Only take heed to yourself, and diligently keep yourself, lest you forget the things your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. —Moses, Deuteronomy 4:9
Act I Scene 1 It was a beautiful Tuesday morning. The sky was clear blue, Colorado blue, if you know what I mean. At 8:46 am the first airplane appeared. It was flying low and fast. It hit the North Tower (1 WTC) at 8:46:40 am. Explosions, fire, and chaos ensued. Then, a second plane hit the South Tower. A third plane hit the Pentagon. A fourth crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. By 10:03:11 am the attack was over. There was death and there was heroism. 2,977 people lost their lives in the attack known as 9/11, September 11, 2001.
President Bush swore that the U.S. would hit back and never forget.
Memorials were erected at the site of the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and in the field in Pennsylvania.
A few weeks ago was the 20th anniversary of 9/11. There were public and private events around the country where many gathered. The slogan for the gatherings was, “Never Forget.” In fact, most of us went about our daily lives.
Scene 2 It was early Sunday morning. The sky was blue with only low, scattered clouds, a typically beautiful day in the Hawaiian Islands. Just before 8 am the first airplanes appeared. They were flying low and fast. Explosions, fire, and chaos ensued. By 9:50 am the attack was over. There was death and and there was heroism. 2,403 military and civilian personnel lost their lives in the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
President Roosevelt called it “a date that will live in infamy.” He swore the U.S. would hit back and never forget.
In Pearl Harbor, the USS Arizona remains as a memorial to the many dead from that infamous day. It reminds us, Never Forget.
I remember the 20th anniversary events held in 1961. The attack was still fresh in the collective memory of the country. On December 7th of this year, there will be an 80th anniversary event. I suspect it will be muted, attended only by history buffs and those few remaining whose lives were directly effected by the attack.
It was a Wednesday when British troops marched to Washington D.C. That night, they set fire to the White House and Capitol building. August 24th, 2021 marked the 207th anniversary of the “burning of Washington D.C., an important event in the War of 1812–the only theme in history a foreign army has occupied the capitol of the U.S.
There are numerous memorial plaques scattered around the country commemorating various battles of this War. They quietly exhort us, Never Forget.
207 years ago…does anyone remember?
On September 11, 2081, what will the 80th anniversary of the 9/11 attack be like? Will it become as muted as will be the next Pearl Harbor anniversary? And, September 11, 2208 will be the 207th anniversary of the 9/11 attack. Will it be long forgotten as is the burning of Washington D.C.?
There are hundreds of monuments, memorials, and plaques commemorating important people and events in Washington D.C. Many thousands more are in parks and on buildings across the U.S. If you are attentive when you drive the roads, you will often see a sign pointing you to a historical marker, usually in an obscure location and hard to find. “Never Forget,” they whisper. Why do we still forget?
Act II Scene 1 It is sometime in the 1,400s BCE, about 3,500 years ago. For 400 years, God had been creating a new nation for Himself, incubating them as slaves in Egypt. They were to be set apart to worship Him, to be His people.
On a mountain top in a nearby country, God approached an old man, a has been. The man was once a Prince of Egypt, the greatest nation on Earth. He had it all. Now, he tended sheep in obscurity. Moses was his name. You may have heard of him. God gave Moses and his brother Aaron a job to do: lead God’s new people, Israel, out of Egypt. With God doing the heavy lifting to convince the most powerful man in the world, Egypt’s Pharaoh, to let His people go, Moses led Israel out of Egypt.
Over the next 40 years, God sustained them in the desert while He formed this wandering band of hundreds of thousands into a nation. He gave them an annual celebration to commemorate His work in freeing them from Egypt—it is called Passover. He showed them how to cleanse themselves from their sins so as to be able to be in His presence without harm to them. He gave them the plans for a worship tent (they were nomadic, after all), and taught the priests how to dress. He taught them how to worship Him.
In his farewell address to Israel and as they stood at the edge of the land promised to them by God, Moses reminded them of all God had done for them over the past 40 years. And, he warned them of the danger of prosperity. “Never Forget,” he said. "He delivered you out of slavery; you are His people." Then he died.
Scene 2 Israel entered the land promised to them by God. Over the next 1,400 years, Israel struggled to remember. There were 400 years of oppression and peace, then “three generations of the united monarchy (Saul, David, Solomon), nineteen kings of Israel (up to 722 bc) and twenty kings of Judah (up to 587 bc), [and a] hosts of the prophets and priests.” Israel conquered, was conquered and exiled, then restored to their land. They build a permanent building, a Temple, in which to worship God…and then it was destroyed…and then rebuilt…and then destroyed.
At one point during those 1,400 years, the number of those who remembered God and that they were His people dwindled to a mere remnant: only 7,000. The ritual acts continued. They never forgot.
Scene 3 It was night when the angels announced the birth of a baby boy to small group of shepherds huddled in a field. Jesus, the Son of God, was born in a small town in a country on the edge of the Roman Empire. Few noticed. For 30 years He lived in obscurity. During His last three years, He was…well…God incarnate walking the Earth. He didn’t come, He said, to change the rituals that had gone on before; rather, He said, He came to fulfill them. Then He was killed. Then resurrected. Then He ascended into heaven.
After His ascent into heaven, those who had known and followed Him remained His people, now known as His Church; they continued the ancient Jewish rituals, but in a changed way, a way that recognized and celebrated His death and resurrection. For 2,000 years, ancient Church has continued to participate in the 3,500 year old ritual of the Passover—we call it Easter, or Pascha (in Greek). Too, the Sunday worship (Divine Liturgy) continues the 3,500 year old worship of the ancient Church as given by God to the Israeli’s and fulfilled by Jesus.
Epilogue How have the people of God remembered the events of the past for more than 3,500 years when we barely remember horrific events of only 80 years ago. Why do the people of God still identify themselves as such after more than 3,500 years when individual nations come and go?
Monuments and memorials seem to be important to help us remember a person or an event date. But there is more than just remembering famous people or events. To truly remember, we need to know who we are as a people. To Never Forget we cannot, as individuals, only gaze at a monument to know who we are. Each of us must find our individual identity in community with others. For that, we need traditions, sometimes called rituals. We have many: weddings, funerals, school graduations, tail-gate parties, thanksgiving dinners…each tradition helps us find our identity in a community of others and with those who came before us and will come after us. In the rituals we find ourselves and remember who we are as a “people.”
To truly remember God and to join Him in His life we need a communal practice that connects us together, that reminds us of who we each are and of our joined humanity, and that joins us to reality and to God. Ritual is required God saves us together. Alone we may perish.
Ritual. The ancient path. We cannot invent new, exciting ways to worship God. We need the 3,500 years of unbroken ritual given to us by God. Changed but unchanging. It is why we “Never Forget.” It is why we remember who we are in Christ.
This is what the Lord says: “Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; then you will find a resting place for your souls.” —Prophet Jeremiah