Text: John 11:1-45

For some months now I have wanted to share with you something that is perhaps less proclamation and more teaching.  And then I kept forgetting…  But now I have remembered again…
Actually…I want to talk to you about the concepts of ‘memory’ and ‘remembering’ in the Bible.  These are words that we use everyday and, when we come across them in the Bible, it is unlikely that we would stop to give them any special thought.  Nor do we pause dramatically in our prayers or in our worship when we come across them.  For example, there is no special solemnity given to the phrase “Do this in remembrance of me” in our celebration of the Lord’s Supper.
But maybe there should be…
On the screen is the Hebrew word “זכר ” which means “he remembers”.  But in Hebrew thinking remembering works somewhat differently to how we think of it in English. 
In English, to remember something means to stand in the present, the here and now, and look back to the past, and to think about some event that happened, or some word that was spoken ‘back then’.
But in Hebrew, to remember means to take what happened in the past and bring it into the present.  What that means is that when we remember something it still has an effect on us now; we bring what happened in the past and let it have an impact on the present.
All of us, in fact, remember in this way from time to time even though we are not Hebrew speakers.  If I were to ask, “Remember when you started school for the first time?”  Many of you would, in an English-thinking way, think back to the year, the town and the school, the name of your first teacher, etc.  But if there are a few of you who had a particularly traumatic time of it, when you remember that event it may all of a sudden make you feel anxious now, or hurt, or sad; as if the memories and the feelings are still very real, and very significant for you.  You can probably think of various different memories that still have a strong emotional impact on you because somehow what happened then still effectively impacts your life now.
And that is what you have to think when you read or hear the word ‘remember’ in the Bible.  When God remembers, or when God’s people remember, or when someone is commanded—“Remember!”—this always means bringing the past into the present, making it part of the present reality.
Let me give you some examples.
At the end of the flood, God put a rainbow in the sky, and said this:  “Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life.  Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.” [Genesis 9:14-16]  When God says “I will remember” he is saying that the covenant made ‘way back then’ still stands!  What he promised ‘back then’ is still in effect in his relationship with his people at any time now or in the future.
Zechariah and Mary celebrate in songs at the beginning of Luke’s Gospel.  When God announces the birth of John to Zechariah, he sings, “He said he would show mercy to our ancestors and remember his sacred covenant.”  And Mary, at the announcement of the impending birth of Jesus, sings, “My heart praises the Lord; my soul is glad because of God my Saviour, for he has remembered me, his lowly servant!”  God made a promise to Mary’s ancestors, and in sending the Saviour he not only remembers them, but he remembers Mary!
In Psalm 25, the psalmist prays to God and asks him both to remember and to not remember!  “Remember, O LORD, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old.”  He wants God’s love and mercy to be present now, to be part of the situation now.  And then he says, “Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you are good, O LORD.”  Remember not the sins of my youth—don’t let the mistakes of my past be part of our relationship now, leave them right out of the equation and, instead, remember me, think of me now, according to your love; bring your love into the present, but leave my sins out of it.  Please!  [Psalm 25:6-8]
Which is, in fact, what God’s forgiveness means.  Through Jeremiah he says, “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” [Jeremiah 31:34]  God’s forgiveness means no more memory of the sin!  It is not relevant now.  It does not exist any longer in God’s present reality.  God will not keep pointing it out; God will not add it to new sins, to new mistakes—it is no longer a part of the present because he will remember it no more!  Think about that a little while and consider that what you lay before God in your confession—here in worship, or in your own prayer—consider that when you go, when you ‘move on’. God has not ‘filed it away’….  It no longer is!
On the other hand, when we do remember God’s faithfulness as when God remembers his promises, this empowers us in an amazing way.  Consider this….
In Psalm 63 the psalmist says:  “On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night.”  [Psalm 63:6,7]  Remembering brings God’s presence and peace into where we are today, or tonight; into the middle of our dreaming, or tossing and turning, or planning for tomorrow, or reflecting on today.
Or this one….
Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.”  That commandment, that ‘remembering’, draws us into the reality of the seventh day of God’s creative work—a day when God reflects on the fact that what he has made, and those whom he has made in his image, are ‘very good’.  And he rests.  Remembering brings us the joy of Sabbath rest, of Sabbath wonder, of Sabbath reflection on the goodness of God and the goodness of God’s creation.
But, perhaps of some significance in this time of the year, are a couple of other uses of the ‘remember’ concept that we should consider.
Each Sunday when we worship together at the altar we hear first Jesus’ words from his last supper.  I read them as Paul records them in 1 Corinthians:  “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: 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.’ [1 Corinthians 11:23-25]
When we ‘do this’ in ‘remembrance’ Jesus does not intend that we stand in the present and look back to something that happened 2000 years ago.  He intends, as the language says quite intentionally, that we know the reality of what he has given us in the present, in the here and now.  When you and I ‘do this’ in ‘remembrance’ of Jesus we celebrate that he is with us, his body and blood, given for us for the forgiveness of sins, here and now.  ‘Remembrance’ brings his supper, his cross, his suffering, his death, his resurrection as present realities.  There is no gap.  There is no time or change between the ‘then’ and the ‘now’.  Remembering brings the ‘historical moment’ into the present; the promise, the gift, the love into our current reality.
And if you can ponder on that even just a little you will perhaps understand the prayer of the thief on the cross, just a little more richly; and the significance of Jesus’ answer!:  “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” [Luke 23:42,43] 
When Jesus remembers us, we are already there!  When we remember Jesus he is already here!
Remember this as you pray, worship, confess, rest….  Remember God’s promises, God’s blessings, God’s forgiveness, God’s washing, God’s feeding, God’s raising up!  Remember…