|The Globe, London, September 2009|
Don't read Shakespeare. That's right, an English major just told you not to read Shakespeare. However, I will tell you listen to him.
In the Bard's day people went to hear plays not see them. Don't believe me? The monarch's seat of honor was behind the stage. Also, if Shakespeare had made his plays visually appealing, he wouldn't have written those long descriptions of the forest or the palace that we now hate having to read.
Ok, so Shakespeare wanted his audience to listen. Why? Shakespeare's plays help us to remember civilization. From Julius Caesar to Henry V and Cleopatra, he points back to what created English civilization. Furthermore, he creates civilization for us to remember through his contemporary comedies and tragedies.
But Shakespeare isn't the only one who wants us to listen for the sake of remembering. Throughout the Books of the Law, God gave instructions to His people and then told them the why. But, every Israelite didn't have a copy of the Torah in their tent. They would have to gather as a congregation to hear it read. When Jesus stood up to read Isaiah 61 in the Nazarene synagogue, He was reading that week's passage (Luke 4:16-30). Jews still carry the tradition of congregationally reading through the entire Torah every year.
Can you imagine hearing this year after year? Eventually how much would be automatically memorized? But what was the purpose?
"and that you may remember and do all My commandments, and be holy for your God. "
"And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day."
"And you shall remember that the LORD your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you [and] test you, to know what [was] in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not."
The Christian life consists of remembering the Gospel. We were once slaves in Egypt. Bound to the flesh, the old man, Satan, sin, and death. The human race once dwelled in an old world. But, we have to remember that Christ walked the Exodus for us. He was the scapegoat sent into the wilderness. He became the highest High Priest. Jesus was crowned King of the new Israel.
Christ already paid for this sin, so I walk freely. Jesus already conquered this, so I show others that it belongs to Him. Christ sanctified me so I now boldly approach the throne.
We constantly forget what has already been done for us. That's what sanctification is, remembering what has been done and then living as if it really was done. Because of what Christ did, some things aren't worth remembering: "forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead. (Philippians 3:13)"
How do we remember? By hearing the Word spoken. By letting your spirit be still so that Christ, the Word made flesh, will guide you. By not forsaking the assembly of believers in order to hear the Scripture preached and the weekly verbal affirmation that "Your sins are forgiven in Christ." By hearing Scripture in your home. By singing psalms and hymns.
As Christians we must corporately remember what God has done for us as a body within fellowship: "I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete [it] until the day of Jesus Christ; (Philippians 1:3-6)" Paul often opened and closed his letters by remembering experiences with the saints.
Once we remember, what do we do with it? We build a new world. God's people came out of Egypt to serve a new Pharaoh, to build the nation of Israel. They had spent generations building Pharaoh's temples, tombs, and cities, now they would build a tabernacle and temple for the Lord their God. Christ came to destroy the old order of doing things and was crowned King over the new order.
Shakespeare wrote of his growing civilization. We have been placed in a Kingdom to be built. How do we do this? We remember what Christ has claimed and we reform it and conquer it here, where we walk and in what we do everyday. Remembering civilization builds civilization.
Listen to Shakespeare to know what culture you are reforming. Moreover listen to Jesus - because He already did it all. Sit down, still your soul, and remember. Who knows, maybe one day one of your grandchildren will wake up to find a world changed by your remembering.