Remembrance occupies a vast place in the heart of scripture and religious ritual. The words remembrance, remember, remind, and memory appear over three hundred times in the Bible, and you will hear them in the liturgy today and especially during the ceremonies of Holy Week and Easter. Recently, we have heard and seen them often following the terrible events in Christ Church, New Zealand, the air disasters in Indonesia and Ethiopia, and the great storm damage in East Africa and the American Midwest. You might wonder, do we encounter them too often? I suggest that we don’t hear them enough.
Remembrance does not mean merely recalling some past event. It is an act that renders us present to the deepest realities of human existence. That is the mystery of memory. And so we remember not so we won’t forget something, or someone, but in order to become ever more inclusively human, making ourselves present to both heartbreak and the saving events of the past.
As our Lenten observance grows deeper today, the scriptural readings first recall a moment when the world changed forever, unlike the turmoil of Brexit or the release of the
Mueller Report, despite all the ballyhoo. Driven by simple curiosity to see why a strange bush was burning on a mountainside in what is now Saudi Arabia, Moses sets in motion the great epic of the Exodus and ultimately the salvation of the world. Horeb will figure again in this tremendous saga, for it is to this mountain that Moses leads the Israelites after their miraculous escape from Egypt and here he would receive the Ten Commandments. It is not too much of a stretch to say that the redemption of the world begins at Horeb.
Many scholars believe that Mount Horeb and Mount Sinai are the same. Whether that is true or not, it is on the Mountain of God by whatever name that the story of the Exodus and the redemption of the Hebrew people reaches its first climax. But even that is only the beginning of the great story.
We find Moses again in the second reading, as St. Paul reflects on the deeper mystery of the Hebrews’ flight from Egypt into the plains and mountains of Palestine. He sees it all as a prelude and prefigurement of the story of Jesus, including a dark cautionary note about assuming more than we are entitled to from God’s favor. Fashioning a people was a difficult task… apparently even for God. It still is, if we grasp the meaning of the parables in the gospel. Here the figure of Moses has disappeared from view, but not the underlying lesson of the great story of deliverance. Jesus, too, warms that without growth in faith and a resolute will toward constant transformation, it’s all for nothing and may end in disaster. God is patient, as we hear in the parable of the fig tree. But the underlying theme still sounds beneath it – even God’s patience has limits. I am reminded of a remark by Thomas Jefferson once cited by Abraham Lincoln that we might also reflect on in this era of political turbulence and moral disintegration:
“Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the Gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath? Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that His justice cannot sleep forever.”*
As we remember those who have gone before us, God’s people marked with the sign of faith, we are not simply turning to the past, but celebrating their presence to us now and forever – and ours to them. Jesus was clear about that. Recalling the remarkable event we heard about in the first reading, he said, “….in the account of the burning bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive” [Luke 20:37-38].
The lives of our beloved are hidden with Christ in God [Col. 3:4]. Our remembrance is not for their sake, but for ours, lest we forget who we are. For we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses, whether we are aware of it or not. Today we become more aware of it and celebrate remembrance.
*Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia (1784), Queries 14 and 18, 137-43, 162-63, edited by William Peden, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1954.