Worship and the Art of Remembering

We live in a culture that fills today with questions about tomorrow. What experience is next? What job follows? When is the next episode released, the next gadget? We walk around with a smart phone in our hand waiting for what’s next. And because culture has done this to us for so long, we’ve been convinced that indeed, all the answers: the answers to life, to identity, and to purpose, are all found in front of us—in the things yet to occur.

What if this perspective is backwards? What if what we’re expecting the future to give us could only be actualized as much as we had already discovered it in the past? Said another way: What if to discover wholeness in the present we had to remember the past, not figure out the future? In fact, maybe our obsession with the future is actually an attempt to find a past to belong to. Maybe all our answers are found in remembering?

Remembering in Worship

Now, you may be asking, “Isn’t this a worship blog? What does remembering the past have to do with worship?” Everything. Which is why this topic is so important in a time so overwhelmed with relevancy (as opposed to contextualization), seeker-friendly services, modern and trendy worship experiences. Every week we lead a congregation that has been trained to look to the future for answers. Consequently, our services are often built to keep up with their future oriented lives in fear of becoming irrelevant. But what if remembering is the most relevant thing we can offer our congregations?

Remembering answers the questions we regularly look to the future for:

The question of identity:

“Who am I, who are we, where do I belong?” is not answered when you finally achieve something, but instead when we gather and remember a God who formed good things at the beginning of time and imparted his image upon His creation.

The question of call:

“What am I to do?” is not answered in finding the perfect job, but instead when we gather and remember a God that loved humanity so much he came down and was with the hurting and the broken.

The question of purpose:

“Why do I do this?” is not answered the day your name is called and everyone applauds your success, but instead when we gather and remember the words of Christ himself who came to save his people from their sins.

The question of possibility:

“How do I do this?” is not answered tomorrow when you finally have the time or the qualifications, but instead when we gather and remember the saving deeds of an omnipotent God throughout all of history.

The future will never give us these things. They will always come from the past.

Enacting the Past

However, it must be stated that worship does not simply point to the past, but rather brings the past into the present. Laurence Stookey uses the allegory of remembering your graduation to make this point. Imagine someone asked you to remember your high school graduation. You might remember the place it was held, the crowd, your family. But ask an ancient Hebrew to remember and they would “rent a cap and gown… [and] with great dignity and pride…walk across a room while a recording of ‘Pomp and Circumstance’ played. Having previously engaged a caterer, [they] would then throw a party for [their] friends.”[1]

Worship does not simply remember stories; it brings those stories to the present. In fact, perhaps it is in the enactment of a past saving work of God that we ourselves experience that same salvation in the present. This re-enactment, or re-presentation, is seen throughout the Old Testament in the altars built to signify a place God had done a significant work (not just a place to set the enormous flower arrangement or the giant bible), in stones that were placed to remember miracles and promises, feast that would be had all to remember and enact the work of an active and present God.

Similarly, we gather as a corporate body every week around an altar to remember what God has done all the way back from Adam and Eve, to the transformation of the people around us, up until the last breath we took. God has been present among his people, sustaining, restoring, freeing, and sanctifying. Do you take time to remember these works in corporate worship? Not only within the biblical narrative but also within the lives of your congregation. Shouldn’t this be a primary reason for gathering?

Relationships don’t exist on the basis of what will happen as much as on the basis of what has already happened. Therefore, lead your people in remembering the saving deeds of their triune God. And as we remember, we will watch together as our futures, the future of the Church, the future of Israel, of Abraham, of Noah, even Adam & Eve is transformed by the past to usher in a new creation.

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[1] Laurence Stookey, Eucharist: Christ’s Feast with the Church (Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press, 1993), 28.

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