I WILL REMEMBER
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If you’re anything like me you’re often wondering what it is that we’re doing here every Sunday? Why do we come back week after week? There are many reasons, but the one that I want us to consider today is “remembrance.” Why is it important for us to remember corporately – for us to remember together?
So far this summer we’ve looked at Psalms of praise, of lament, of thanksgiving. The last two we looked at were Psalms of David – basically individual Psalms, though we talked about how the Psalm of thanksgiving was used at a temple dedication. The Psalm that we’re looking at this morning is part of Book III, which goes from Psalm 73 to 89. You’ll note that these are all entitled “Of Asaph”. The Asaphites were a guild of temple musicians, so these Psalms were composed to be sung in the temple – together.
Remembering is something that we are called to do together. The Psalm starts off and the form should look familiar. Three weeks ago we looked at a prayer of lament, which started out with a complaint. The same thing is happening here – “I cry aloud to God, aloud to God that he may hear me. In the day of trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted. I think of God, and I moan; I meditate and my spirit faints.” The Psalmist is feeling God’s absence. The idea of remembering is introduced in this lament section, but it brings no relief. “I consider the days of old, and remember the years of long ago. I commune with my heart in the night; I meditate and search my spirit.” A series of questions arise – “Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favourable? Has his steadfast love (hesed) ceased forever? Are his promises at an end for all time? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” As one commentator puts it, these questions can be summed up in one – “Is the Lord’s rejection final?”
Circumstances have the Psalmist feeling dismembered. He’s talking about God in the first person. His remembering of God is happening on his own. What he’s recalling of God does not seem to gibe with what’s going on around him. What’s going on around him? It’s thought that this Psalm was composed for the Israelite community during its time of exile or post-exile, when their situation looked bleak.
Not long ago Pastor Abby preached about the exiled community in the story of Esther. While we haven’t been displaced from our homes, is there any sense of our own faith community as one in exile, operating on the margins of society instead of from its centre? How should we react to this? Do we stretch out our hand to God individually and long for good old days? There are many different answers to this question. I believe one is that we are called to operate on the margins. I believe that another is that we are called to remember.
I’ve said before that memory plays a key role in our faith. What remembrance does is call the past into the present. For the psalmist, the action to take in the face of his questions is to recall with everyone else what God has done. Remembrance is something that we do together. Remember that this Psalm was used as part of temple worship. There’s a movement here from the individual act of remembering that we see in the first section. I commune with my heart in the night. I meditate and search my spirit. There’s nothing wrong of course with communing with my heart in the night or meditating and searching your spirit, but for the psalmist this has only led to questions.
The Psalmist resolves in the face of these questions to continue to remember. “I will call to mind the deeds of the Lord. I will remember your wonders of old. I will meditate on all your work, and muse on your mighty deeds.” Call to mind, remember, meditate, muse – all verbs of remembering. But now the object of remembrance is named - the deeds of the LORD, wonders of old, all your work, mighty deeds. Note too that the movement here is from individual remembrance to collective remembrance. Look at v 13. “Your way, O God, is holy. What God is so great as our God?” God’s way is holiness. What does this mean? One commentator puts it like this – “Holiness is the basic attribute of deity; it is all that contrasts with and transcends the human, the marvelous, the mysterious, the incomprehensible. In holiness the Lord is incomparable.” God’s way is holy. Where did this way lead for the ancient Israelite?
Through the sea.
The event which the psalmist is recalling along with his faith community is God’s saving acts in bringing the Israelite nation out of Egypt and making a way for them through the Red Sea. You’ll recall the story. After the Passover the Israelites are fleeing. Pharaoh commands his army to hunt them down and destroy them. They come up against the Red Sea and it seems all is lost. This is how God has displayed his might among the peoples. This is how God redeemed his people with his strong arm, the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.
