The Pain of Being Forgotten

Exodus 1.8-10
Then a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt. “Look,” he said to his people, “the Israelites have become far too numerous for us. Come, we must deal shrewdly with them.”

It’s intensely painful to be forgotten. When we’re forgotten professionally it costs the accolade of others, the promotion we hope for, or the compensation we’ve earned.

In friendship and dating, it launches a restless search for a reason. 

In divorce, it cuts to the deepest parts of the soul.

In disease, like Alzheimers or dementia, it destroys dreams, lives, and families. 

The book of Exodus begins in the darkness of being forgotten. In a matter of a few generations, Israel went from saving Egypt to being enslaved by them. Now they toil and suffer because pharaoh has forgotten.

Being forgotten is a fruit of the fall. It’s a condition of a broken world that people can cease to be mindful of others who are made in the image of God. It’s no wonder God’s words to Moses are the words of someone who remembers — who holds close — the cry of his people. “I have seen… I have heard… I know… I have come to deliver…”

When the authors of scripture say God remembers someone they are not contrasting it to God’s forgetfulness, but the world’s. The book of Exodus chronicles God’s remembrance of Israel alongside their pain of being forgotten by Egypt.

Evil has no regard for our wellbeing in the world. Yet God remembers. It was the Son of God’s hands which were nailed to the cross because God refused to forget us — even in our sin. It was his body that was bruised and broken so that we could be known.

The true and greater exodus is found in God’s redemption of his people. The forgetfulness of the world may wound us deeply, but it cannot diminish, in the least, the vibrant life and work of Christ in our lives. In him we are remembered. In him we are restored. In him we are loved and known in a way that the forgetfulness of this world cannot take away.

Prayer
Father, you know the numbers of hairs on our heads. Our names are etched in your hand. While we were yet sinners you gave your life for us. Thank you for not abandoning us — for sacrificing so profoundly for us. May our lives be fundamentally reoriented by the love you have shown us.

Quiet Trust in an Anxious World
Part 3 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

Today’s Readings
Exodus 1 (Listen – 2:32)
Luke 4 (Listen – 5:27)

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A Vocation Hostile to Faith

Genesis 50.26
So Joseph died at the age of a hundred and ten. And after they embalmed him, he was placed in a coffin in Egypt.

The earliest dated Egyptian mummies happened naturally, preserved by the relentless heat and arid climate of the ancient Near East. Around 2,600 B.C.E, long before Joseph’s time, Egypt formalized a mummification process.

The Greek historian Herodotus was among the first outsiders to document mummification. “The embalmers [first] took out the brains and entrails and washed them in palm wine… they began to anoint the body with the oil of cedar, myrrh, cinnamon, and cassia.” 

Mummification is not simply a medical practice, but a spiritual rite. Archaeologists have unearthed amulets believed to provide blessing, and canopic jars which pair individual organs to gods for protection. Many mummies held a papyrus scroll containing spells from the Book of the Dead.

The Bible makes a point to show that Joseph asked for his father to be embalmed by doctors. Egyptian priests would have been normative, and Joseph’s maneuver likely exempted Jacob from some of the spiritual murkiness of mummification. But as a ruling official under Pharaoh, Joseph would have had a full Egyptian burial ceremony.

This isn’t the only place in scripture where faith creates tension with vocation. The Syrian army commander Naaman, after placing his trust in God, had to sort out his job requirement of assisting his leader in bowing before Baal’s idol.

God abhors idolatry. (Great reward is given to Daniel, as well as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego for purity in worship in pagan lands.) Yet, after hearing Naaman’s case, Elijah tells the commander to, “go in peace.” He is to carry the tensions of his faith into his workplace.

God knows the true resting place of our hearts. There is not only tension, but great purpose in a person wholly submitted to God yet embedded in a foreign culture. How else will the nations be reached? How will each vocation be redeemed?

The inaugural book of the Bible ends with two of Israel’s patriarchs in Egyptian sarcophagi. The author seems unconcerned by this point. He knows it’s the end of a book, not the end of the story. More importantly, his faith wasn’t in men for redemption, but in the coming Messiah.

Prayer
Lord, we long to see our vocations redeemed, but daily life in them can be inhospitable to your word. Be the resting place of our hearts. Be the center of our aspirations and desires. Give us your peace as we live in this tension as an act of faith.

Quiet Trust in an Anxious World
Part 2 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

Today’s Readings
Genesis 50 (Listen – 4:54)
Luke 2 (Listen – 6:11)

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Coming Home

Genesis 49.33
When Jacob had finished giving instructions to his sons, he drew his feet up into the bed, breathed his last and was gathered to his people.

There is a brutal reality to death that cannot be softened. When his father Jacob dies we read that, “Joseph threw himself on his father and wept over him and kissed him.” Old age may make death more expected, but nothing makes it less heartbreaking.

Joseph had been robbed of his best years with his father, reconnecting only as an adult. When he first heard Jacob was nearing Egypt, Joseph raced out in his chariot to meet him along the way. 

Reunions are meant to be joyous occasions. At their best, they are times when loved ones gather to reminisce, laugh, and feast. In this case, the beloved was restored to his family. Jacob and Joseph’s reunion was filled with the triumph of a father and son, once separated by what seemed like forever, reunited.

The revelation at Jacob’s death, that he, “was gathered to his people” is not simply a Hebrew euphemism. This is one of the first images scripture reveals about the afterlife. Like Joseph’s feelings when he fell headlong into his father’s arms, death, for the faithful, is a reunion of inexpressible joy. 

