Remembering for the Future

By Ward Shope

Remembering is what makes us human. We tend to think of it as a nostalgic activity, either prompting tears or promoting sentimentality. Those who live in the past have lost a sense of relevance. It can be seen as a sign of neurosis, the preoccupation of an unhealthy emotional state. The movers and shakers of this world are future-oriented. Success comes as we keep our eyes focused on the vision ahead of us.

And yet, we can’t make sense of our world without remembering. Without memory, we don’t know where we came from, who we belong to, even where we are headed. The other day I walked into a room and couldn’t remember why I was there. That split second of disorientation, if multiplied by many seconds of misfiring memory synapses, dislocates a person’s whole identity and sense of meaning. We call it amnesia. Without the past, there is no future. We move into the future only at that point where we begin to remember again.

That’s why God writes our human history down. We remember so we know who we are and, just as importantly, where we are going. In Scripture, he tells us the essential stories that all humans need to hear: stories of origin, stories of dislocation, stories of relationship, stories of love, and stories of redemption. In them we find our place between the past and the future.

But he isn’t content with just telling the stories. He asks us to act them out so that we remember. Annually, the Israelites slay the lamb and eat the unleavened bread to remember the hurried meal as they exited Egypt. In the Last Supper, Jesus transforms this meal and calls us to reenact a bigger story. We are reminded by bread and wine how the true Lamb of God shed his blood on the cross for us. And almost as a trivial point, he tells us that He will not eat and drink this meal with us again until the future has fully come.

If we have any doubts, he shows us the future in the past as he rises from the dead and ascends to his Father’s side to make a place for us. These are the memories he gives us for our futures. And they make this time of year the most defining moment of history. Without remembering them, we are lost.