Yesterday was September 11 and in the United States the day was filled ceremonies and vigils and exhortations to “remember” and to “never forget”. Each year I wonder, what are we to remember and what are we to never forget?
I want to offer a bit of clarification before I start this post. This post is not directed to persons who lost loved ones twelve years ago on September 11. I do not presume to offer you any advice or any suggestions. This post is offered to the others of us, who did not suffer personal loss. I am not suggesting that the September 11 attacks were not tragic nor am I suggesting that we pretend nothing significant happened to us as a nation that day. But I do want us to think about what we remember and what we never forget. What purpose might those actions serve?
What are we “remembering”?
What are we to “never forget”?
For Christians the language of “remember” and “never forget” have particular meanings.
If you look up “forget” in a keyword search, “do not forget” and “never forget” show up frequently. Most often they show up to remind us not to forget God or to not forget the poor and suffering. “Do not forget” often reminds us to look up and out, toward God and toward others.
You can also look up “remember” in a keyword search. It is interesting to see how many times remember is used to remind people to remember God. But more interesting is the number of times God remembers us. To remember someone or something in Biblical times was more than just recalling memories. Remembering also involved action. When God remembers Israel, God also delivers Israel from slavery in Egypt. When God remembers Noah the flood waters recede. When God remembers Rachael, she bears a son.
The remembering and acting works the other way as well. The people of Israel are to remember what God has done for them and then keep the covenant. Paul reminds us, ” The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” (1Cor 11:23b-25) Remembering involves doing.
What should we remember and never forget about September 11? We should not forget the pain and suffering that day caused so many. Perhaps we also ought to remember the daily suffering caused by violence to people all around the world. Perhaps we should remember Jesus command to love our enemy. Perhaps we should remember the prophets call to beat swords into plowshares. Perhaps we should never forget God’s intention for our world, a world where the wolf and the lamb live together and the little child can place his hand into the viper’s nest with out fear of harm. (Isaiah 11)
Perhaps we are to “never forget” and to “remember” that God’s hope and plan for the world is for a world healed and made whole.