This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Bible: The day will come when you’ll forget

What do flatbread, dead donkeys and tambourines all have in common? (Hint: They’re not just key ingredients in the world’s worst dinner date.) They are symbols of remembrance, memory devices meant to recall God’s mercies toward Israel.

Meghan Good

I’d like to think I have pretty good recall. I can, for example, instantly spout the names of all 13 dwarves in The Hobbit — a fascinating tidbit to fill an awkward pause at a party. But there’s nothing like a holiday visit to family to disabuse one of such self-delusions.

Whose bright idea was it that fateful day to ride the lawn mower blindfolded? Did you really say that thing you know for sure you’d never say but everyone is insisting you said? What was the name of the first-grade teacher who absolutely changed your life?

As the Israelites prove about a mile out of Egypt, spiritual memory is particularly fickle. Sure, God has delivered them with devastating plagues, a blazing pillar and some spectacular waterworks. But then the sun gets hot and their stomachs start growling and the water begins to taste a little bit funny.

And before long, someone asks the question all of them are thinking: “Wait, tell me again why we decided to follow God all the way out here?”

It’s an acute demonstration of the human condition. Miracles fall forgotten in the back of the closet like a once-worn sweater. Those who prayed earnestly for rain are annoyed when their wheels get stuck in the mud. The lame complain of the toes they stub while leaping. The pangs of the present always seem more compelling than the providence of the past.

Even the Exodus can be forgotten in the sands of sin. And forgetfulness leads where it always does — to anxiety, discouragement and restless discontent.

The antidote to spiritual amnesia is built into Israel’s earliest life. It’s in a festival of flatbread and bitter herbs. It’s in a redeemed firstborn. It’s in a song of horse and chariot rolled into the sea. It’s in the aroma of cooking lamb. Each bite, each coin, each chorus is an act of excavation, resurfacing past memories to recover present hope.

A day will come for each of us, just as it did for Israel, when it will be hard to remember why we pray. A day will come when we will forget the call that brought us to this place. A day will come when the experience we swore would define us forever will fade like a henna tattoo.

There are moments worth remembering, experiences that were meant to define and anchor our lives. For example, the day you went down in the water and committed yourself to a lifetime of dying and rising with Jesus. The day God broke the chains that kept you bound to painful patterns. The day you sensed such a powerful stirring of the Spirit within that you changed the whole course of your future plans.

But what ritual repositories will release faith’s memories at the times we are most forgetful? This is what I’ve been pondering lately. What creative, small gestures, woven into the regular life-rhythm of a person or community, might just help keep memory alive where it matters most?

Perhaps a festival that marks a day we once saw God appear. Or a symbolic act that re-enacts some great gift of grace. Perhaps the story of a miracle set to a melody. It might be as small as a candle set adrift on a pond or as lavish as an annual baptism-day celebration meal.

Israel was wise enough to recognize: When darkness falls, the brightest light may sometimes shine from behind. Rituals are often the hand that holds that light aloft.

Meghan Larissa Good is pastor of Albany (Ore.) Mennonite Church.

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