From Chris Allison
God wants us to remember.
But I have trouble remembering a lot of things. I can’t remember my grade school teacher’s names, despite spending entire years with them. I spent six months reading over three hundred books in preparation for my general exams, and yet my recall for what is in these books is foggy, at best, two years later. And the irony is that my vocation as a historian is to be a professional rememberer—to bring back into consciousness what people have forgotten.
The period before I came to faith was dark. I had bouts of suicidal thoughts, despair, and a keen sense of the meaninglessness of life. When God reached out for me, it was like a pure shaft of joy piercing my darkness. Why should I remember the dark? Why would I dwell on the darkness?
In our scripture reading for today God commands his people to do just that. God asks the people to remember the darkest moment of their history—their enslavement in Egypt. Historians have called slavery “social death.” It robs individuals of their ability to own anything, move about in freedom, create their own families on their own terms, or work for a future of any kind. But God did give his people a future. God reached out into their despair and gave them redemption--something they were unable to give themselves. Their situation in the promised land would be so different than the darkness of their slavery—land producing full harvests, olive trees teeming with fruit, vines heavy from the grapes.
In the context of this plenty, leave things behind, God says. Don’t squeeze every last bit of resources from your harvest. You are rich, be sure there is something left behind for those who are not. For you once were needy, with little hope. Remember that past. It helps you to help redeem the people in need around you—the immigrant, the homeless, the hungry, those without family or support.
God knows us. He knows how quickly our minds can slip into forgetfulness. We can begin to feel entitled to our blessings, or see them as the way things should be. And the result of all this forgetting can be complacency—and injustice. Never wanting to return to the suffering of the past, but forgetting the grace we received, we can slip into hoarding and greed—stripping our trees bare, picking up every last morsel of profit for ourselves—trying to guarantee a future, which is ultimately, out of our control.
The Psalmist offers us the appropriate response to the redemption of God. In Psalm 111 there is a remembrance of what God has done, that bursts into praise and awe-struck worship. “He sent redemption into his people; he has commanded his covenant forever. Holy and awesome is his name.” Psalm 112 argues that is the righteousness of God’s people that gives them security in the face of an uncertain future. There may be “wealth and riches in their houses” but “righteousness will endure forever.” It’s a righteousness that shines in the darkness. “They are gracious, merciful and righteous.” They “deal generously and lend,” and “conduct their affairs in justice.” They won’t “be moved” and will be “remembered forever.” No “evil tidings” will shake them, “their hearts are firm, secure in the Lord.” For they have “distributed freely; they have given to the poor; [once again] their righteousness endures forever.”
Let us remember the redemption of our God. Let us be filled with its joy. May we erupt in praise, seeking righteousness, living worthy of the grace given to us—our security—that reaches out to a world in need of redemption.
For my part, I will start by remembering.
I spend most of my days writing a dissertation on early American history. I live in Watertown with my beautiful family. I like to bike, visit Boston’s great museums, and geek out with others. I feel blessed to have been a part of Church of the Cross for the last five years.