Geoffrey Tristram, SSJE
March 14, 2004*
God said to Moses, “I am who I am. I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. This is my name for ever, and thus am I to be remembered throughout all generations.” (Genesis 3: 1-15 R.S.V.)
Remember! This is one of the strongest exhortations, running throughout both the Old Testament (and the New).
“Remember the Lord your God: remember the marvels he has done. Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. Remember that you are but dust, and to dust you shall return.”
But to remember in the Biblical sense is very different from what we usually mean by remembering. “I can't remember your name - I'm trying to remember what time we are having the meeting.” Remembering in this sense is really recalling - calling to mind. . .and it tends to get more difficult as we get older!
When he Bible talks about remembering it means something quite different. Listen to this from Psalm 20 “Some put their trust in chariots and horses - but we will remember the name of the Lord our God.” Remembering God here is to do with bringing his power and strength into a situation - in a sense, to make God REAL.
In fact the Semitic or Hebrew concept of remembrance is all but untranslatable into English. When we remember a person or deed from the past we call to mind someone or something that remains in the past. But for the Semitic mind to remember is a more objective act in which a person or event commemorated is actually made present, really brought into the here and now.
And that Semitic understanding of remembrance pervades the New Testament, where the concept is translated by the Greek work anamnesis . So that in the Magnificat, Mary cries out in joy to the Lord who has “remembered his promise of mercy: the promise he made to our fathers, to Abraham and his children for ever.” It is not that God had forgotten for a while, and then says ‘Oh, I remember now my promise of mercy.' No, rather, he remembers his promise by sending Jesus - for in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus that promise is made real.
So when the thief says to Jesus on the cross, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom” he is asking for the reality of salvation, to be really present with Christ in his kingdom.
And, of course, at the very heart of our worship week by week, we gather together to hear again these words, “Take, eat, this is my body which is given for you. Do this for the remembrance of me.” In the Church of England prayer book the words are ‘in remembrance of me.” But the American “for the remembrance of me,” although it is slightly clumsy English, is actually a more literal translation of the Greek. And I think that reminds us of the special Semitic meanings of these words. We are not reminding ourselves of a person who has lived in the past - not just recalling an event 2,000 years ago. In these words of the Holy Communion, our Lord becomes real and truly present. Here, and now. The Lord is here. In the sacrament of bread and wine we encounter the REAL presence of Jesus Christ. We truly receive his life and strength.
Do this for the remembrance of me - it's not “hang on to some ever-fading memory of Jesus, which gets sadly dimmer as the years go by - no, it is the Lord truly and really present in all his strength and power.
But there is more. Listen to these words – Jeremiah Ch. 31 verses 31-34 - some of the most wonderful words in all of Scripture - in many ways the climax of Jeremiah's prophetic message, and used as a key text in the Letter to the Hebrews.
“I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.”
These are extraordinary words. For if to remember in the Semitic, Hebrew sense, is to make something truly present and real, then NOT to remember is to take something away, so that it is no longer real or present.
So when God says to us in Jesus Christ that I will remember your sin no more, this is Good News. When God says “I will remember your sin no more” it's not about him forgetting, pretending he never knew - it's the full-blown Semitic sense of taking it away, removing it, stopping it being a barrier. That is forgiveness. That is the great gift brought to us by our Lord on the Cross, and which we have appropriated through our baptism.
‘O Lamb of God you take away the sins of the world.
O Lamb of God you no longer remember the sin of the world.'
And the same God can transform our relationship with each other - especially toward those who have hurt us, sinned against us.
“I can never forget what he did to me.” Of course you can't. You can't blot it out of your memory, you can't deliberately forget something.
But you can choose not to remember in the Biblical Semitic sense. In forgiving another, you can choose not to re-member - not to make that injury ever present, a continual barrier to your relationship. You can choose not to remember, even if you cannot forget.
This challenges us, I believe, to hear again the Gospel - the Good News.
In your relationship with God, do you really believe that you are a forgiven person? What would it be like if you really believed these words “I will forgive your iniquity, and I will remember your sins no more.” God wills and longs not to remember. We need just to believe it - it can set us free.
And what about that person who we cannot forgive, and because we can't forgive them we can't be free. “But I just can't forgive and forget.” No - you can't forget in the sense you can't forget it ever happened - but you can, to be free - you can choose not to remember - not to constantly reenact, make real the offense, so that it is a perpetual barrier and blockage.
“Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who have sinned against us.”
“Remember our sins no more, as we no longer remember the sins of those who have sinned against us.”
In a few minutes we will hear these words again, “This is my body; this is my blood. Do this for the remembrance of me.” Jesus Christ will be made real for us. When you receive his Body and Blood, you will truly be receiving his power and strength.
In that power, in that strength, offer to God the burden of sins which weigh you down, and hear again the gracious words of forgiveness - “I remember your sins no more.”
Then offer to God that person whom you find it hard to forgive, and ask for the grace to be able to say about them, “I will remember their sin no more.” And may you know the freedom and joy of the children of God.