This event was also marked by a song. Known as the song of Moses we find it in Exodus 15. It starts out like this – “I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea. The Lord is my strength and my might, and he has become my salvation;” Later on listen to how closely this language reflects Psalm 77 – “Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in splendor, doing wonders? You stretched out your right hand, the earth swallowed them.”
Calling the past into the present together is vital to our faith. One writer puts it like this – “The hymn does what praise and confession are meant to do – to represent the God of revelation as the reality and subject of truth in the face of all circumstances and contrary experience.” Calling the past into the present was a reminder for the Israelites that the God they served was a saving God. That the God they served was a delivering God, in spite of what their circumstances were. That the thing to do in the face of these circumstances was to call to mind their saving/delivering God. To be reminded that their salvation was not to be found in a system or a person or an ideology or a political party or wherever it is that we look for our salvation when things are bleak.
It seems that we need reminding of this don’t we? Where do we look for our salvation? In our competencies? Talents? Youth? Experience?
When we get together to remember our saving/delivering God, we are reminded that our salvation comes from him alone. We are coming ever more to realize that our salvation is found in him alone.
The language being used here goes back before the Exodus story. It goes back to the creation story and the image of YAHWEH as a storm god subduing chaos. The idea that God’s actions bring order, bring peace. This saving event at the Red Sea affected an entire people – the descendants of Jacob and Joseph. God used people to bring it about – Moses and Aaron. The great prophet and the great priest.
There was no king yet in those days, but how can the follower of Christ not read this and think of our own prophet and priest and king? The one who would institute an act whereby we would remember him as the one who saves us? The act that we will gather around this table to enact in a few moments.
“Do this in remembrance of me,” were Jesus’ words. There are different aspects to gathering around this table – the unity that is ours as one bread, the sharing in Christ’s death, the looking forward to the heavenly banquet that is to come. The aspect that we’re focusing on here this morning is remembrance. Bringing the past into the present. Bringing God’s great saving act on the cross to mind in the midst of an uncertain present in which God is sometimes perceived as absent. I was watching a TV show recently in which a character asked “How can you believe in an invisible God?” Of course God made himself visible. When we lift up these visible elements we are reminded of this.
So why are we here? Why do we do this? We do this because the salvation story is not over. We do this to remember the divine act that forms the basis –the foundation - of our community of faith. We do this because of the role that memory plays in our faith. Here are the words of one writer describing Paul and how Paul saw the importance of memory – “It was his legacy as a Jew to survive and even to flourish in painful difficulties by remembering Abraham, the exodus, the temple, the promises. Paul already knew before conversion that being a believer is to a large extent an act of memory.”
Friends, being a follower of Christ is to a large extent an act of memory. This do in remembrance of me. In remembrance we call God’s saving acts of the past into the present – the creation of the world, bringing order from chaos, the Exodus, the crossing of the Red Sea, the making of a way through the sea that kept his people from their promised rest, the making of a way through his Son for all people, a way through the sin that kept us apart from God while Pharaoh’s army was bearing down on us. “O Mary, don’t you weep, no more, Pharaoh’s army got drowned.” We sang that at Easter, remember? Mary don’t weep, because deliverance is at hand in the person of our risen Christ. This is what we remember here today friends.
You led your people like a flock, by the hand of Moses and Aaron. You led us, you’re leading us Lord, like a flock, by the hand of your Son our shepherd. The salvation story is not over. We await the day of Christ’s return. We live in this kind of pre-dawn time. The dark becoming greyer. The stars slowly disappearing. Looking to Christ, our morning star. We bring these great saving events to mind as we wait. I want to note one final thing. V 19 – “Your way was through the sea, your path, through the mighty waters; yet your footprints were unseen.” It can be hard to see salvation sometimes. In the midst of all the things that go on in our world, all the things that go on in our lives, God’s footprints aren’t always seen.
Yet he’s always making a path. He’s always bringing us back. One day we’ll sit around that banquet table which this table also looks forward to. May he give us hearts in the meantime to seek him. Hearts to remember him together. May this change us. God grant that this might be true for us all.