Death may be a present reality, but time is not eternity. 2 Corinthians observes that Christians are, “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” Now death; soon life. 

Even Jesus wept at a funeral — yet death did not get the last word. He called Lazarus from the grave. Resurrection is a fundamentally relational concept in the scriptures. It not only brings life to body and soul, it restores the community of believers. In resurrection a fractured world is brought to integrity through the embrace of God.

No wonder the prophets of the New Testament would rejoice at the image of the resurrection as the great banquet of heaven. Together we shall delight in new life. Moreover, whatever joy we experience as we reunite with friends and family shall be fully eclipsed by the triumph of living in harmony with our Father.

Prayers from the Past
Thanks be to you, Lord Jesus Christ: in all my trials and sufferings you have given me the strength to stand firm; in your mercy you have granted me a share of eternal glory.

— Irenaeus of Sirmium prior to his martyrdom under Diocletian c. 304 C.E.

Quiet Trust in an Anxious World
Part 1 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

Today’s Readings
Genesis 49 (Listen – 4:07)
Luke 3 (Listen – 5:24)

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Collateral Blessing

Genesis 46.29
Joseph had his chariot made ready and went to Goshen to meet his father Israel. As soon as Joseph appeared before him, he threw his arms around his father and wept for a long time.

Twenty-five years after he finished the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo returned to begin work on The Last Judgment. The painting covers the expansive, 1,700 square-foot, altar wall and depicts Christ’s return, the resurrection of the dead, heaven, and hell.

The work, which would be among Michelangelo’s last, was controversial even before it was completed. Detractors were disquieted by the amount of nudity in the painting. Papal Master of Ceremonies Biagio da Cesena joined others in critiquing Michelangelo, calling the master artist’s work, “a very disgraceful thing.”

To strike back at da Cesena, Michelangelo painted him into the corner of the wall. The critic’s head appears atop the body of Meno, the Greek god of the underworld, who greets the damned as they enter hell.

“Of the seven deadly sins, anger is the most fun,” writes Frederick Buechner. “To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor the last toothsome morsel of the pain you’re giving back to them, in many ways, is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down at this feast is yourself.”

Most people can imagine what forgiveness might cost. Where we struggle is imagining what the costs of un-forgiveness will run us and what benefits forgiveness might bear.

Michelangelo’s bitterness is enshrined in history. (There are even teams of artists dedicated to preserving it.) Un-forgiveness always works that way. Entire nations rage against one another for the grievances of prior lifetimes. 

Although it rarely feels grand, forgiveness has its own way of stretching beyond the moment. 

Because Joseph forgave, a family was preserved from starvation; from that family a nation was born.

More importantly to Joseph, he had a restored relationship with his father. Their joy-filled reunion was an effect of his forgiveness of his brothers. The meaningful things we long for are found only in the fruit of sacrifice.

Prayer
Father, we have wronged you above all others. In your gracious love you have forgiven us, restored us to your family, and welcomed us back with joy and tears. Help us to forgive others, absorbing their debts with the riches of your Kingdom.

Faith in Forgiveness
Part 5 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

Today’s Readings
Genesis 46 (Listen – 4:47)
Mark 16 (Listen – 2:34)

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This Weekend’s Readings

Saturday: Genesis 47 (Listen – 5:03); Luke 1.1-38 (Listen – 9:26)
Sunday: Genesis 48 (Listen – 3:43); Luke 1.39-80 (Listen – 9:26)

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TBT: Jesus and His Brothers

Genesis 45.4
Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt!”

Jesus and His Brothers | by C.H. Spurgeon (October 4, 1885)

Notice that, when Joseph revealed himself to his brothers, he did not say more until he had put away all their offenses against him. They had been troubled because they knew that they had sold him into Egypt; but he said to them, “Now be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that you sold me here.” That was a blessed way of saying, “I freely and fully forgive you.” 

So Jesus says to his loved ones, who have grieved him by their evil deeds, “Be not grieved, for, ‘I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, your transgressions, and, as a cloud, your sins.’ Be not angry with yourselves, for I will receive you graciously, and love you freely. 

Be not angry with yourselves, for your sins, which are many, are all forgiven; go, and sin no more. For my name’s sake, will I defer mine anger; ‘Come now, and let us reason together: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.’ ” 

Many of you know the way our Savior talks; I pray that he may make every believer sure that there is not a sin against him in God’s Book of remembrance. 

May you, dear friends, be clear in your conscience from all dead works! May you have the peace of God, which passes all understanding, to keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus, and in the clear white light of your Savior’s glorious presence, may you see the wounds he endured when suffering for your sins! 

Then will you sing with the disciple whom Jesus loved, “Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and has made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.” [1]

Prayers from the Past
With one voice we offer you praise and thanksgiving… You bought us back with the pure and precious blood of your only Son, freed us from lies and error, from bitter enslavement, released us from the Devil’s clutches and gave us the glory of freedom. We were dead and you renewed the life of our bodies in the Spirit. We were soiled and you made us quite spotless again.

— From a prayer of thanksgiving c. 200-500 C.E.

Faith and Forgiveness
Part 4 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

Today’s Readings
Genesis 45 (Listen – 4:10)
Mark 15 (Listen – 5:16)

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Footnotes

[1] Spurgeon, C. H. (1897). The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons (Vol. 43, p. 224). London: Passmore & Alabaster. Language updated.

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