On this Monday, May 25, 2009, Americans will celebrate Memorial Day (originally Decoration Day), by remembering all who have given their lives in the military service of our country. Estimates of war-deaths vary, but one source reports 1,321,000 American fatalities from 1775-2009, nearly half that number during the Civil War alone. Many more persons have been grievously injured, and millions of Americans have lost spouses, parents, children or siblings to the rapaciousness of armed conflict. Our hearts go out to them all this weekend as we recall their sacrifices.
Throughout history, God has always given his people memorials as well, including the rainbow (for Noah), circumcision (Abraham’s descendants) and the weekly Sabbath (for ancient Israel), Animal sacrifices and the Lord’s Supper also both involve remembrance or recollection (the Greek word is anamnesis, a compound word that suggests the absence of amnesia). But there the similarity ends, for these two institutions memorialize events quite opposite in the results which they bring to mind. Animal sacrifices, the author of Hebrews tells us, could never take away sin. Indeed, those offerings, especially on Yom Kippur, the solemn Day of Atonement, constituted a reminder of sin (Heb. 10:3).
Each time believers observe the Eucharist or Lord’s Supper, they make a “remembrance” (anamnesis). Not of their unforgiven sins, as was the case with the Jewish faithful, but of Jesus’ perfect sacrifice for sin which also perfects his people and sanctifies them to come into God’s intimate presence. Not only does Jesus’ one-time offering not remind us of our sins, it also enables God to forgive our sins. And then, in keeping with his ancient promise of a new covenant, God himself forgets our sins and never remembers them again (Jer. 31:31-34; Heb. 8:6-13).