It may come as a surprise for Christians to learn that the injunction “Remember” is the most repeated commandment in the Bible. The imperative of the Hebrew word zachor is mentioned more than 25 times.However, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise, because one of the biggest challenges we face as humans is our propensity to forget – or to recall the past in a selective (and destructive) way. The best known biblical example is connected to the Passover narrative.The Israelites grumbled and complained from the time they left Egypt (Exodus 15:22-24). Their dissatisfaction reached the level of the absurd when they longed for the cucumbers, leeks and melons of Egypt, forgetting the centuries of slavery.
Some confuse memory with nostalgia – a longing for an ideal past that never existed, or if it did, that could never be recovered. But when the Bible commands memory, it is not asking us to be sentimental.Instead, remembering what God has already done for us is to encourage us to be faithful to Him and His instruction today.Numerous passages make this clear: “Remember and do all My commandments, and be holy to your God” (Numbers 15:40); “And you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and you shall be careful to observe these statutes” (Deut. 16:12); “You shall not oppress a stranger, since you yourselves know the feelings of a stranger, for you also were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Ex. 23:9).In these and other similar passages, to remember is to remind us not only to be grateful for what God has done for us, but to express it in the practical ways we should love God and treat others.
The biblical emphasis on memory has had a significant impact on Judaism, which can be understood as a faith that has memory at its center.Again, the Exodus is the best case in point. The story of God’s redemption is remembered in daily prayers, the Sabbath service, and on annual holy days.Daily customs also serve to remind Jews of God’s presence in their lives and their obligations toward Him.Wearing a skullcap is a reminder that there is a God above. Touching the mezuza on the doorpost helps one remember the words of the Shema inside (Deuteronomy 6:4).Tassels are worn as a way of remembering God’s commandments (Numbers 15:39).This emphasis on remembering is important to Jesus of Nazareth as well. When he sat down for his last meal with his disciples at Passover, he took the bread and the wine and said, “Do this in remembrance of me.”There are different Christian understandings of the Lord’s Supper which have generated controversies throughout the centuries. But should we not recognize that the basis of all our communion theology is to remember him? Yet it is all too easy for us to forget.Church history is littered with theologies of Jesus that are not biblical. Some have turned him into a poet, a revolutionary, a capitalist, a socialist, a therapist and even a good buddy who wants to make us rich. But his command to remember – every time we take the bread and wine – is of his sacrifice. “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
Remembering aright who Jesus is and what he did is essential for our spiritual life and for the life of any Christian community. Yet memory alone without action is not scriptural. On that night Jesus also said, “I have set you an example, that you should do as I have done for you”(John 13:15).