The Radical Act of Remembering

“When we are young we are fascinated with our future worlds. That’s natural, since when we are young we possess no past, or none worth mentioning; but we possess an endless future stretching before us. But I am no longer young. When we are old, the future vanishes from our life to become replaced with death. Accordingly we become intrigued, rather, with the past. We have the same escapist urge we had as youngsters, but it takes us back, into memory”

Adam Roberts. Yellow Blue Tibia

“When your’e young, you think everything you do is disposable. You move from now to now, crumpling time up in your hands, tossing it away. You’re your own speeding car.”

Margaret Atwood. The Blind Assassin

About ten years ago I saw in a magazine a list of what experts thought were the best 100 novels of the 20th century. I have since tried to work my way through most of them. As I did, I noticed that a theme kept creeping up again and again – the theme of memory. So many of the great works of art explore the idea of of time passing, the past and the act of remembrance.  Most of the writers who explore this theme I noticed were older, writers who were younger were far more interested in the experiential, be it romance, sex, war and adventure. But it seemed that ageing sharpened the senses, helping people realise what the real issues and questions of life were. I think this is in part what Proverbs 20:29 is getting at

The glory of young men is their strength, grey hair the splendour of the old.

Popular culture with all of its obsessions with Youth only focuses on the first part of this verse. Thus we are rarely confronted with the idea of remembering, instead Pop Culture focuses on the immediate and the sensate, demanding that we view the world through a myopic lens thus leading us up a garden path when it comes to our lives and our faiths. The Bible has a very different idea, it is a narrative which encompasses the past, the present and the future. It is future orientated but it also values the radical act of remembering. Israel was commanded to practice the passover each year in order to remember. Passover was and is a deeply counter cultural act of protest. It, through a wonderful set of symbols invites the participant to remember what God did in order to save Israel, it is a reminder that the the power of God is greater than the powers of the day.

Communion acts in the same way, it is a lived symbol, a reminder of Christ’s work on the cross, his defeat of sin, the powers and principalities of this world, and of death. When we partake of communion, we place ourselves in a long spiritual linage, with millions of others throughout history, it is a reminder that we are not just rugged individuals bumping around an atomised universe. Rather we are part of the fabric of God’s redemptive purposes in history.

Therefore the empires both governmental and media, wish us to remain in the moment, to stay in the ephemeral, to focus on their promises to deliver us a glitzy, wonderful future. The radical act of remembrance, reminds us that God has acted in the past, and that is why we know he will act again in the future. It reminds us that humans are fallen, that we cannot keep making the mistake of the builders of Babel. That our hope comes from an act that occurred two thousands years ago on a garbage dump outside of Jerusalem.



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