We sing a song at times about holy ground. That is about a place where God made himself present and known, which then becomes a powerful reminder to the people who had the experience there. Because of such rapid and easy mobility today, very few places have such an impact on us. But in Bible times, it is amazing to consider the prevalence of holy ground.
We think of Moses who is told by God to remove his sandals because the ground was holy. Never could he be in that area again without shivering!
We can think of the priests who crossed the Jordan on dry ground as God split the waters. They took rocks from the dry path, which just moments ago were under a powerful stream of water, and set them up on land to forever remember the incredible experience they just witnessed.
At other times, areas were renamed because of God making an appearance. When God provided a ram that spared Isaac’s life, Abraham was moved and named that location. When God wrestled with Jacob all night, Jacob named the location and never forgot the experience. In fact, when Jacob had a special dream and made a covenant with God in Genesis 28, he renamed a place, calling it “Bethel,” or “house of God.”
Several things happen to him after that and he got rather casual with his walk with God. So God came calling in Genesis 35 and asked Jacob to make a trip back to Bethel. God was not as much interested in making Jacob travel, but he was interested in Jacob remembering the covenant he made in that place and get more serious about honoring it. By traveling back there, Jacob was reminded of the powerful feeling and the strong intentions he once had. So before he traveled back, he asked his family to put their gods away, wash, and put on new clothes. These are things he should have done before, but he had gotten distracted. The trip back to that holy place caused him to make the changes he needed to make.
That is the purpose of the holy place.
What are our memorials and holy places today? We actually do have some. Holidays, which are literally “holy days,” are days set apart to be different for a particular reason. Each one commemorates a special event. The purpose is to take time to remember that event and never let the lessons of it be forgotten. It does not guarantee remembrance, for it can turn simply into a day off and not a day to remember. It still requires effort, but the reinforcement by culture signified by the day makes it much more likely. By design they trigger memory and emotion for the sake of character formation. In reality, each person has their own such places.
A home you grew up in can cause you to reflect and focus, as in the country song, “The House that Built Me.” The scene of a significant event, good or bad, can be a place to go and sharpen your intentions to live well. If you have ever been to the Oklahoma City Memorial or the September 11 memorial, or if you do a trek back to the hospital you were born in or to the church you were baptized in and you remember the scene, it can powerfully reinforce and shape you. Visiting a grave works this way for many people and is emotionally quite powerful.
The purpose is to take time to remember that event, and never let the lessons of it be forgotten.
It seems clear from these things that what is required for character is memory. Events change our lives but character is formed when we keep the memory of what those events mean before us to motivate our lives toward a particular end. This is what weekly worship is about, particularly the Lord’s Supper. Jesus made it clear we are to “do this”—a specific action--for a reason, “in remembrance of me.” Apparently what Jesus did, as powerful as it was, can be dulled and made inconsequential if we fail to remember it. Keeping his sacrifice alive in our memory is the most important factor in whether our faith will continue, grow, and produce the end result it is designed for—to guide us to him. It is very easy to say to ourselves or to others, “I will never forget,” when the event or experience is fresh. But time has a way of dulling things. Time has a way of robbing us of what we once knew for sure and felt strongly about. In essence, time can bring upon us a kind of dementia that makes what we once knew and believed become hazy and even disappear.