Exodus 3:1-15, I Cor. 10:1-13, Luke 13:1-9
“I am who I am. I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.”
This, the great climax of that wonderful story of Moses and the Burning Bush. Poor Moses, hiding his face in sheer terror from the God who now calls to him out of the bush. The God who now reveals to Moses his sacred identity: God’s NAME. In Hebrew, four letters, the Tetragrammaton, YHWH, “Jehovah” – so holy that their true meaning is unknown, and many will never pronounce them.
They are often translated “I AM who I AM.” I AM the one, the eternal I AM. But God is clear: My name is to be remembered from generation to generation.
I want to talk this morning about remembering. The command to remember is one of the most important themes running through both the Old and New Testaments. Yet it is not easy for us to understand what the Bible means by remembering because it is very different from what we usually understand it to mean.
“Do you remember last Christmas?” “Do you remember that restaurant we went to last week?” We think of remembering as simply recalling something that happened in the past. But in the Bible, remembering has the full semitic sense of recalling in such a way that the event of the past is actually made present once again. This sense of remembrance is all but untranslatable into English. But it is fundamental to understanding God’s actions throughout scripture.
Remember the Lord your God. Rememberthe marvels he has done. Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. Remember that you are but dust and to dust you shall return. Don’t just call them to mind, but by remembering, call on their power, that you too may experience now God’s marvels, God’s holiness, God’s power to raise you up from the dust and ashes of death.
To remember in this way is really to literally re-member, in the way that a surgeon may put a broken body together again. What was in the past has taken form and has become fully and powerfully present now.
I had one of the most precious and wonderful experiences of this some years ago. My father had had a stroke and he was dying. I managed to fly home and by the grace of God saw my father just a few hours before he died. I sat with him and I didn’t think he knew who I was. But at one point his eyes rested on me. I said, “Dad, do you know who I am?” After some time, staring at me, he said, “Geoffrey Robert.” After saying my name his whole being seemed to be radiant and he smiled broadly, and I knew that at that moment the whole of me, from my birth onwards, had suddenly become present to him – and he had become present to me. I felt an incredibly close and intimate connection.
I think when God says, “This is my name, and this is how I am to be remembered throughout all generations,” it’s something like that. God longs to be so present to us, that God’s life irradiates our own.
And this biblical understanding of remembrance parallels the New Testament as well. So when Mary cries out in joy in the Magnificat to the Lord “who has remembered his promise of mercy to Abraham and his children forever,” it is not that God had forgotten for a while, and then remembered again. It is rather that in the act of remembering, that promise becomes fully present in the child in Mary’s womb.
And perhaps the most mysterious yet wonderful place where God’s remembrance is made powerfully present is in the Eucharist, which we celebrate today.
“On the night he was handed over to suffering and death, our Lord Jesus Christ took bread, gave thanks, broke it and gave it to his disciples and said, ‘Take, eat, this is my Body which is given for you. Do this for the remembrance of me.” The Greek word used here for ‘remembrance’ is the word anamnesis. In the Church of England prayer book, the phrase is translated, “Do this in remembrance of me.” The American prayer book’s translation, “Do this for the remembrance of me,” although it is slightly clumsy English, is actually a better, more literal translation of the Greek eis ten anamnesin, and I think helps remind us of the special semitic meaning of the kind of remembrance going on here. At the Eucharist, we are not simply recalling, or calling to mind an event that happened two thousand years ago. When we say these words, a true re-membering is happening. God’s saving deeds in Christ are being made present, so that the fullness and power of those deeds of the past – Christ’s life and death and resurrection and ascension – take effect in our lives here and now. In the sacrament of bread and wine, the Lord is truly and really present in all his strength and power, and we receive him into ourselves. We are irradiated by the real presence of the Lord.
“Do this for the remembrance of me.”
But if to remember in this full biblical sense is so incredibly powerful, imagine what the opposite would be: NOTto remember. In Jeremiah 31:31, God says these words: “The days are surely coming when I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sins no more!” Amazing words of grace! For if to remember in the biblical sense is to make something truly present and real, then not to remember is to truly and really take something away, so that it is no longer real or present.
The Good News of the Gospel is precisely that. Because of what Jesus Christ wrought for us on the Cross, God will remember our sins no more. It’s not that God is “forgetting” or pretending he never knew – but rather that God, through love and mercy, chooses not to remember: those sins are taken away, removed, no longer present.
I wonder if you may have something in your life, some sin, some action of which you are ashamed and which you keep remembering, replaying, going over again and again. Maybe God is longing to reassure you that God remembers your sin no more, and you should stop remembering it as well. You may not be able to forget, but you can stop remembering and trust God’s word.
And what about your relationship with others? That person who has hurt you terribly. “I’ll never forget what you did to me!” No, you can’t forget it ever happened, but you can— and I believe, to be set free, you must— choose not to remember – not to constantly re-enact, “make real” the offence, so that it is an ever-present reality and 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 those words again: “This is my body, this is my blood. Do this for the remembrance of me.” As we remember, Jesus will be made real for us. When you receive his body and blood, you will truly be receiving his power and his strength, wonderfully present to us.
In that power, in that strength, offer to God the burden of sin which you may be carrying, and hear again those gracious words of forgiveness: “I will 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 your sins no more.”
And there will be rejoicing in heaven – in the glorious Name of our loving, holy and gracious God, whom we remember, and will continue to remember, throughout all generations.
Many of you know that I was born and raised in a town on the Virginia/Tennessee border right where the Blue Ridge Mountains meet the great Smokey Mountains. Among my favorite aspects of the region I come from, besides its stunning beauty, are the smells. Because it is a rural setting, agriculture plays a prominent role in the region’s economy. The mountain air, especially in the springtime, is clean and scented with the aroma of freshly cut Tennessee sweet-grass which is oftenmixed with the pungent smell of cow manure being turned into the soil for fertilization. It may seem odd to wax nostalgic about the smell of grass and manure, but since it’s an odor that you experience in Appalachia with regularity, you lose the notion of its peculiarity and begin to experience it as a sign of joys of the approaching summertime: Such as the delicious food that will soon accompany Sunday dinners and weekend cookouts;-+ Homemade green bean casserole, summer squash gratin, hamburgers garnished with homegrown tomatoes and paired with grilled corn on the cob that tastes as sweet as sugar. Are you hungry yet?