David Augsburger is Senior Professor of Pastoral Care at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, Calif. He and his wife, Leann, are co-pastoring a homebase church in Claremont, Calif. Author, pepper gardener, counselor, chocolatier, blogger, sculptor, and mediator, he is retired from faculty meetings and committees, but not from the fun of work.
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says 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. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more. Jeremiah 31:31-34
Old Covenant. A covenanting God at a desert mountain offered a pledge of utter faithfulness asking for faithfulness in return. We look back and hope rises from the history of a people who made a communal vow of solidarity with the One with no name but “I am who I am.” Hope is vital hindsight.
New Covenant. A jilted God, (like an abandoned husband, Jeremiah 31: 32); a betrayed God (like in breach of promise), an ignored God, (YHWH, remember YHWH?) offers a new future, a new covenant that renews the memory, recalls and restores the lost solidarity, remembers forward into new relationship. Our stories carry us through the present and into the future through the use of memory. Remembering is visionary foresight.
Look back—look forward—look both ways!
“Remembering forward and hoping backward,” is a construct from Dietrich Ritschl’s Christology that he entitled Memory and Hope.
This is the double reversal of Advent.
We hope backward. We ground our confidence in actual events. We hope because of the advent—the appearance– of the most imaginative prophet of all history, Jesus of Galilee; we hope because of his unparalleled life lived in plain view of friends and foes; we hope because he stayed true to his vision even when all turned their backs and ran; we hope because he was willing to die even when he wanted to live; we hope because he suffered the worst of human cruelty and spoke back the forgiving word; we hope because his death was temporary. We hope by looking back.
We remember forward. When we walk into the future, we remember. When we face the same major theological issue Jesus addressed—wealth and the exploitation of the poor, we remember. When greed is good and things become the only thing, we remember. When we are anxious about what we leave to our children, we remember. When all creation is being plundered, when the environment is ignored, when pollution is routine, we remember. When we are citizens of a war-promoting, weapons-producing, drone-assassinating nation, we remember. When assault weapons multiply and side arms become routine like wallet and cell phone, and move from concealed to open carry, we remember. When violence and repression, abuse and domination “are necessary to our freedom,” we remember.
We remember forward—we remember to seek first the reign of God, this odd-God of justice-righteousness.
We hope backward—we hope with Moses, with Isaiah, with Micah, with Hosea, with Jeremiah, with Mary and Joseph, with Anna and Simeon, with John of Jordan, with Jesus, with Peter and his accomplices, we hope.
Last evening at Peace Mennonite house church, we shared our communion liturgy by Balthazar Hubmaier, and as each dips the bread in the wine, the crust is held for a moment of silence then the communicant says, “Jesus, I remember.” So it goes around the circle—“Jesus, I remember, Jesus, I remember, Jesus, I remember.”
It is Advent.
Jesus. I remember.
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