by Luke Agase | Moody Bible Institute
For the first three months of the year, I had the privilege of concluding my undergraduate studies in Germany, focusing on the Protestant Reformation, begun exactly five centuries ago. Along with a theological examination of the Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions of the sixteenth century, I had the opportunity to explore the darker side of German history in the twentieth century. From standing in the ruins of the Nazi Party Rally Grounds in Nuremberg to shuffling past the crematorium of Dachau, I was confronted with the hopelessly stark reality that I stood in the shadows of evil incarnate. The Holocaust, perpetrated against the Jews by Adolf Hitler and the National Socialist regime in Germany during the mid-twentieth century was for a singular, depraved purpose: racial extermination. This genocide is an event that deserves to be undone and forgotten, yet the consistent exhortation is, “remember.” Why? Why must humanity remember such an atrocity? Specifically, why must we, as Christians, remember? Let’s consider the Christian’s most important resource: Scripture.
Remembrance is a chief biblical theme. In the Old Testament, we find the Jewish people to be defined by their ability to obey God’s commands to remember. The call to remember is weaved through the Patriarchs, the Torah, the Kings and the Prophets. It is found in the feasts, such as the recently celebrated Passover. These holy festivals are divine mandates found in the law for Israel to remember from where they come and whom they serve. The lesser festivals like Hanukkah are also hinged on this sense of remembering. One may wonder, “these are only examples of remembrance as forms of celebration, so why do we have to remember something so heinous?” The biblical narrative does not shy away from communicating the need to have its readers recollect the wickedness, faithlessness of and judgment upon humanity throughout its recorded history. Just recall examples such as Sodom and Gomorrah, the golden calf, or the Assyrian and Babylonian exiles, as well as numerous others. Remembrance carries itself into the New Testament with the ultimate command to remember coming from the mouth of Jesus himself regarding his sacrifice: “do [communion] in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:17-20; 1 Cor. 11:23-26). After all, his is a call to remembrance of great suffering that turns to greater hope.
Remembrance is what allows us to stare down the horror of Holocaust and say defiantly, “never again!”
So, why remember?
Remembrance fosters action; it makes the past tangible and provides a foundation to act for the defenseless and for the benefit of self and others. Remembrance fights against ignorance, apathy, and complicity spirits. It is what gives us the time to grieve and to rejoice, and it breathes life into our common pursuit of good. Remembrance is what allows us to stare down the horror of Holocaust and say defiantly, “never again.” It is what also allows us to love those who have been wounded by the past. It is what inspires learning, humility, and compassion for the voiceless and oppressed. Remembrance is what allows those who support the Jewish people to continue in their effort and know it is never in vain. It allows us to do what we do. In his 1986 Nobel lecture, Elie Wiesel profoundly describes what it means for the Jews to remember in light of the Holocaust, “For us, forgetting was never an option. Remembering is a noble and necessary act. The call of memory, the call to memory, reaches us from the very dawn of history…it is incumbent upon us to remember the good we have received, and the evil we have suffered.” It’s fitting that, for a day like Yom Ha’Shoah, a day is taken for the all people to remember, remember and grieve the evils suffered, but to turn this suffering into hope as we reflect to say “never again” and rise to action for a better world and stronger Christ-like witness. On Holocaust Remembrance Day, let us take the past’s great suffering and turn it into tomorrow’s greater hope.