There is a fundamental connection between memory and faith. Scripture implores believers to “remember” 166 times. God repetitively instructed Israel to remember that they were once slaves, foreigners, and exiles. As a people liberated by God’s grace, Israel’s remembrance was intended to shape and dictate their purpose, praxis, and relational interactions.[i] Remembrance was the lynchpin of Israel’s humility, missiology and faithfulness. When Israel forgot, they turned from God, became self-centered, practiced idolatry, and enacted injustice. Israel’s social amnesia–forgetting God’s command to “not deprive the foreigner or the fatherless of justice,”– led to disobedience and ultimately the erection of social systems and structures which institutionally privileged some while discriminated against others.
Providentially, during the tumultuous times when Israel– the people of God– forgot, God intervened. This is significant because it reminds us that God’s sovereignty is not dependent upon human capacities. Frequently, God mediated the injustice, oppression and sin that became normative when Israel forgot their covenantal promises to God, by speaking to Israel through commissioned prophets. Prophets were Old Testament manifestations of God’s grace–conduits to call God’s people to remembrance and repentance, both individually and collectively. Prophets pointed people back to God, calling them away from sin and idolatry, summoning them back towards reconciled relations with God, neighbor, and creation. Prophets upbraided apathy, elucidated institutional injustice, and defended the interest, dignity, and livelihood of the least of these.
At other times, God interceded by sending Israel into the wilderness when they forgot their created purpose and who they were intended to worshiped. Contrary to popular belief, the wilderness in Scripture does not equate to barrenness and desolation. Scripturally speaking, the wilderness was not a place of death, but a place that presented Israel with the opportunity to cultivate new life. The wilderness was not a place ultimately under Satan’s control, it was a place where God took Israel out of its comfort zones, away from its normal routine of depending on itself, their possessions, or even other people. The wilderness was a place where Israel was reminded that their lives had to be built upon a solid foundation that could only truly be found in the surrendering of their lives completely and fully to God. Therefore, throughout Scripture, the most consistent theme and purpose for the wilderness is as a place of formation, correction, and re-formation.
In the New Testament, we see that when humanity is said to be “utterly lost and hopeless,” God sends the salvific mediator, Jesus, the archetype of the prophets. Jesus not only extended the prophetic tradition, but he also personified living in remembrance and embodied God’s loving grace. Jesus, the chief reconciler, illustrated for us–His followers–the cost of reconciliation; crucifixion. Christ elucidates that reconciliation, to both God and neighbor, requires dying to ourselves, the world’s commodifying logic, and the imperial status quo. Nevertheless, Christ also illustrates that this nature of dying begets rebirth, which for us, his followers today, is consummated sacramentally.
The baptismal waters incorporate us into Christ–his death and resurrection– reconstituting our purpose in life. The Spirit troubles the baptismal waters and through them reconstructs our identities, relationships, and family. Baptism liberates us from the sinful dictates of our fleshly nature, the dehumanizing ethos of worldly empires, and the powers and principalities which vie for our worship and allegiance.[ii] Baptism commemorates new life ordered and empowered by the Spirit. This sacrament conforms us into the likeness of Christ and breeds transformation, ordaining us as co-labors with Christ–agents of reconciliation–on mission to make God’s name known and love shown throughout the world. It commissions us as disciples in the mold of John the Baptist, as people called to “prepare the way of the Lord,” helping to usher in the Kingdom of God (which has already been inaugurated but not yet consummated), by sacrificially loving others, pursuing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with God.
As we learn to live in remembrance of God’s love and saving grace, our lives become living sacrifices offered unto God for the sake of the Kingdom and the good of our neighbor. Theologian Michael J. Gorman puts it this way, “the cross and resurrection both motivate and shape daily life. The appropriate life ‘for’ or ‘toward’ Christ is the cruciform life. Life ‘for’ Christ, is simultaneously life ‘for’ others…because the cross and resurrection were for others.” Jesus illuminated what it means to offer oneself unto God as a living sacrifice and as His followers today, our aim should be to pattern our lives after His embodied testimony of faithfulness to the Father.
[i] Liberation from slavery to sin and death made manifest on the cross of Christ, ultimately realized in the resurrection where God triumphed over the powers and principalities of this world. Nevertheless, this liberation should not be understood as exclusively spiritual, it also has tangible, physical dimensions too.
[ii] “In the Bible, Egypt is the first in a series of empires, including Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome, that embody power structures that benefit the elite, enslave the poor, and dominate the weak. The notion of empire often describes political entities, but it is not limited to them. Symbolically, the empire represents any power that arrogates to itself the power that belongs to God alone, or any group or institution that subjugates the poor and needy for its own advantage.” Daniel Groody’s Globalization, Spirituality, and Justice: Theology in Global Perspective (34).