The Worst (Best) Part of Holding Memories
The worst part of holding the memories is not the pain. It’s the loneliness of it. Memories need to be shared.
-- Lois Lowry, The Giver
We are complex beings. Ancient moments never forgotten shape and mold us into the men and women we are today. The slight grin of others when you were a kid and fell going down the stairs. The disappointment you caused your parents in an unexpected moment of weakness. Like Poe's raven, showing up on your evening doorstep, sins of your past haunt your present, destroying you piece by piece.
And the problem with memories is that often only we share our particular experience. Others may have been there, but only we remember it from our vantage point. There's loneliness in that. The moment, years ago, that informs who you are today cannot be replayed nor replaced. We are, for better or worse, stuck with the memories of our past.
Like all of our lives, memories are best when shared. The collective memories of the family replay the vacation twenty years ago. The memories among co-workers preserve the crazy ex-employee, even if someone else now sits in their chair. We are memory making, and memory keeping, beings.
But for all the things we can't seem to forget, there is one thing that is hard for us to remember: We are loved by God. And that's a memory that should never be lonely. In fact, the church works best when sharing this memory.
One result of sin is our inability to remember properly. We forget how sinful we truly are, forgetting how massive God's love must truly be. God's memory is not tainted. He needs no reminder of our sinful heart. It was his law we stepped over on our way to sin. He sees it all. In fact, God doesn't need to remember anything. He is outside of time, always present at every point. The greatest sin of our past is not a long-gone fall for him. It is a current and everlasting dagger of betrayal. But the work of Christ redeems it all, changing the memory from one of treachery to one of salvation.
When Jesus sat down to the last supper with his disciples, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.”And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." (Matthew 26:26-28)
In that moment, Jesus brought to pass the promise of Jeremiah 31:31-34.
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
I'm not sure what I would do if Jeremiah 31:31-34 wasn't in the Bible. For all the things we can’t forget, here is the thing we must remember: Jesus has paid it all. When God looks at us, all he remembers is Jesus. "For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more." If that verse wasn't in the Bible, what would I think of God's memory in light of mine? How would I deal with the terrible things I couldn't forget if I were unsure of God's posture toward them?
Memories need to be shared. If not, the loneliness becomes excruciating. But some memories are too painful to share. And those are the memories for which the word “excruciating” was brought into being. Upon the cross, Jesus died to wipe them clean. We may never forget them, but we can be sure that God doesn’t hold them against us. He can’t. Jesus has paid the price. He’s executed the memory and replaced it with himself. In his grace, the worst part of having memories becomes the reason for falling into his arms. Whatever we've done, or has been done to us, is washed in his blood, cleansed by his righteousness, and redeemed by his love. And in this, the memories we long to forget are transformed by grace into a memory we long to share, because in the sharing our joy is complete. The salvation of our soul becomes the memory of our life, crying out to be told so that others may find the peace we’ve been granted.