One evening, near the end, I was lying next to Bob as he rested in bed. He turned and held me tightly with his gaze and said, “Remember, always remember, I love you all so much.” I gave him my word. The moment would be impossible to forget, as is his life. On his gravestone are the words, “We’ll remember.”
Theologian Victor Shepherd says to remember “is to bring up a past event into the present so that what happened back then continues to happen right now. What unfolded back then, altering forever those whom it touched, continues to be operative now, altering those who ‘remember’ it now.”
Think back to the marriage altar we noted before, where a covenant was made through sacrificial love. There is another kind of altar, equally as sacred, but one that contradicts the well-meaning intentions of your loved ones who misunderstand and want you to “move on” and “have more faith.” It is the altar of remembrance and marks God’s faithfulness and unrivaled power that stops at nothing to make a way for His people.
This altar reminds us of when Jesus refused to save Himself so that He could save us from the unrelenting darkness. It invites us to trust when the path is covered in shadow and fear. This altar reminds us of when He brought us through the impossible and steadies us in the midst of present chaos and future unknowns. It tells others our story and leads the lost and weary home. This altar reminds us of His promise to always be with us. This altar has boundless possibilities and power to heal and transform our pain.
This altar alters us forever; as it should.
Grief must move and be expressed to be healthy, but we never simply “move on.” Life is too sacred for that. No matter what anyone may tell you, dear friend, remembering is an expression of faith when surrendered to God as an act of worship.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4 NASB). Mourning is the intense experience and expression of grief. To get to the comfort, we mourn. It is here, at the altar of remembrance, the blessing awaits, and spiritual muscle is formed in faith and pain. This altar gives permission to grieve and remember. Your loss is worthy of the effort by far, and—though it’s hard to imagine—the comfort you receive will surpass the grievous night you inhabit now.
Think of this: when the Israelites crossed the Jordan, the very rocks under their feet became their altar of remembrance. The path through the unthinkable became their glory and signified a new beginning in a new land with a new sense of purpose, and it will be so for you.
Treasured friend, your altar must be built of stones from the middle of your Jordan too. Intentional remembering is sacred and is literally made up of the rugged path you have walked, just like Jesus. But the path He walked must become the cornerstone of your altar and your grief for you to stand.
The privilege and gift of remembering didn’t stop in the Old Testament. Our Christ called for the continuing, intentional practice of it when He instituted communion—far more than a one-time token act we perform before “just moving on.” The quiet hours in the Upper Room marked the transformation of Passover, acknowledged as the central memorial of deliverance to the Jewish people. Jesus breathed new life into it with His own. He “fulfilled” it’s meaning, or . . . filled it full, and told us to continually drink Him in until we are reunited—and filled-full with the meaning of remembering.
There was a time when our daughter Jennifer was wrought with the inconsolable thought that her Dad would be forgotten by others, though he was profoundly loved by all who knew him. The pain of it waned through the years but continued to secretly pierce this Daddy’s girl as life carried on, and she wondered if people had forgotten. We added many stones to her altar of remembrance over time, including a walk down the aisle without her Dad, and the birth of two sweet girls. When a third was on the way, and a boy was the forecast, God gave them the name “Zechariah” before they ever knew its meaning: Yahweh remembers.
Dear grieving friend, you are free to remember your loved one, because God remembered you on the supreme altar of remembrance, and He asks us all to remember Him in return. He gets it.
Be intentional about it, face into it when others want to look away, honor both God and your beloved, and always remember…He loves you so much.