Remember, Remembrance

Remember, Remembrance

To remember is a normal part of the activity of the human mind. When, however, God is the One who is remembered in prayer and ritual, or, when it is believed by the faithful that God himself is actually remembering his own relation to his people, then "to remember" with its appropriate nouns becomes a special verb in the religious vocabulary of Israel and the church of God.

The Old Testament. Yahweh is bound to his elect people, Israel, by his covenant and thus there is a unique relation between the two covenant partners. Not only does Israel remember Yahweh, but Yahweh actually remembers his relation to his people. The primary verb is zakar [r;kz].

God remembers. On at least ten occasions, Yahweh is said to remember his covenantal relation with Israel ( Lev 26:45 ; Psalm 105:8 ; 106:45 ; 111:5 ). He also remembers his covenant with Noah ( Gen 9:15 ). God also rememers the actual occasion of the making of his covenant(s) ( Exod 32:13 ; Deut 9:27 ; 2 Chron 6:42 ). "I will remember my covenant with Jacob and my covenant with Abraham" ( Le 26:42 ). The call for God to remember his unique relation to Israel does not mean that God always remembers to bless, for in his justice he will also punish ( Jer 14:10 ; Hosea 7:2 ; 8:13 ; 9:9 ). For God not to remember human sin is for God to forgive ( Psalm 25:7 ; Jer 31:34 ).

Israel remembers. The Book of Deuteronomy is rich in its call to remember the words and deeds of God. The exodus or deliverance of Israel by Yahweh from Egypt is central to this remembering (see 5:15 ; 15:15 ; Deuteronomy 16:3 Deuteronomy 16:12 ; Deuteronomy 24:18 Deuteronomy 24:22 ; and cf. 7:18 ; Deuteronomy 8:2 Deuteronomy 8:18 ; 9:7 ). The prophet Ezekiel also speaks of God's deeds in the past in order to bring right thinking and behavior into the present life of Judah ( 6:9 ; Ezekiel 16:22 Ezekiel 16:43 Ezekiel 16:60-63 ; 20:43 ; 36:31 ). Further, Isaiah recalls and portrays God remembering how he delivered his people in earlier times, in the days of old, of Moses his servant ( 63:11-14 ). Within the Psalter the call to remember is a central motif. Yet Israel, when they were in Egypt, did not consider God's wonderful works or remember the abundance of is steadfast love ( 106:7 ). Finally, there is the actual remembering of God as God, that is God according to his character ( Psalm 42:6-7 ; 119:55 ; Isa 46:8 ; Jer 20:9 ).

Memory. The noun zekher [r,kz] is used of God, who has his own memory or remembrance because of the way he reveals his name yhwh. Thus, s the name of God is praised, so is his memory ( Psalm 30:4-5 ; 97:12 ; 111:4 ; 145:7 ).

Memorial. The noun zikkaron [/r.kIz] is used of a sign that causes or evokes remembrance; such a memorial can cause either God or man to remember (see Exod 12:1-20 ; 13:9 ; Numbers 17:3 Numbers 17:5 ). For example, after the crossing of the Jordan twelve stones were set up by Joshua in obedience to God as a memorial ( Joshua 4:3 Joshua 4:7 ). The festival on the first day of the seventh month is a memorial, proclaimed with trumpets ( Lev 23:24 ; cf. Num 10:9 ). And the breastplate of the high priest likewise is a memorial ( Exodus 28:12 Exodus 28:29 ; 39:7 ).

The question arises, When believers remember the deeds of God and when God remembers his relation to Israel what kind of remembering is in view? Is it merely recollection of information about the past? Or is it remembering the past in such a way that the facts remembered have some impact on the present? As a minimum, this remembering within the Old Covenant would seem to imply that the God who performed the past mighty deeds, which are remembered, is the God who is present with his people as he or they remember those deeds. And he is present as the same, living God, bound to them in election and covenant as he was to their ancestors in days past, for he is Yahweh, "I am who I am."

