Thursday, September 18, 2014

Remember Me

December 9, 2011  
Filed under Articles, The Celebrant

Remember Me

December 9, 2011

The words “remember me” are some of the most intriguing in the English language (and even more so in the Greek language of the Septuagint and the New Testament!) I have been meditating for some time on the passages where we find these words.

The oldest expression of all comes from what is arguably the oldest book in the Bible, the book of Job. Job, who likely predated Abraham, walked with God and had extraordinary revelations, even describing as though in a vision, the resurrection from the dead and seeing God in the flesh at the end of time! The following passage from the 14th chapter of the book of Job appealed to me particularly and has been the cause of much thought and meditation.

[1] “Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble.
[2] He comes forth like a flower, and withers;
he flees like a shadow, and continues not.
[3] And dost thou open thy eyes upon such a one
and bring him into judgment with thee?
[4] Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?
There is not one.
[5] Since his days are determined,
and the number of his months is with thee,
and thou hast appointed his bounds that he cannot pass,
[6] look away from him, and desist,
that he may enjoy, like a hireling, his day.
[7] “For there is hope for a tree,
if it be cut down, that it will sprout again,
and that its shoots will not cease.
[8] Though its root grow old in the earth,
and its stump die in the ground,
[9] yet at the scent of water it will bud
and put forth branches like a young plant.
[10] But man dies, and is laid low;
man breathes his last, and where is he?
[11] As waters fail from a lake,
and a river wastes away and dries up,
[12] so man lies down and rises not again;
till the heavens are no more he will not awake,
or be roused out of his sleep.
[13] Oh that thou wouldest hide me in Sheol,
that thou wouldest conceal me until thy wrath be past,
that thou wouldest appoint me a set time, and remember me!
[14] If a man die, shall he live again?
All the days of my service I would wait,
till my release should come.
[15] Thou wouldest call, and I would answer thee;
thou wouldest long for the work of thy hands.
[16] For then thou wouldest number my steps,
thou wouldest not keep watch over my sin;
[17] my transgression would be sealed up in a bag,
and thou wouldest cover over my iniquity.
(Revised Standard Version)

Verses 1-4 deserve study first. These passages deal with the fundamental break with the Creator. Job and all of us have sinned. Yet Job, like Isaiah in Chapter 64 of his book (the Chapter that so deeply moved and changed St. Paul in his understanding of grace), understands that there is no hope, no law, no agency, no human work that can “make an unclean thing clean.” Like Isaiah in the 64th chapter he, in effect, asks plaintively, “Even our righteousness is like filthy rags…and shall we be saved?” Job understands that there is no way on earth or in heaven that he can clean himself up and make himself acceptable to God. His sin, his iniquity has caused death to enter his life and to cut him off from his Holy God and Creator. This is the vital prerequisite for salvation. As St Paul understood so well the very purpose of the Law given in Sinai was to be a tutor to show us our sin, and along with that, the impossibility of making ourselves clean. St. Paul’s final answer for “making an unclean thing clean” is the ultimate cleansing in the blood of the Lamb of God shed on the cross for all sin, and iniquity and it’s resulting uncleanness. Astonishingly, this holy man of old knows this without the help of the Law as his tutor, or even a blinding light on the road to Damascus!

The very last verses of the passage (15-17) represent Job’s faith, given no doubt by a revelation of God. It is the faith of Abraham and later expressed once more in Isaiah 64. God will, and must, take care of the sin problem. Job says he will! “My transgression would be sealed up in a bag, and thou wouldest cover over my iniquity.” This is the hope of Christ, the desire of nations, the faith of every true-hearted seeker after God. Job is one of those spoken of in the great faith chapter of Hebrews 11:39-40: “And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.”

Yet, there is still a problem. Job can, in some way, know God in this life. But how can he know Him when his body is destroyed and becomes like dust. Powerfully and poetically Job paints the unforgettable picture of our Great Sorrow. Death stalks us all, each and every one. In verses 7-12 he says there may be hope for a tree cut down…at the very hint of water it will send forth a new shoot and live again. But a man, when he is cut down has never been seen to live again. “…so man lies down and rises not again; till the heavens are no more he will not awake, or be roused out of his sleep.” Till the heavens are no more. No more tragic and final words have ever been spoken over the condition of humankind. There is a cosmic chill that accompanies those words; the acknowledgement that sin and death cut us off from God, from life, from beauty, from memory, from friends, from family….forever. If the story ended there, it still would be a powerful description of the truth of our condition. But, happily, it does not end there! Job goes on to express something utterly astounding! How can he know this? He goes on to describe the heart of the God he knows thus:

[13] Oh that thou wouldest hide me in Sheol,
that thou wouldest conceal me until thy wrath be past,
that thou wouldest appoint me a set time, and remember me!
[14] If a man die, shall he live again?
All the days of my service I would wait,
till my release should come.
[15] Thou wouldest call, and I would answer thee;
thou wouldest long for the work of thy hands.

Job answers his own question in words beyond belief; words that will not be repeated, understood or acknowledged until the resurrection of Jesus the Christ. Job somehow knew that God would hold his life in Sheol and separate that life from the sin that clings to it and express His wrath against the latter while “hiding” the former! (This happened the moment Jesus took the sins of the world on Himself on the cross and uttered the cry of dereliction; the cry for Job; the cry for every one of us when we escape the insanity of denial, and, like Job, acknowledge our “lostness.”)

Then comes the moment too impossible to hope for; too unbelievable to consider: Thou wouldest call, and I would answer thee; thou wouldest long for the work of thy hands. Now we are back to the word “remember.” Here we are, catapulted in Job’s dream to the very end of time; to the end of the world, and we discover the heart of a God who created Job and every other human being. What is He thinking at the End? “Where is my servant Job? Where is my friend? I remember him. I long for the works of My hands! John, at the prologue of his gospel cried out, “God is love.” Yet Job gave that phrase meaning full of pity, love, compassion and power: He will long for the work of His hands. He will remember the name of every one who called upon Him and longed for Him in return, going down to the dust in faith.

What an incredible insight! Do you know the Lord numbers the hairs on your head? Do you know that not a sparrow falls to the ground but He knows it? Do you know that you can rightly assume He is deeply in love with you and, indeed, you are His favorite child? (If you know that then you must come to the next conclusion too, and that is, so is every other soul on this planet. Unlike our earthly parents, He has infinite love to lavish on His children so there is always enough for everyone and way more besides!) Let all fear of death evaporate before the love, the memory, the passion of our God. He will remember you when the end of the world draws nigh and the earth and heavens are dissolved and He creates a new heavens and a new earth. He will long for you. If you trust in Him with all your heart, and come to the Father through Jesus Christ, He will call you and you will answer and He will raise you up to eternal life in Jesus Christ, because “He (Jesus) is the first-born of all creation” and “We will receive a body like His….” Rejoice this Advent/Christmas season! You are loved and you are remembered in Christ who comes to us in great humility!

Next Month we will look more deeply at the word “remember” and it’s place in other parts of the Holy Scriptures. Hint: the opposite of remember is not “forget” but “dismember.”

Fr. Carlos Raines

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