I am forgetful. I have often been called scatter-brained, up-in-the-clouds, or distracted. I have gone to the grocery store for soup ingredients and forgotten broth. I have made a Thanksgiving pumpkin pie without sugar. I have missed meetings, due dates, and birthdays. Just a few weeks ago I went to a bachelorette party without the bride’s gifts.
But these are not the most important things that I forget. Just last week, I had to force myself to remember all that I had accomplished this year through God’s grace. I was shaken by self-doubt and fear. I had forgotten how God had said I was loved and looked after. I had forgotten how God had brought me to the alter to say “I do” to my husband and then to the top of Pike’s Peak in Colorado Springs where my breaths were short but where I spoke a “thank you” prayer to my Savior. I forgot that God’s grace never runs out just because the glass seems so full. God’s love is not selfish or stingy–it overflows.
So much of my fear comes from forgetfulness. This is nothing new to God. All over scripture we hear the words “remember” spoken to God’s people.
Several times in Deuteronomy the fearful Israelites are implored to remember what God did for them:
“Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day” (5:15).
I counted ten times in Deuteronomy where the Israelites were compelled to remember that God had freed them. They were even given visible signs as reminders, such as the bread without yeast that represented their leaving Egypt in haste. The writer would not have written these reminders so often unless he knew the forgetfulness of the people–and they certainly showed their forgetfulness whenever they complained or built idols or even desired to return to Egypt!
The disciples are also accused of being forgetful. Not long after Jesus feeds crowds of thousands, he overhears the disciples worrying over not having any bread. Jesus says to them, “You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered?” (Matthew 16:8-10).
Their forgetfulness is also shown in their own surprise whenever Jesus performs a miracle. They seem to forget the power of the one they follow!
Something happens, though, after Jesus is raised from the dead. Several times, the Gospels tell us that the disciples remembered what Jesus had told them. John 2:21-23 says, “After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.” In light of the death and resurrection, what they only partly understood before became totally clear to them.
One of my favorite stories about remembering is from Luke 24. After Jesus is raised from the dead, he walks alongside two disciples who are mourning his death–and it says they were “kept from recognizing him.” It is unclear why Jesus is unrecognizable. It is clear, though, that these disciples are grieved and convinced of Jesus’s failure. They spend the whole day with him and invite him over to break bread with them. Luke writes that Jesus “took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them” (30). Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. Then poof–Jesus is gone. I always laugh when I think about the stunned disciples staring into empty space and asking each other, “You saw that too, right?”
I love the image of their eyes being opened as the bread was broken because that is exactly what Jesus said should happen whenever we take communion together. During the Last Supper, Jesus “took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). Notice the similarities in even the sentence structure of Luke’s word in both stories. The story after Jesus has resurrected recalls this last supper, and it is during this recalling that the disciples do remember Jesus.
Every time we take bread in communion, we are accepting the call to remember the cross–to recognize Jesus as he was and as he is today.
We are not alone in our struggle to remember. We have the Holy Spirit.
In John 14:26, Jesus tells the Disciples: “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.”
Whenever I am forgetful, the Holy Spirit pulls me back into remembrance. But the Spirit usually doesn’t tell me things I don’t know. Jesus did promise that the Spirit would teach “all things.” But he also promised that it would “remind you of everything I have said to you.” For us to be reminded of what Jesus said, we must know what he said. We have to get in the Word and know what it says for us to be reminded of its truth. Sometimes, a passage in scripture will mean nothing to us until we recall it in a particular moment of need. That is why we say the Word is living and active (Hebrews 4:12).
For me, it is also necessary that others remind me of the truth, and that I remind them as well. Once, when I was having bad anxiety, Jon told me to go to the bedroom, lie down, and pray. In that moment, Jon knew that he alone was not capable of making me feel better. Instead, he directed me to God.
This is why we go to Church every week, and why the service I go to offers communion every Sunday. We go to remember our salvation. We go to remind each other that they are loved by God. While we have the Spirit, we also have to do some work here. We have to actively pursue these truths like we pursue anything else that matters to us.
There is one more glorious truth that gives me rest (when I remember it).
God remember us.
As often as Scripture tells God’s wandering peoples to remember, it says that God remembered them. 1 Chronicles 16:14-16 is just one example: “He remember his covenant forever, / the promise he made, for a thousand generations, / the covenant he made with Abraham, / the oath he swore to Isaac.”
God’s covenant did not rely on the faithfulness of the people but on God’s faithfulness.
When we don’t remember God, God remembers us.