Memory is one of our most important human faculties. The memory of what has gone before, in ourselves, in our lives, in the traditions – national, cultural, religious – from which we come – form a major part of our identity, of how we locate ourselves as human persons in this world. If we could ever be detached from our memory, it would greatly impair our essential humanity.
We remember especially the people who have gone before us, who matter to us, and it is good that have a month, this month of November, that we devote to remembering those who have died, our own relatives and friends, those who gave their lives fighting in the many wars that punctuate human history, anyone indeed who is no more but whose memory continues to be important for us. To pray in remembrance for the departed is one of our vital religious duties. There is, however, another way in which religiously memory matters.
The great prophets of Israel encourage the people to remember, to look back and recall how God has acted in their lives before now – how he saved them from slavery and death in Egypt and brought them into the promised land – for if we remember what has God has done for us in the past, that can give us hope and faith that he will act for us again now and in the future.
More than that – the act of remembering is not only looking back, but is a way of making present for us the effects of what God did, so that it happens again now. The Jewish people celebrating Passover say, We are the ones whom God is saving now just as he saved our ancestors of old – the Exodus is both an historical fact and a present reality.
This special mode of remembering is known by the Greek word anamnesis. In the Eucharist we remember how Christ at the Last Supper took bread and wine, blessed them and gave them to his disciples as his body and blood. By our remembering, by our ‘anamnetic’ prayer the same transformation takes place for us now, so that in Holy Communion it is truly the body and blood of Christ that we receive, the life of the crucified Saviour who is our risen Lord. In this sense the Eucharist must always be at the heart of the life of the Church. It is God’s gift to us of himself so that we can leave behind what is past and have the freedom to move on
Sometimes we can feel trapped by our past, but with God there is never any need to do so: for however important memory and the past are for us and however much we look back, we do not and cannot live in the past. As Christians our trajectory must always be resolutely onward and forward as we allow God to lead us into his future.
Wishing you every blessing,