“Shout for joy, you heavens; rejoice, you earth; burst into song, you mountains! For the Lord comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones. But Zion said, ‘The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.’ ‘Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion for the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me.” (Isaiah 49:13–16, NIV).
Forgetting seems to be at an epidemic level in our household, these days. This struggle has definitely worsened during the pandemic, but I doubt that COVID alone can fully account for our scatter-mindedness. I could be wrong; perhaps the chronic stresses of daily pandemic living really are wreaking havoc on us, or maybe it’s just one of the inherent challenges of middle-aged mothering (or maybe my Vitamin D levels really are so low that they’re messing with my memory!) Whatever the reason, it seems like I am forever trying to track down someone’s urgently-needed-but-currently-wayward items, or perpetually playing a form of scheduling “Tetris” with the family calendar of appointments, cross-referenced with available vehicles and work schedules, and sometimes, I struggle to simply keep track of the days of the week.
Maybe you can relate, and if so, please be gentle with yourself! Remember that by some accounts, it is the 592nd day of March 2020, which has got to be a bit confusing for us all. If you are having trouble keeping track of time because of the pandemic, Google says that the pandemic days can all simply be known as “blurday!” Helpful, isn’t it?
It takes significant effort for us humans to remember the things that are important to us. We respond to this limitation by making lists, or by adding predictable routines to help us—like how I intend to put my keys in the dish by the front door every time I enter the house, so that I’ll hopefully spend less time looking for them in the future. That might help me locate my keys, but to remember significant events in my life, I’ll need more than a routine, and I think you will, too. We are frail, finite creatures who, as time passes, are prone to forgetting even the most important people and places that we hold dear.
One significant annual event that we mark as a nation is Remembrance Day, lest we forget the sacrifices made on our behalf by those who have gone before us. As I heard a military chaplain explain in her reflection last week, war dismembers us. War literally tears apart families, and sometimes it physically and morally tears apart soldiers and civilians, too. War causes catastrophic losses. And yes, sometimes war is necessary to secure peace, but even when it must be waged to prevent greater horrors, we must remember that a terrible price is always paid in lives lost, blood spilled, minds fractured, relationships broken, livelihoods lost, lands destroyed.
Canadians wear poppies on our lapels in early November not to glorify war, but as a way to remember those who serve in armed conflicts, and by those who love them, waiting and worrying at home. We gather for Remembrance Day services all across this land, often reciting an Act of Remembrance together, which ends with the poignant words, “we will remember them.” We re-member them. We recall their service on our behalf. We honour them, and we pledge as citizens to put what has been broken back together—to whatever extent that human reconciliation is possible. Living in peace means looking for ways to participate in that mending process. As people of faith, we have both a great responsibility and a great opportunity to participate in God’s healing work on this broken, yet still breathtakingly beautiful planet that we call home.
According to the playwright Eugene O’Neill, “People are born broken. We live by mending. The grace of God is glue!” We who are Christ-followers are to share God’s grace with others as we prayerfully receive God’s “glue” and go about the holy work of mending what is broken in us and around us. Part of that work happens as we turn our hearts toward Advent, the liturgical season that marks the beginning of the church year. Together, we anticipate the birth of the Messiah and we focus on the gifts that Christ both embodies and offers us through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Peace is one of those precious gifts.
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians describes the peace we have access to, writing “For he (Jesus) is our peace, who made both groups one and tore down the dividing wall of hostility. ... When the Messiah came, he proclaimed the good news of peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near” (Eph 2:14, 17). The good news of Emmanuel’s birth is something we can all still anticipate this year, whether we find ourselves feeling near to, or far away from God.
God’s remembering matters far more than our forgetting.
We can remember the familiar nativity story with confidence, no matter how tenuous our personal circumstances, or how weary our bodies, minds, or souls. Although we may become distracted by our daily to-do lists and forget our faith for a time, God does not forget us, and God will never forsake us. The One who not only signifies peace, but who actually embodies it—Jesus, the Saviour—makes peace possible for us despite our human frailties and failures; he reaches out a tiny hand, full of grace and truth, giving us everything we need for our redemption, our re-membering.
In Christ, God puts us back together.
In Christ, we are made whole again. We are restored. And, as the Prophet Isaiah foretold, God comforts us and has compassion on us. God remembers us, and when we doubt God’s goodness or God’s care for us, when we worry that God isn’t paying attention to us in the ways that we are expecting; when we feel like we’re being neglected or forgotten altogether, we are reminded of this beautiful promise: “I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands” (Isa 49:16).
Be encouraged by these beautiful truths today: You are a beloved child of God, and your place in the household of faith is secure. You will never be forgotten, because God has written you on the palms of God’s own hands.
 O’Neill was writing in 1926, so it is unsurprising that the original quote uses masculine pronouns. I’ve updated the language to make it more accessible.
Speaking of Isaiah 49, here's a link to one of my favourite worship songs: "He Knows My Name" by Tommy Walker (℗ 1997 Maranatha! Music). Enjoy!