For most of us in the West, memory is simply a visualization of something, it is rather abstract and conceptual; it might be fleeting or come and go. But for the ancient mind, memory was a thing of active participation. The customs and religious traditions are centered around remembering the events of the past and God’s love and deliverance. Words are an important part of memory, particularly the power of words from a strong person, and it cannot be overestimated. The very words continue in unfathomable power in memory. Remembering in this way becomes a meditation, or a reflection, or a kind of prayer.
Psalm 63:6 says “On my bed, I remember you. I think of you through the watches of the night.” The night is mentioned because there are so many fearful things and dangerous things in the night. It is the consoling memories that help us through the night. Whenever the Biblical characters are down, discouraged, and disillusioned they recall what God has done. They recall the loving acts of God. Even the the suffering servant texts, the temptation texts, and the “woe is me” texts all end up with reflection that encouraged. Psalm 22 is an example of this. It starts out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” But it ends up in great victory, “Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it!”
In Jesus’ day they did not have numbers as titles for the various Psalms. If I say I would like you to think about “Psalm 23,” almost everyone would know what I am talking about. But in Jesus, day, there were not numbers for the Psalms. They would quote the first line of the Psalm, which served as the title. This is like we do with Christmas carols: “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” or “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” You may not necessarily know the number in the hymnal, but you know the carol by the first line. Similarly, when a rabbi wanted his students to think of an entire Psalm, he quoted the first line of the Psalm.
When Jesus was suffering on the cross he could hardly speak. He was almost dead and he mumbled the first line of Psalm 22, “My God, my god, why have you forsaken me.” This means, to those around him, tomorrow when Sabbath comes go to the synagogue and read this Psalm, remember how it ends. Jesus’ memory of the words of this Psalm comforted him and could comfort his disciples – remember the entire Psalm ends in victory.
This memory by Jesus when he was discouraged would be passed on to Jesus’ disciples who are at the end of their rope, leaving the cross that Friday afternoon. They were in utter despair. Do you remember what the two on the road to Emmaus said? “We had hoped he would be our deliverer.” (But we were wrong.) And Luke 24 has the mystery of Christ’s presence remind the downcast disciples of memories from Scripture. Beginning with Moses and the prophets he helped them remember that God has always suffered many things. Is it so surprising that God’s anointed would also suffer many things? The mystery of the resurrected presence of Christ helped the disciples remember important things when they were discouraged and downtrodden.
Another example of memory and meditation is in Psalm 77:3-6, 12. “I remember you, O God, and I groaned; I mused, and my spirits grew faint. I thought about the former days, of years of long ago. I remembered my Psalms in the night. My heart mused and my spirit inquired. I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds.”
This text illustrates the process of someone in Biblical times letting their memories encourage them while immersed in an attitude of prayer. You can never underestimate the power of memory, particularly the power of remembering the word of God while in an attitude of prayer.
In this way, let us comfort and encourage one another as we remember on what God has done.