“Is it not too sadly true that we can recollect anything but Christ, and forget nothing so easy as Him whom we ought to remember?”—Charles Spurgeon
The last words, hours, or days spent with a loved one become incredibly precious after their loss, especially if death strikes unexpectedly. The last eight words spoken by Jesus before He died on the cross, when all was said and done (“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit”—Luke 23:46) have been remembered, dissected, and analysed countless times.
However, in the collage of the last words, pieces of advice, and exhortations addressed to the disciples, there is another set of words that emphasises the importance that the exercise of remembrance must have in Christians’ experience: “Do this…in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:25). Beyond the commandment, at the heart of Jesus’ words, we find a gift to us, those who are prone to forget what is significant, because this constant reminder of how we have been loved is not for His sake, but for ours.
In the upper room
Passion Week is drawing to a close, it’s Thursday evening, and Jesus is attending the Passover memorial meal with His disciples in the upper room of a Jerusalem dwelling.
It is a special evening, when Jesus is at the point of transition between the two systems and the two great feasts. Throughout the history of the people of Israel, the Passover had been a commemoration of deliverance from Egyptian slavery, but the feast also pointed to Jesus, “our Passover Lamb” (1 Corinthians 5:7). At the last Passover spent with the disciples, He institutes a commemorative act of His death. The Lord’s Supper was to be celebrated, according to His words, at all times by His followers everywhere. The broken bread, symbolising His body broken for us, and the unfermented wine, symbolising His shed blood “that whoever believes in him shall not perish” (John 3:16), present in these ceremonies, would direct the attention of believers to the One through whom salvation is possible.
“Do this…in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:24). Often, reading His words, the lyrics and melody of a well-known song (“Remember Me”) come to mind, capturing a painful contrast between our habit of forgetting Him and His faithfulness in remembering us.
More than just remembering
In the Bible, we frequently encounter the verb “to remember” (but also its antonym, “to forget”), often in the imperative mood. God asks His children to remember Him, His love, His works, and the calling they have received (at the same time, in the pages of Scripture we find numerous assurances that we are not forgotten by Him under any circumstances).
“For many Christians, to remember is an ambiguous mental activity,” notes Pastor Dustin Crowe, in an article that addresses the topic of remembering what Jesus did for us (at the Lord’s Supper, but also at other times).
There are different ways of remembering, Crowe writes, recalling Puritan author John Flavel’s distinction between speculative remembrance, which makes no practical connection, evoking the story of Jesus for a brief period of time, and affectionate and permanent remembrance, which consists in impressing His sacrifice upon our thoughts.
For a Westerner, remembering is the same as “recollecting:” recalling to mind things that are no longer part of the present reality, writes theology professor Michael Horton. In the Jewish tradition, however, “remembering ” means to participate here and now in significant events of the past or in the future.
The biblical significance of remembering goes beyond the simple act of bringing Jesus’ person or deeds back into our thoughts, notes Crowe, noting that the call to remember, especially when linked to ceremony or covenant, is “a vibrant concept” in Scripture: our lives are transformed by what we remember.
What we remember about the past (and how we do it) impacts the present, points out Christian author Jeff Stott, noting that there’s an important reason we need to remember Jesus: “When you forget something significant you begin living for the insignificant.” Remembering how we were loved by Him fuels our love for Him, and ultimately our love for our fellow human beings, the author concludes.
In the Bible, there are numerous examples where God “remembers.” In the Old Testament, the verb used is “zakar,” which means to bring someone into your thoughts, but also to act on their behalf, and in the New Testament we encounter the verb “mimnēskomai,” which also seems to imply action, notes writer Jessica Brodie.
Thus, when “God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark” (Genesis 8:1), an action also followed: He “sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded.” When the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt, “God heard their groaning and He remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob” (Exodus 2:24), and the result was that He sent Moses to lead them into the promised land.
“God…remembered [the] gifts to the poor” of the centurion Cornelius (Acts 10:31) and sent the apostle Peter on a mission which was unthinkable in Jewish exclusivism: to go to the centurion’s house, preach the Gospel to him and his family and, finally, to baptise those who believed and received the Holy Spirit.
God doesn’t forget us or our needs any more than He forgets His promises, so the sentence “He remembers” is, rather, a reassurance to us (those of us who forget and feel forgotten so often) that God carries us in His heart and works for our good, Brodie concludes.
