“Memory is a two-edged sword.” The words tumbled out of my mouth as I stood behind the large oak pulpit that graces the front of our sanctuary and fumbled to read my scribbled script on the sticky notes in my Bible. I stood to share from the Scriptures as we remembered the work of Jesus in a dear friend’s life who had recently passed into the Savior’s eternal loving presence. As in all our lives, and subsequently all our deaths, there was an unexpected shock to his passing. Whether someone has been sick for a long season, or passes into eternity in their sleep, death usually surprises us. In that moment, we all suffered the mixed emotions that surround death for those of us who have come to God on his terms—by grace through faith in his Son Jesus. We looked back on a life that was sinful and broken but also forgiven and redeemed. We considered things done and left undone; words unspoken, and forgiveness never extended or received. Death is the dark frame that contrasts with the blazing, sometimes glaring, difficult reality that memories present. Memory can be painful.
But memory is also the fuel that powers the engine of remembering which we use regularly throughout our days to guard and guide us by God’s grace. Memory is the content upon which we act, or remember. As one of my favorite seminary professors often repeated, “Remembering is acting on that which we know to be true.” Memory is a concept; remembering is an action. Therefore, when we consider the past, good or bad, helpful or harmful, we are given the opportunity to remember. This is why we learn quickly not to touch a hot stove, not to pull a cat’s tail, not to cast quick judgment on an individual, and not to grocery shop while hungry. We look back on past experiences and remember; we act on what we know to be true. Memory can be protective.
In the coming days, we as a nation will set aside time to do the hard work of remembering. Every Memorial Day, when grills fire up, gas prices jump, and grocery stores offer doorbuster sales, there is an opportunity before us to allow memory to have its long effect in our lives. In a world plagued by wholesale attention deficit, where we scroll and swipe and rarely sit and steep, we have the privilege to be able to remember. As we consider the lives of those who sacrificed everything that we would be able to enjoy the political freedoms that we have, may those of us who are called by God’s grace to trust in Christ remember that the end of those freedoms is the proclamation of the gospel. All that we have been given in this life, every aspect of the story of God’s grace in us that he is actively redeeming and reworking, using for his glory and our good, is meant to be leveraged for sharing the gospel. We must remember that all our identity, our history, our future will be used by God’s gracious and sovereign hand to produce a people for himself from every tribe, tongue, and nation. We are a small but important part of God’s plan to reach people for Jesus’ sake. Memory can be productive.
What memories do you have, friend? If you are like me, perhaps memories haunt you at times—the brokenness of lives lived in sin, actively opposing, or indifferently rejecting the grace of God in Jesus. Maybe you spent seasons of your life on the run—running from the pain of your past or present. What memories keep you up at night? Which ones calm you down? What occupies those quiet spaces and places of your mind where no one else goes except you and God?
Two things I pray for you, friend. First, I pray you will remember the Scripture I read at my friend’s funeral. “Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand… For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,” (1 Cor 15:1, 3-4, NIV). Remember the gospel. Act on what is true. Second, when you do, I pray you will remember the hope of Hebrews 8:12— “‘For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.’” For us who trust Christ, God never forgets our sins—he chooses not to remember, not to act on them. May memory push you to Jesus, then to others with the message of his grace.
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