Memorials with Meaning

Joshua base image

Memorials help us remember God’s goodness

Joshua 3-4 stresses the need to remember the history of God’s people. We get can even get a dim glimpse of some of Israel’s worship at places like Gilgal.  Deuteronomy 16:16 required that all Israelite men met at the temple in Jerusalem three times each year—at the annual Feasts of Unleavened Bread (or Passover), Weeks (or Pentecost), and Booths (Ex. 34:23; 2 Chron. 8:13). Each festival remembers some important event in Israel’s past, an event foundational to their national identity. 

 

Such annual celebrations served three purposes: (1) They ensured that Israel

remembered her history; (2) they reminded Israel of the unique identity and sovereignty of their God; and (3) they reaffirmed the kind of conduct that pleased the Lord and through which they were to live out their covenant with him.

 

For example, Moses commanded Israel to “commemorate this day [the Exodus], the day you came out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery” (Ex. I 13:3). The Passover remembered what happened at the Red Sea, reminded Israel of the overwhelming might of her covenant God, and reaffirmed that that power was available at any time. It also recalled Israel’s hardship as oppressed slaves and, thus, built an attitude of God-like compassion toward fellow Israelites suffering hardship (Lev. 25:25-28, 35-38, 39-43).

 

In bringing their offering of firstfruits during the Festival of Weeks (Deut. 26:3-11), each man set his basket of grain before the altar at the temple and recited the summary of Israel’s early history from the patriarchs (“my father was a wandering Aramean …”), through the Egyp­tian oppression, the miraculous Exodus, and onto the settlement in Canaan. The grain gift acknowledges that the whole harvest is God’s gift to Israel (v 10).

 

This worship reaffirmed God’s identity, sovereignty (specifically, his “mighty hand and … outstretched arm” (Deut. 27:8)) and generosity.  It also reaffirmed Israel’s own unique identity. In confessing his slave background and his presence in Canaan, the Israelite confessed his total depen­dence on God’s goodness and, through his gift, acknowledges God’s sovereignty over his own life.

 

These memorials link the individuals’ personal story and faith with Israel’s national story and identity.

 

•Faith and forgetfulness (4:1-10, Deut 8)

•Teaching the new generation (4: 7, 21-24)

•Unique events need unique memorials (1 Cor 11)

 

The Lord’s Supper is a prime way in which we remember the “amazing things” God has done. They include the fact that Jesus voluntarily died so that, in the mysterious workings of God’s plan, his followers might enjoy release from their slavery to sin.

 

Our times of remembrance in reality are times of proclamation:”… whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (v. 26).

 

How can we make our communion observances both times of remembrance and proclamation? Joshua 3-4 suggest several things.

 

(1) We need to include a review of the historical events behind communion as part of our observance of it.  Without the events of Easter Week, there is no crucifixion, and without the crucifixion there is no point to the Lord’s Supper.  The repetition of Scripture over time, over years, firmly fixes the events of Jesus’ death in our minds.

 

In a world that has little interest in “the past,” especially the distant past, we must keep the past alive. We must remember how Jesus went to the cross his death is actual history, not to be equated with Star Wars or Beauty and the Beast.

 

(2) Communion is a family-centred event. In Joshua 4, the remembrance of the Jordan crossing is focussed around a child’s question (v6) and an adult’s answer. Unlike today, each family did not have their own copy of the story. It had to pass from one generation to the next. Families had to pass it on by telling the story again and again over the years. Such family observances offer an obvious educational advantage: Everyone learns what happened and what it means, not just adults.

 

But the challenge for us is that to include children as participants means that remembrance has meaning for children as well as adults. But making communion more family-centred can be unsettling.  Certainly, I don’t suggest that children should take communion but that they somehow participate in it. With proper instruction (as we were doing, as it happens, last week in Re:Forge at GBC), they ought to be able to enjoy their role in the church’s remembrance, while fully understanding the reason why they cannot yet take communion.

 

It maybe that the question-and-answer pattern of Joshua 4 could be a basis for a family communion reading. Robert Hubbard offers the following:

Leader: We meet at this table because Jesus passed on this practice to his disciples who passed it on to us. We meet to remember what happened on the night that he was betrayed.

 

Child: (holding up the bread) This bread—what does it mean to you? Why do you eat it?

 

Parents: (taking the bread) We eat it because Jesus said, “This is my body given for you.” We eat it to obey Jesus’ command, “Do this in remembrance of me.”

 

Child: (holding up the cup) This cup—what does it mean to you? Why do you drink it?

 

Parents: (taking the cup) We drink it because Jesus said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” We drink it to obey Jesus’ command, “Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

 

Everyone: And so let us remember the death of Jesus. Let us eat and

drink in his memory and, in so doing, “proclaim his death until he comes.”

If done well and wisely, such simple ceremonies can celebrate that Jesus died for everyone, young and old, even though only those with  personal faith may actually take the elements.

 

Hubbard goes on to suggest that families could be used to serve communion, as well as forming “symbolic families” of single-parent families, single adults, and older people.  The point being that everyone participates, everyone learns and everyone relearns the truth that Jesus died “one for all” for the forgiveness of sins.

 

Memorials help us remembers God’s power (4:18)

•“Fear” of the all powerful God is woven into Bible (Gen 22:12; 1 Sam 12:24; 1 Peter 2:17)

•“Fear” = Treat with the greatest respect

•“Fear” is demonstrated in action (Ex 9:20; Lev 19:14; Josh 24:14)

Memorials help us remember God’s faithfulness  (4:19)

•Their redemption: begun and completed (Exodus 12:2-3)

•Our redemption: begun and completed (Eph 1:3-4)

Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ.

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