“In days to come, when your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ say to him, ‘With a mighty hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the Lord killed the firstborn of both people and animals in Egypt. This is why I sacrifice to the Lord the first male offspring of every womb and redeem each of my firstborn sons.’And it will be like a sign on your hand and a symbol on your forehead that the Lord brought us out of Egypt with his mighty hand.” Exodus 13:14-16
My children enjoy watching old video recordings of when they were younger. They like to take those trips down memory lane. So, we pop some popcorn and gather around the television to re-live the past. We watch summer vacations, holidays, and birthday events. It is peculiar how fast we change and grow. It is even funnier how some things you remember and others you forget.
All of us have selective memories. Selective memory is the act of remembering certain things based on our feelings. Our selective memory remembers things and forgets things based on either positive or negative emotions. Some of us have a selective memory that remembers only good things and forgets bad things. Your selective memory blocks out all the negative stuff. The things that you find that are to painful or to shameful are blocked out of your memory.
On the other hand, some of us have selective memory by forgetting the good things and remembering only the bad. We choose to live in negativity and never see anything to be grateful for. We use our selective memory to dwell only on the painful, the shattered dreams, and broken hopes.
What memories do you recall this past year? Are they all negative? Or do you remember moments of God’s redemption? What do you remember? Do you remember the hand of God at work in your life?
As the Jewish people set out for their journey towards the Promised Land, they are told to remember. Remember this day, God tells the people. Remember it is on this day that I called you out. When you are in the land of the free and enjoy the flowing of milk and honey, remember this day. When you are establishing your homes, raising your children, making your money, remember this day. When you are in the desert and you don’t think you will survive, remember this day. When the task before you seems impossible, remember this day. Remember this is the day that I came to your rescue, says the Lord. Remember this is the day I brought you out of slavery. Remember this is the day that seemed like the last day but I turned it around and made it the day of new beginnings. Remember this day, the day I called you out, says the Lord. Remember this day.
When in the future your children ask what all this means, you tell them this is about the day that God came to our rescue. The God of the heavens emerged as the one who intervened on behalf of the nobodies. We were slaves in Egypt and we are alive because God came to our rescue. We remember this day because without this day there would be no other days.
Throughout the first five books of the Scripture the word “remember” carries significance. As the Hebrews move closer to the Promised Land they are told to remember where God brought them from. When they transition from being traveling people to people of the land, they are told not to forget who they were. When they celebrate their holidays and reenact the Exodus, they are to tell the children their story. Although God does not change, circumstances around us change all the time. For that reason, God encourages the people to remember.
Change is easier when we remember who we once were and who it is calling us to change. It is easier to adapt to new circumstances when we remember who it is calling us out to change. Remembering where we came from is a great motivator to change. It is when we choose not to remember that we get stuck in our ways and become people who complain of the changes around us.
In a changing world everyone needs to be able to retell who they are in confidence. In Deuteronomy 31 God tells Moses, “When all Israel comes to appear before the Lord your God at the place that he will choose, you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing. Assemble the people – men, women, and children, as well as the aliens residing in your towns – so that they may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God and to observe diligently all the words of this law, and so that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, as long as you live in the land that you are crossing over the Jordan to possess” (31: 11-13). The Torah, the first five books of the bible, is Israel’s refusal to live in disorder. In the Torah children learn the truth of who they are, where they came from, and with that information, where they are headed. As Walter Brueggemann says, “The Torah is a line drawn in the sand against darkness and disorder. It is a line drawn against chaos and death. The story of Israel found in the Torah is told by adults who are confident in its truth.” In an ever-changing world, the Torah stands as the stable influence.
The Torah teaches that when we speak of God it must always be contextual. We might talk about how this God created the heavens and the earth as some cosmic reality. But we can’t leave this God up in the heavens. In the cool of the evening, God came to walk among His creation. God’s relationship is dynamic. It is ever-changing as the people move through history. This one we call God is relational. He is always revealing, loves surprises, and keeps initiating relationships. The working out of God’s purpose is discovered in these pages. The ultimate meaning of life is found in this historical experience of God naming, calling out, and promising to be with these people. These stories are necessary because in retelling them we remember. We remember the graciousness of God. We remember that life is truly a gift.
The reading of the Torah and all of scripture is a reminder that God continues to remember. He remembered his people and at the right time sent Jesus to be the hope of their salvation. God came in Jesus Christ and through his cross, His suffering and death, paid the price for our sin, so that we can go ahead and remember it, we can confess it, we can lay it before him.