Recently I was in Dearborn, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit, for a meeting. While there I visited the Henry Ford Museum and discovered an amazing display of historical artifacts. One of those, pictured on the next page, is the chair that President Abraham Lincoln was sitting in on the night of April 14, 1865, when he was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth. He was the first President of the United States to be assassinated.
The Civil War that dominated Lincoln’s tenure, and his death just days after the surrender of Robert E. Lee’s army at Appomattox, Virginia, strongly marked multiple generations in various ways for over a hundred years. One might argue that in some ways our nation continues to be marked by both events and the various levels of meaning.
One of those levels of ongoing meaning from that period of American history was remembered earlier this month. It was fifty years ago that the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated at a motel in Memphis, Tennessee, on the early evening of April 4, 1968. Like many people in the United States my age, we remember where we were when we heard the news of King’s assassination, much like our memories of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963.
Each generation has defining events. My parents remembered where they were as young adults when they learned of the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Sunday, December 7, 1941.
Today, there is a whole generation whose defining memories are of September 11, 2001, and the attacks by an Islamic terrorist group against the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon in Washington, and the crash of United Flight 93 near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
It is a human characteristic to remember significant events. We remember birthdays, wedding anniversaries, the death of a loved one and the major events of our times.
In the Bible much emphasis is placed on “remembrance, memory and memorial.” I think of Genesis 9:15 when God said He “will remember (His) covenant” with the sign of the rainbow. Also, God called the Passover meal a “memorial” in Exodus 12:14.
Malachi 3:16 refers to “a book of remembrance” for those who fear the Lord. At His final supper, Jesus instructed His followers to eat and drink of His blood and body “in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19).
Jesus, in John 14:26, described one of the functions of the Holy Spirit as aiding in memory. He said: “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.”
Among His purposes, the Holy Spirit serves as a teacher who gives knowledge, instruction and content, and who leads us to the understanding and application of what has been taught. A teacher gives someone the necessary tools to continue life-long learning.
The Holy Spirit also serves to stir the memory of what has been previously stored. In modern language, the Holy Spirit is the ultimate “search engine.” Google and Siri don’t even come close to the memory power of the third person of the Godhead!
This means that the function of memory is not solely about the past; rather, it is the past brought into the present for the shaping of a future known by God. The Holy Spirit does this work personally and corporately among us through the testimony of the Bible, through the great cloud of witnesses through the ages whose stories inspire us, through the sharing of faith that occurs among believers in the various forms of congregational life and through the manifestation of spiritual gifts.
The issue of memory is important as we reflect on “handing down” the faith from generation to generation. It’s like taking a football and “handing it off” to the next person. 1 Corinthians 15:3 describes “delivering,” or “handing over” something to someone else. Jude 3 uses the same expression, “exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.”
It’s what we do as followers of Jesus! We “hand off” the faith to one another and each generation. You cannot “hand over” what you have forgotten! Let’s remember to do the important things that Jesus has commanded us to do: love, evangelize, disciple, forgive, serve, and worship.
By Doug Beacham
This article was published in the April 2018 issue of Encourage.