When we gather before God, we think we have something to say that God wants to hear -- as if God were truly impressed by the invention of our words or music. But the most profound thing that comes out of our mouths is what God has first said to us. Indeed, the liturgy is nearly 100% Scripture, said or sung, but not because we decided it should be. Instead, God knew what sin would do to our minds and hearts and so He directed from the earliest of days in the wake of the fall of Adam that His Word should be upon our lips.
Like many, I find myself remembering what I think God said somewhere because it fits what I want Him to say. In reality, I have misremembered what God has said. Some of it is merely amusing but much of it distorts the truth that endures forever. If misremembering is clearly our problem, then being in the Word of God is clearly the answer. That is why the Church Year is important as it repeats the Word of God and tells the stories of Christ's life over and over again in detail throughout the year. That is why the Liturgy is important because it is not the words we want to say to God but we want to say what God has said and therefore keep that Word in heart and mind. When the disciples received the promise of the Spirit, it was so that the Spirit might bring to their remembrance all the things they would have surely misremembered had they been left to their own memories. Wow. That says something.
So as we find ourselves a couple of Sundays on our way to Christmas, so early in this new Church Year, we would be wise to consider why God's Word read and preached is the center (with the Sacrament) of the Divine Service and why the versicles and responses and ordinary of that Divine Service were not left to our imagining but a speaking back to God what He has first said to us. The stories bear repeating not simply because they are good and important but because they fade from our memory without the constant retelling, and, worse, they become misremembered until they no longer bear much resemblance to the Word.
When you get to that point in your life where you begin to wonder if your bad memory is merely something you are now more fully aware or if it is indeed the sign of a memory failing, then you begin to realize how important it is to repeat what God has said. Often I think back to a blind elderly woman I visited in the nursing home. What she wanted me to do was to read to her the hymns from the hymnal (The Lutheran Hymnal!). I watched as she moved her lips as I read them -- tens of stanzas and her lips kept repeating the words. She did not want to forget or, worse, misremember the words that formed her faith from childhood and now to the twilight of her life. She was wise and was teaching me what now I find the very thing that I need and you -- to say back to God what God has said to us. Whether that comes in Scripture or in the paraphrase verse of a hymn, it is a very important part of both worship and life.
We live in a time in which the frailty of age often shows up in the disorders that rob us of our memories or distort them. How important is it then for us to keep repeating what God said so that He knows we know and believe His Word as well -- especially in those moments when our minds struggle to recall them. This is one profound truth I have learned from providing pastoral care to those who suffer such. The oldest memories and the oldest words are the last to go. I have watched as some people struggle to recall their own sons and daughters or spouses but who can repeat the Our Father or Creed without skipping a beat. In the end, that they remember this word is the most important thing of all.
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