The goal of the exhortation todayis to contrast mankind’s view of memorials with a Biblical and godly purpose for them.
Memorials mean different things to different peoples. One can learn a lot about a nation from how it chooses to remember itself. Washington, D.C., where I live, is filled with memorials to “great men” and wars of the nation’s history. From the tower of Babel onwards, humankind has been obsessed with making a name for itself, desiring to be remembered for its accomplishments. Others often wish to deify or idolize these “great” people:
“And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth” (Gen. 11:4).
Deuteronomy 16 is a good summary of the types of memorials that are in the Bible, as well as the reason for their existence: “Observe the month of Abib, and keep the passover unto the LORD thy God: for in the month of Abib the LORD thy God brought thee out of Egypt by night… seven days shalt thou eat unleavened bread therewith, even the bread of affliction; for thou camest forth out of the land of Egypt in haste: that thou mayest remember the day when thou camest forth out of the land of Egypt all the days of your life… And thou shalt keep the feast of weeks unto the LORD thy God with a tribute of a freewill offering of thine hand, which thou shalt give unto the LORD thy God, according as the LORD thy God hath blessed thee… And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in Egypt: and thou shalt observe and do these statutes…” (Deut. 16:1-12).
The Feast of Passover and the following Feast of Weeks were to be a permanent reminder of God’s mercy and grace in delivering the nation from the bondage and trials of slavery.
The Law as a teaching tool
Much of the Law of Moses was intended to be a memorial for the children of Israel to remember all that the LORD had done for them. In addition to the wonderful shadow of the coming Lamb of God, the sacrifices and feasts were a teaching tool to enable the future generations of Israel to know the great things the LORD had done for them: “Give ear, O my people, to my law: incline your ears to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old: Which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the LORD, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done. For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children: That the generation to come might know them… the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children: That they might set their hope in God, and not forget his works, but keep his commandments…” (Psa. 78: 1-8).
It was important that the children be curious and stimulated to ask the question: “When thy son asketh thee in time to come… What mean the testimonies, the statutes, and the judgments, which the LORD hath commanded you…?” (Deut. 6:20).
As the children of Israel moved into the Promised Land, Joshua left several monuments recording significant events as they went along on their journey, inheriting the land promised to their fathers: “And those twelve stones, which they took out of Jordan, did Joshua pitch in Gilgal. And he spake unto the children of Israel, saying, When your children shall ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What mean these stones? Then ye shall let your children know, saying, Israel came over this Jordan on dry land” (Josh. 4:20-24).
The acts of observing the feasts and offering sacrifices became an active, living memorial to God. By making these memorials part of His law and requirements for His people to follow, God was directing them to an active and constant remembrance of His works on their behalf. Children, and even foreigners, would ask: ëWhy do you do these things?’ This opened up a teaching and preaching opportunity, as well as providing a way in which God’s name and deeds would be remembered.
There is much for us to learn here. Our lives should be lived in the understanding that we are, in effect, a memorial to God’s name. Our behavior should reflect an attempt to obey the will of God and thereby help our families, ecclesias, and outsiders come to recognize the greatness of God. That’s a lofty goal, and sadly we frequently fail to live up to our high calling. However, it is better that people should be aware of our goal to follow the Lord rather than the ways of the world.
Memorials to pride
Absalom is an example of the desire to make a name for oneself, although his original monument became overshadowed by the memory of his folly and destruction.
“Now Absalom in his lifetime had taken and reared up for himself a pillar, which is in the king’s dale: for he said, I have no son to keep my name in remembrance… he called the pillar after his own name…” (2 Sam. 18:18). The heap of stones piled up over his grave attested to the pride and disloyalty of this son of David.
Herod the Great was an Idumean (or Edomite) puppet of Rome. He had learned from Rome’s policies of erecting great buildings and monuments throughout its empire in order to impress the conquered, and to leave a lasting legacy to the might and power of the empire. Herod’s work on the temple so awed the Jews that the purpose of worship was submerged; the temple became a symbol of national pride and greatness. Even the disciples were swayed by its magnificence, but were informed by the Lord Jesus that the whole edifice was destined to become a heap of rubble (Luke 21:6).
A lesson in contrasts
There are interesting lessons showing how individuals came to be remembered. “Remember Lot’s wife” (Luke 17:32). She became an actual physical monument of the way in which flesh leads to destruction, as well as a character lesson given by Christ.
In contrast is the woman of faith who was so devoted to her Lord that she poured her precious ointment over his head: “Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached to the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her” (Matt. 26:13).
Cornelius the first Gentile convert is another example of faith in action. Of him it was said: “Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God” (Acts 10:1-4).
Jesus Christ our Passover
Presiding brethren often read from Luke 22 or 1 Corinthians 11 before taking the emblems — perhaps because of the poignant phrase repeated in both: “This do in remembrance of me.” Christ is the sacrificial Passover Lamb of God, offered up on our behalf, to take away the sins of the world. Our weekly memorial services are an extension of what the children of Israel did when they were delivered from Egypt long ago.
Paul makes many connections and comparisons between these sets of memorials: “Clear out the old yeast, so that you may become a fresh batch of dough, inasmuch as you are unleavened. For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Cor. 5:7,8, American Bible).
Paul is alluding to the Feast of Unleavened Bread that followed the Feast of Passover. It was imperative that all leaven be eliminated from the houses of Israel. Christ’s sacrifice was our “Passover”. At baptism we eliminated the worldly leaven (sin) from our lives. Now, in a figure, we are required to live in a perpetual Feast of Unleavened Bread, representative of newness, purity, sincerity and truth.
Our lives as living memorials
The purpose of the memorials — the bread and wine — that we take on the first day of every week is to help us remember Christ’s sacrifice. But what about our conduct and behavior during the rest of the week? Surely our service to the Lord should be seen as a memorial offering to him, showing that we do remember him in our daily lives.
Now as we prepare to partake of the bread and wine, let us clear our minds and remember the wondrous meaning of these emblems: thanking the Lord God for the gift of His Son and the work of redemption.