16 Nov 2018

Days of Remembrance, the Rhythm of Grace

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: A Gathered People, American Empire, Christian hope, Contemporary Ethics, Discipleship, Forgiveness, Race Relations, Worship

I wrote this on September 12 but have not published it.

Days of Remembrance are important to human identity. Yesterday was 9/11, a day of remembrance. I kept my mouth shut. But it was not because I forgot.

I remember where I was when Ronald Reagan was shot, when the Space Shuttle blew up, and that day on Sept 11.

In the Bible “memorial days” occur as well. God directed Israel to remember in worship festivals where the event was “reenacted.” Thus our ancestors in Israel remembered Passover, Tabernacles, Pentecost, Purim. These all memorialized what was wonderful: salvation by God’s gracious hesed. There was also Dedication/Hanukkah that Jesus remembered (Jn 10.22ff) which also points to the faithful grace of God.

But not all memorials were pleasant, or a celebration of God’s goodness, rather they were reminders of our faithlessness to God and neighbor. Thus the Day of Atonement recognized the ever present reality of human sin (and God’s costly remedy). Tisha B’Av confronts Israelites with the memory of the catastrophic hubris of sin. On this day, we remember the long history of wickedness, rebellion, sin, injustice that both we and our fathers and mothers have done. So deep is this ugliness that God resorted to destroying the Temple in Jerusalem in both 586 BC and AD 70.

Israel was not allowed to forget.

They remembered the astonishing grace of God every Sabbath, in pilgrim festivals, in their daily prayers. They were smothered in grace. They also had to remember what they would have like to forget, their culpability in Sin. They confessed their sin on the Day of Atonement and they remembered the horror of it on Tisha B’Av.

These memorials encompassed all of Israel. All Israel was delivered by God’s mighty hand. Likewise they all shared in the memorials of remembrance of our failure. No Israelite “escaped” … it was WE. It was me, my father and mother and grandmother and grandfather that sinned miserably before God and our neighbors.

In the modern world, especially America, we want to remember only certain things. September 11 was a horrific tragedy and I could never forget it even if I tried. But there are things that Americans have embraced amnesia over and swept under the rug.

If the history of Israel, Yahweh’s people, teaches us anything then we must remember both the Grace given and the need for grace (our arrogant rebellion against God in our treatment of fellow image bearers).

Remembering on the Day of Atonement or Tisha B’Av is not an exercise in self loathing. It becomes a moment where truth speaks, forgiveness is granted because grace is given when we face our failures rather than hide them. The memorial becomes a tool for saying “Never Again” will we walk down that path of self-destruction by rebelling against the will of God.

America could learn, and Christians must learn, a great deal from this. The memorials of Israel forced people to recognize the truth of who they were. They were not and never were at any single moment in history some paragon of virtue, righteousness, a superior people. Israel’s days of remembrance kept her from believing the lie humans continue to tell themselves: we are innocent, we are virtuous, we are free from the stain of guilt that shames others.

Israel is, rather, paradigmatic of the human race as a whole: arrogant, self-serving, rebellious, exploiting one another. It is by grace that we are who we are. This is what all the memorial festivals teach, preach, and proclaim.

So in America we remember 9/11 and December 7, rightly so. But why is it that we forget and get angry when the “Trail of Tears” is brought up? the American Holocaust is brought up? Or Wounded Knee? The lynching’s that peppered the “home of the free?”  or any number of less than flattering things?

Should we not remember them for the same reason that Israel was not allowed to forget the Day of Atonement or Tisha B’Av? Such memories humble us, chasten us, and make us “come clean” about ourselves, else we will pursue the sinful satanic lie that we are actually righteous and superior … and it is our dishonesty that allows us to continue to perpetuate such horrors. Self deception is confronted on a massive scale on the Day of Atonement and Tisha B’Av. We need forgiveness!

When we remember a check is placed on our participation in fallenness.  Remembering helps us to love our neighbor by being salt, light and leaven just as God has loved us.

So lets “remember” the whole story not part of it.

One Response to “Days of Remembrance, the Rhythm of Grace”

  1. Dwight Says:

    Such as it was with Israel, it is with us, in that often once you have achieved where you want to be you forget where you came from or how you got their or your humble beginnings. This is what kept Paul so humble, is that he remembered all of the things that he had done to those of God’s Kingdom. In the churches today many of us have a revisionist remembrance of now how we were, but how we want to think we were. We want to jump past the recent past to the far past and think that we look more like them, even when we don’t. It is important to be honest in our memories, with the good and the bad.

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