He who does not forget us when we forget Him
The deep loneliness in which Jesus lived, worked, and suffered is perhaps one of the most troubling discoveries we make when we read the Gospels. No one, not even His closest friends, understood His mission and they either twisted or forgot His words, rebuking or misunderstanding the imminence and significance of the events to come.
To be sinless in a world riddled with sin is to not fit in, to not truly harmonise with any group or person, writes Professor Jon Bloom. Since His childhood, Jesus’ parents didn’t fully understand Him (Luke 2:50); “…His own brothers didn’t believe in Him” (John 7:5) and most likely continued not to until His resurrection (Acts 1:14) while His relatives, hearing of His healings and of the fact that He had chosen twelve disciples, “went to take charge of Him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind'” (Mark 3:21).
Because Jesus lived as a sinless man, with sinful parents, siblings, relatives, neighbours, and friends, there was no one who could hug Him and say, “I know exactly what you’re going through,” Bloom points out.
If we find it hard to discern the loneliness in the years of His life, as the time of His crucifixion approaches, it becomes more and more apparent. At the last Passover Supper spent with the disciples, Jesus girded Himself with a towel and washed the disciples’ feet, doing the work of a servant. It was customary on feast days for a servant to wash the feet of those in the house, but in the upper room there was only the small group of disciples, and they all shirked the task. Jesus’ words pointing to His suffering had made a fleeting impression, quarrels over the never-resolved issue of primacy (“A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest”—Luke 22: 24) had not yet died down, and resentment still simmered in their hearts—all while Jesus was to go through the agony of the cross less than 24 hours later.
In Gethsemane, when the shadow of the cross loomed ominously over Him, and His heart was heavy with the sense of God’s wrath against sin (“God made Him who had no sin to be sin”—2 Corinthians 5:21), He asked the disciples to spend the night with Him in prayer. However, they were overcome by sleep on the night of His last battle.
They were hours of agony, but not because of the shame and suffering He was about to endure. “He felt that by sin He was being separated from His Father. The gulf was so broad, so black, so deep, that His spirit shuddered before it. This agony He must not exert His divine power to escape. As man He must suffer the consequences of man’s sin. As man He must endure the wrath of God against transgression.”
On this night of His agony, those whom He had served for three years, whom He loved, and for whom He was about to die, did not understand His distress, and did not keep vigil in prayer)—though He had warned them that on that night all their loyalty to Him, which they claimed, and of which they were sincerely convinced, would be destroyed. “Christ’s whole being abhorred the thought. That those whom He had undertaken to save, those whom He loved so much, should unite in the plots of Satan, this pierced His soul.”
All the disciples were to flee, for fear of sharing His fate, while Jesus was trapped by the angry mob. One of them would sell Him to His enemies, and another, who claimed to follow Him to death, would publicly deny Him. On the road to Calvary, they were to lead Him from afar, as if they were indifferent spectators, strangers who did not know what was happening. None offered to carry His cross when it became clear that, subject to abuse and scourging, His body could no longer bear the weight of the cross all the way to the place of crucifixion. Their mouths did not utter a word expressing faith or gratitude or understanding of the sacrifice of which they were the beneficiaries.
“Jesus, remember me”—this was the only testimony of faith, but it came from one of the thieves among whom Jesus was crucified. It is one of the most moving prayers recorded in the pages of Scripture.
Even more poignant is the fact that a dying Saviour “remembers” the robber who had wasted his life, and heeds his prayer. His agony does not distract Him from the needs of those around Him. He is not distracted from caring for His mother, to whom He has nothing to give, but whom He entrusts to John, His beloved disciple. He is not distracted from the grief of the women who mourn Him and to whom He gently directs their attention to the times when disobedience would bring the destruction of Jerusalem and the death of some of their children.
On the cross, crushed by a suffering we cannot understand, Jesus remembered us. That is why He did not respond to the mocking provocation of the priests and scribes: “He saved others…but He can’t save Himself!” Precisely in order to save us, He could not save Himself, and the fact that He endured all the pain caused by separation from His Father and the humiliation of cruel treatments devised by humans is living proof that He kept us in His heart until His last breath.
The only life worth living is one in which I choose to remember, every day, that He remembered me on the cross. He has not forgotten me, for though He has billions of sons, no one can replace me in His heart. Living in the light of that memory, I can learn how to love others, and I can have hope when my world threatens to collapse.
Carmen Lăiu is an editor at Signs of the Times Romania and ST Network.