The New Testament. The verb "to remember" (mnemoneuo [mnhmoneuvw]) is used on several occasions in its ordinary secular meaning to instill or teach moral or theological lessons. For example, Jesus asked the disciples if they remembered the five loaves for the five thousand in order to encourage faith ( Matt 16:9 ; Mark 8:18 ). And Peter remembered Jesus' prediction and was suitably ashamed of himself ( Matt 26:75 ). Further, in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Abraham says to the rich man "Remember that in your lifetime you received your good things" ( Luke 16:25 ). The thief on the cross asked Jesus to remember him unto salvation ( Luke 23:42 ). Paul urged the Gentile churches to remember the poor Christians in Jerusalem by making an appropriate collection for them ( Gal 2:10 ).

The act of remembering persons from the history of Israel has a positive use in strengthening faith or issuing a timely warning ( Luke 17:32 ). Remembering the courage and blamelessness of the apostles ( Acts 20:31 ; 1 Thess 2:9 ) or the good works within a congregation ( 1 Thess 1:3 ) also functions as encouragement in the Christian life. In contrast, remembering in terms of keeping someone in mind to pray and to care for them is also present (e.g., Gal 2:10 ; Col 4:18 ).

Old Testament themes are obvious in Mary's Magnificat and Zechariah's Benedictus. Mary said, " [God] has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful" ( Luke 1:54 ); and Zechariah blessed God and recalled how God would perform the mercy promised to our fathers, remembering his holy covenant ( Luke 1:72 ). Such themes are also prominent in the exhortation to remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord ( 2 Peter 3:2 ; 1:12-15 ).

In fact, the theological meaning of remembrance that builds on the Old Testament is clear in about one-third of the occurrences in the New Testament. For example, there is a remembering in prayer before God. This can be in the form of effectual intercession ( 1 Thess 1:2-3 ) or as a specific, effective memorial ( Acts 10:4 ). The Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, assists in recalling the message of Jesus ( John 14:26 ; John 15:20 John 15:26 ; 16:4 ).

The most discussed, and possibly the most important use of the theme of memory, is related to the Last Supper. Both in the account of Luke ( 22:19 ) and of Paul ( 1 Cor 11:24 ) we read, "Do this in remembrance of me " The Greek noun is anamnesis [ajnavmnhsi"]. Luke connects the command with the word over the bread and Paul with both the word over the bread and the word over the cup. What is intended by this word? Obviously any explanation must be sensitive to the meaning of zkr in the Old Testament and in Judaism, which points to making present the past, so that it can be effective in the present.

Not a few modern liturgists insist that the eucharistic memorial or remembrance is an objective act in and by which the person and event commemorated is made present or brought into the here and the now. So for the early Fathers it is the recalling before the Father of the one and once for all, as well as utterly complete, sacrifice of his Son, Jesus Christ, in order that its power and efficacy will be known and operative within the Eucharist and thus received by those present.

In contrast to this it has been argued that the meaning is "that God may remember me" — Jesus asks the disciples to petition the Father to remember Jesus and come to his rescue. Also, it has been suggested that to remember is to proclaim and so in the celebration of the Supper the church proclaims Jesus who died for us. The further suggestion that the remembering is merely to meditate on the past death and future coming of Jesus, the Lord, seems to be inadequate because it does not emphasize that he who is remembered is very much present at the memorial/remembrance.

The word anamnesis [ajnavmnhsi"] also occurs in Hebrews 10:3, "those sacrifices [of the temple] are an annual reminder of sin." that is, the sacrifices of the law do not produce a full purification from sin but only serve to be a reminder of the reality of sin.

The word mnemosunon [mnhmovsunon], meaning memory or memorial, occurs in the significant story of the woman who anointed Jesus ( Mark 14:3-9 ). Of her Jesus said, "Wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her" (v. 9). We know that the dead body of Jesus was never anointed. Thus this anointing with expensive ointment some two days before his death points forward not only to his death but also to his resurrection. The woman anointed not his feet but his head and in so doing did what the high priest should have done when Jesus was before him on trial anoint him as the King!

Peter Toon

See also Lord's Supper, the

Bibliography. B. S. Childs, Memory and Tradition in Israel; J. Jeremias, The Eucharistic Words of Jesus.

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
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Bibliography Information

Elwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Remember, Remembrance'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology". . 1997.