“I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds.” Psalm 77:11-12
Last week marked 25 years since David and I arrived in Singapore to attend OMF’s Orientation Course before heading to Japan a few weeks later. I wrote a Facebook post to mark this anniversary but commented that I couldn’t remember the exact date we left. On seeing this my mother (in her 80s) promptly got in touch not only to confirm the date but also with a story of me losing an earring at the airport! I have to admit that I have no recollection of this; in fact, I have very little memory of that day. While my memory works reasonably well for facts and figures, unfortunately it is not so good when it comes to people and events – quite a disadvantage when you are a missionary, regularly meeting people and attending different events.
The Bible places great emphasis on remembrance. In the Old Testament God instigated several festivals to help the Jewish people remember various events in their history. Passover reminds them of their miraculous deliverance from Egypt. The Festival of Booths (or Tabernacles) is a reminder of the fact that their descendants lived in temporary shelters after leaving Egypt. Purim (the Festival of Lots) recalls how God, through Esther and Mordecai, delivered His people from Haman’s decree to destroy them.
In the post-Enlightenment West, we often think of remembering as a cognitive act – bringing past events to mind so that we don’t forget them. But if we consider these festivals, we can see that they are much more than that. At Passover the Jews were to sacrifice an animal and eat unleavened bread. During the Festival of Booths they were to live in temporary shelters for seven days (Leviticus 23:42). When Jewish people celebrate Purim they read the book of Esther, celebrate with hamantashen (triangular biscuits named after Haman), exchange gifts and give money to the poor. Remembrance is not only calling to mind what happened in the past but also experiencing it in some way in the present.
This is true of the Lord’s supper as well. We are not only to remember what Jesus did for us in our minds, but in eating the bread and drinking the wine, we are to experience it. At communion this month at my church here in Japan, just as the minister was about to say “This is my body, which is for you” the building started shaking – an earthquake. It wasn’t a big one, and once the shaking stopped the minister continued with the service. But I found it a significant experience. Matthew records that there was an earthquake both at Jesus’ death and at His resurrection. Experiencing an earthquake during the Lord’s supper helped me to think more deeply about what it must have felt like to be there as Jesus died.
As Christians we are not just to remember God’s works on special occasions or at the Lord’s supper. We are to meditate on them in our daily lives. In the Japanese Bible, the character most often used as part of the word for ‘remember’ is 思.This character means to ‘think’ and is made up of two parts. The bottom part is 心 – the character for heart, showing the involvement of our emotions and not just the rational mind.
When we “remember the deeds of the Lord” we should do so with our hearts, engaging our emotions along with our minds. I’ve noticed that many Japanese Christians cry when sharing their testimonies, showing the emotional connection they experience as they remember what God has done for them. In Psalm 77 the Psalmist is crying out to God in his distress, but then decides to remember God’s miracles and mighty deeds. And, as in so many other Psalms, through this act of remembrance he gains a fresh perspective, a confidence that God is also with him in the present, and hope for the future.
May this be our experience too as we make remembrance with our minds and hearts a regular part of our lives.
By Lorna Ferguson