attempted in our neighborhood. We all know what will happen, even if it has never happened to us. We participate in a network of knowledge that spans continents and centuries.
And thus, two practices critical to humanity: First, that we remember things we have not experienced. Second, that we hand those memories on to those who come after us.
In our generation, both of these practices have come under attack, even inside the Church. We question the memories handed down by our fathers, though they have been preserved in scripture through 100 generations. We think orthodoxy a sign of weakness. Our views of sex and ethics and even scripture have evolved to harmonize with culture. We cull and retranslate and reinterpret, handing on what we think and not what we have been given.
Our nation is bent and perhaps broken because we have let fall the memories handed down through a mere 10 generations. We are quick to surrender what our fathers revered, bullied by those who despise what our fathers revered. Heroes whose images our grandfathers lifted into the sky are, in our generation, pulled down and shattered to rubble in the street.
When we choose to lay aside history or scripture, we do it in the name of progress, because we think the brightest light is still ahead. But – as the founders of this nation knew – the brightest light is not ahead. If we are to walk in the light, it will be light we have conserved through remembrance. The dispute between progressives and conservatives is always so. It’s not a question of optimism or political party. It’s a question of where to find light.
In 1863, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a day of prayer and fasting for a nation torn by civil war. “We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth, and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us… we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.”
And we – even in the Church – are forgetting God, neglecting the sacrament of remembrance. Our forgetting is a sacrilege, eroding our common ground and crippling those who come after. It is a moving of the boundary stone, a theft of the light God intended for each generation.
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“For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you…”
-I Corinthians 11:23
“My words which I have put in your mouth shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your offspring, nor from the mouth of your offspring’s offspring,” says the Lord, “from now and forever.”
“Only give heed to yourself and keep your soul diligently, so that you do not forget the things which your eyes have seen and they do not depart from your heart all the days of your life; but make them known to your sons and your grandsons.”