If we could list all the things we’ve forgotten, can you imagine how long that list would be? From where we put something, to when we were supposed to meet someone, to what we were supposed to do for someone, we forget, forget, forget. Forgetting must be one of the most dreadful consequences of sin. To have this brain, and yet have it act so insubordinately so often. To have this brain, and yet forget things we desperately want to remember.
Think of the various stages of forgetting. There’s that terror when you first realize you’ve forgotten something. Then you furiously comb through your memory banks. Then there’s the guilt. You must face what you’ve forgotten and then you have to confess your forgetfulness.
Now, for a moment, be the one forgotten by someone else. You wonder, “Have they forgotten our appointment?” You grant them a few minutes grace because you assume that they’re only running late. As the clock ticks and they don’t arrive, or no phone call or text comes begging pardon for being late, you begin to think, “They forgot.” Now it’s disappointment. Now anger. “Do they care for me that little? Do they respect me that little? Do they feel that little? What if I did this to them?”
Try to think of God as someone who forgets. It’s hard to do, because it’s so ingrained in our minds that God is all-knowing and all-seeing, in other words, all-remembering. And yet, we come across the word “remember” in the Bible, especially in the Old Testament, and many times the subject of that verb is “God,” as in, “God remembered.” It makes you stop and think. “How can God remember? It’s not as if He forgets.”
And He doesn’t. And yet. And yet think of Noah in the ark. That hand of God shut the door as the rains came down and then nothing for weeks, for months, for nearly half a year. Noah receives no more messages from the Lord. He sees the rain come, the waters rise, the mountains themselves disappear. He watches the animals get restless. He watches his family get restless. He gets restless. He fields the question, “Now what?” more times than he can count and replies, “Wait and see,” more often than he cares.
Think of Abraham begging the LORD to spare Sodom and Gomorrah. The LORD agrees to spare the cities for ten righteous people. Abraham passes a long night. He hears and sees nothing, no report from the Lord or His angels. The first news he gets is smoke in the distance.
Think of Israel laboring in slavery in Egypt. For four hundred years they toiled and died. For four hundred years the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob cried out to the Lord for help and mercy and salvation, for release from Pharaoh’s oppression, for the fulfillment of the promises God made to their long-ago fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And they’ve heard nothing.
Think of the barren wanting-to-be-a-mother, Hannah. Mocked by her rival wife, she begs the Lord in prayer for just one son. One. Sure, she hears the priest Eli say, “May the Lord grant you your prayer,” but how many priests and pastors haven’t said such a thing? What power do they have to grant it? None. If only the Lord would come and speak to her, “I will grant your request.”
Did God forget? Does God forget? We read the Scriptures and they say God doesn’t forget. But we also read the Scriptures and it most certainly seems like he does. And it’s not too hard for us to think of God as absent-minded and forgetful. Of course, that’s when we’re being charitable. More often we think of God as forsaking and ignoring, willfully ignorant. His silences are deafening. His failures are colossal. Where are his answers? Where are his interventions? Where is He?
What do you do when you want to remember something? You write it down, don’t you? I have my daily planner in which I make to-do lists and schedule events. We have calendars, iPads, smartphones and tablets. We use them to help us not forget. Writing something down reinforces in our minds what we want to remember. It also gives us something to look at later when we need it. “What do I have to do tomorrow?” “When was that doctor’s appointment?” “When is her birthday?”
We trust these record-keeping things. Sometimes they are all we have. Our brains fail us, but these written records saves us. And what about God? What about when I think He’s forgotten?
Those are dark and desperate times aren’t they? When God stands silent. When the pressure rises. When the answers aren’t forthcoming. When the waiting goes on. “Where are you God? What are you doing up there? Are you late? Are you on your way? Have you forgotten? What’s your plan?” He won’t even give us a hint, it seems!
No. He remembers. God always remembers. The flood stopped. The ark came to rest. Noah and his family came forth. The smoke rose from Sodom and Gomorrah, but Lot and his daughters God rescued. God raised up Moses and behind Moses Israel marched out of Egypt. God heard the prayer of Hannah and soon she bore a son, Samuel. More than that, God remembers you.
In a verse from psalm 98, assigned as the verse for today, the Holy Spirit lays bare God’s arm: “He has remembered his love, and his faithfulness to the house of Israel; all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God”. God remembered His holy covenant, His promises and guarantees. All those centuries of waiting came to an end when the time had fully come. God sent His Son. God redeemed us whom the law condemned. God made us no longer slaves but sons through the sacrifice of His very own Son into death for us. God rescued us from our enemies so that we can stand before Him all our days. He remembered!
And wrote it down. God recorded it all on one vast canvass for us to look to whenever we’re searching for that thing we’ve forgotten, or which we think God has forgotten: His love. A love that caused Him, as Hebrews said today, not merely to smile upon us favorably, to say, “I feel for those people,” but a love that desired to bring sons to glory, a love that desired to save and rescue, a love that desired to set apart and make holy His children. A love that caused God to share our humanity, and not just share it, but go to the very bottom of it. The author of our salvation suffered. He shared our flesh and blood so that He could suffer temptation, and then suffer death. As our brother. Among us. With us. For us. Instead of us: “so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death, that is, the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death…that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.”
And not as some untouchable, impassive, unfeeling sub-human. Rather, as completely human, as completely our brother. “Because He himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” He knows. He knows not just death, but life. He knows the “forgetfulness” and forsakenness of God. He knows the trials of a world that the devil rules as prince. He knows the agony of death. He knows the futility of being faithful and merciful in a world that seems to know nothing of faith and mercy. And yet he can and is able to help. And willing. He became our brother to suffer for us.
In this way our God, our Father reminds us: “I remember. I remember my promises, big and small. I act. I carry out. I do things. For you. Always for you.” God gives our faith something to hold on to. He gives us His Word. He gives us His promises. He says, “I kept the big one. I gave My own Son into death for your sins. I raised Him up from the dead. I destroyed the devil and his tool: death. Always remember that, and you’ll know that I never forget a thing. I always do something.” That’s the essence of the Sacrament you receive again today and tomorrow and the next day. God says, “I did it. For you. Here’s the flesh and blood of the Son I sent. For you.” God causes you, in a sense, forces you to remember, as Jesus said: “Do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me. For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim” – remember, and more than remember, receive – “the Lord’s death until He comes again.”
In the darkest nights of despair, when faith ebbs, when that voice asks, “Did God forget?” Turn to the Word that says, “He remembers.” Turn to the Word that shows you Christ tempted, Christ crucified, Christ risen, Christ ascended, Christ ruling on the throne of heaven. Turn to the Word and in confidence say to God, “Remember me,” knowing full well that He does. Knowing full well that our God said to a dying thief once in answer to a request to be remembered, “Today you’ll be with me in Paradise.” Because when God makes resolutions, God keeps resolutions. Amen.