There’s a very important word in the Old Testament that not many people think about, but to the Hebrew people of old, like the Jewish people of today, it’s a word that’s deeply grounded in their culture.
It’s the word remember.
One of the earliest examples is during the exodus, and the reminder of the Passover meal: “This is a day to remember. Each year, from generation to generation, you must celebrate it as a special festival to the Lord” (Exodus 12.14, NLT).
Another early example is right in the Ten Commandments: “Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy” (Exodus 20.8, NLT).
When the Israelites did not remember their past, they disobeyed the Lord. “After that generation died, another generation grew up who did not acknowledge the Lord or remember the mighty things he had done for Israel” (Judges 2.10, NLT). This story repeated itself over the course of history.
Of course, the most common remembrance today for Jewish people (for us outsiders) comes in the remembrance of the Holocaust. If you’ve ever visited Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, or any of the other similar museums around the world, you were moved by the exhibits that will preserve the memory of the death of six million Jewish people for all time. The same could be said of the prison camps in Europe: they exist as reminders of the past.
The Jewish people want to remember the past, both for the sake of their relationship with God and for avoiding the repetition of evil.
Thus am I troubled when I see news reports of people wanting to rename streets, take down monuments, and find other ways to attempt to erase history, because it is through that history that we learn. “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it,” said Spanish philosopher George Santayana, famously. While we may not want to glorify people for atrocities committed, we must keep those things which enable us to remember those atrocities, lest they be repeated.
Context is important, too. If we remove all memory, for example, of John A. Macdonald or Egerton Ryerson (here in Canada), how will we remember the many good things they did for our country? Rather than erase history, let’s put it in context, so we may be inspired by the good, and discouraged from the ill.
As followers of Jesus and people of the new covenant, we are called to remembrance as well. Among the greatest of these remembrances comes whenever we gather around the Lord’s table, mindful that Jesus celebrated the last supper and called us to celebrate “in remembrance of me” (Luke 22.19, NLT).
As long as the church celebrates the Lord’s Supper, we will have a visual reminder that cancel culture has no place among God’s people.