It feels a little silly making another short post chiefly in response to one piddly little word that I read in the Bible this morning, especially since I’ve commented on a similar word before. But the fact of the matter is, it’s a complicated concept which many people assume is simple and benign. And because I believe Truth matters, and because it has implications on what I consider the very heart of all Christian life and worship, I have to point this out. Eventually perhaps I can collect all of these little entries (safely assuming there’ll be more in the future) into one larger word study as a background support for the relevant section of Theologia Communitatis.
The word in question as you might have guessed from the title is “memorial.” The passage in which I read it was the beginning of Acts 10.
Now there was a man in Caesarea named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort. He was a devout, God-fearing man, as was all his household; he did many acts of charity for the people and prayed to God regularly. About three o’clock one afternoonhe saw clearly in a vision an angel of God who came in and said to him, “Cornelius.” Staring at him and becoming greatly afraid, Corneliusreplied, “What is it, Lord?” The angelsaid to him, “Your prayers and your acts of charity have gone up as a memorial before God.
The Greek word is μνημοσυνον (mnemosynon), related to the root from which we get our English word mneumonic – something that aids memory. It’s also related to the Greek word anamnesis – the concept of remembering something again, and used to describe the OT sacrifices as well as the Eucharist.
So what’s all this about a memorial? What memory was being evoked by the Centurion’s religious devotion? Were these good deeds causing God to remember the Centurion? Were these good deeds enabling the Centurion to remember God, or expressions of how he remembers God? It seems that picking just one of these possibilities would have horrible consequences. If it was all about God being reminded of the Centurion, then it sounds like we have to work to get God’s attention, and that is total heresy – out of line with the rest of solid biblical teaching. If it was all about the Centurion being reminded of God or remembering God, then why would an angel come and tell him what he was already doing?
The most sensible conclusion here is that it contains elements of both. These ‘memorials’ are two-way lines of communication – or communion – between God and humankind. And when you line this up against Old Testament descriptions and laws concerning sacrifices, you find that there’s a clear allusion in this passage in Acts to those old sacrifices. Simply put, this “memorial before God” is an act of worship. So beyond just mental recollection, these pesky “remembrances” are also acts of worship. And not just any old worship, but true spiritual worship, the kind God most desires, because it comes from willing hearts – the perfected combination of duty and love.