I have been thinking a lot lately about what it means to remember. The season of Autumn seems to do that to me. When the leaves change, and the days and nights grow colder, I am drawn toward a reflective mood, to thinking about what has been as another calendar accelerates towards its end. As the days grow shorter and the nights grow longer, I am prone to times of contemplation – remembering the days, and weeks, and months that have come and gone.
Some of those remembrances bring joy. Others, sadness.
In our lives, there are so many things that we remember. We remember dates. We remember times. We remember places. We remember experiences. We remember good things — and the not so good. We remember names and faces. We remember people.
When a child leaves for school in the morning, remember your lunch. When an appointment with a colleague has been set, remember to bring the notes from our last meeting. When a coffee conversation has been arranged with a friend, remember to meet me at Uptown. When reflecting upon a bygone era, remember that time. When thinking about a loved one who has died, remember when, or remember how, or, just plain … remember.
Sometimes our bouts of remembering are planned, intentional. We remember on purpose, and other times, experiences of remembrance come upon us like a wave suddenly rising on the shore. We walk through the grocery store, and the scent of freshly made donuts rising from the bakery takes us back to a childhood experience, and we unexpectedly remember a moment or person long since gone.
As I have thought about remembering in these recent days, I have done what is a habit, a reflex for me. I have turned to the Christian scriptures to see what they have to say about remembering.
In the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, the word remember occurs 286 times. Some of these occurrences reference times that God’s people have remembered the past. Others of these times are a call for God’s people to remember something specific about their experiences, their faith, or God’s work in their lives. Others speak of God remembering, and still others are a plea from God’s people, to God, that God will remember them.
In this season of remembering for me, one verse in particular comes to mind: Psalm 25.7 says “Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness’ sake, O Lord!” Here, the Psalmist asks that God will not remember his wrongdoings, but instead that God will remember him. The Psalmist asks that God will remember the person — but not the failings, shortcomings, or offenses of the person.
Another way to put it is this: Remember me, dear God, but please do not remember what I have done. I wonder how often in our lives we have had such thoughts? Please do not remember the ways that I have failed, or fallen short, or disappointed, or not done what I was supposed to have done. If, after all, God remembers our failures, what will God think of us? What hope is there for us? What will become of us?
As people of the Christian faith, we believe that God in Jesus, in holy and unconditional generosity, has taken our sins away, freed us from bondage to sin. We believe that Jesus has borne all our sins upon himself – all our failures, all our brokenness, all our offenses, all that would separate us from God.
Therefore when God remembers, God remembers Jesus. God remembers God’s love for us. God remembers that God has claimed us and named us as God’s beloved children. God remembers that we — sins covered in grace and washed away in mercy — we, belong to God.
Psalm 103 says it best:
The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always accuse,
nor will he keep his anger for ever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love towards those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far he removes our transgressions from us.
November 1 is a day each year on which those of us who are Christian think particularly about what it means that God remembers us, and remembers our sin no more. November 1 is All Saints Day. It is a day on which we remember that because of Jesus, God will cast our sins away – but not cast us away. Because of Jesus, God remembers us – not our failures, not our shortcomings, not our disappointments.
Because of this, we remember those who have died with hope. We remember those who have died, and we sing Alleluia! We remember those who have died, and we believe that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses whom God remembers, not according to their sins, but according to God’s undying mercy. In that, remembering is great cause for rejoicing.
Perhaps this is a season of remembrance for you, too. Perhaps you have lost loved ones in the previous year, or at an earlier time in your life. Perhaps, remembering those loved ones who have died fills you with sadness. May the thought that God remembers them assuage your sorrow. May the thought that God remembers you bring you comfort, strength, and peace for your own journey through this life.
Of all that a season of remembrance might bring to the surface for you, I hope and pray that you will remember that you are remembered by God. And that is good.
Nov. 1, 2017
Rev. James A. Wetzstein and Rev. Dr. Charlene M. Rachuy Cox serve as university pastors at Valpo and take turns writing weekly reflections.