The small fellowship we attend on Sunday mornings celebrates communion weekly. Each week, a different member of the congregation shares a brief meditation before we share the bread and the cup. I took a turn yesterday; this is a slightly modified version of what I said.
Quick – without looking, describe the color scheme of the website you visited just before this one. Can you tell me what you had for breakfast last Tuesday? Do you remember the color of your first grade teacher’s eyes? How about something more meaningful – do you remember your first kiss? Or, if you’re a Christian, do you remember when you became one? Or the day you were baptized?
Human memory is a tricky thing – despite all the technological advances of the past hundred years, despite all that we’ve learned about biology and anatomy and physiology, we still don’t understand it. Researchers with years of training, years of experience, are just now beginning to scratch the surface of how our brains work, just now beginning to learn the basics of how we record, store, and retrieve the things that happen to us.
Neuroscientists have identified three broad categories of memory – short-term, long-term and working. Short-term memory can hold roughly seven pieces of information for 20-30 seconds at a time – things like a phone number you’re about to call, or the color of a car that just drove past. Long-term memory is kept indefinitely – these are events you remember from your life (high school graduation), facts about the world that you’ve retained (who’s currently president), or skills you have (how to ride a bike). Working memory often draws on both short-term and long-term memory – it’s what you use to reason, to process new information, to complete tasks and to store new memories – it’s what you use as you are trying to memorize new facts or to think through a problem.
Your brain is constantly flooded with information – sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touches, feelings. Much of this information is discarded, or sifted through your short-term memory so quickly that you don’t even realize it’s happening. Your brain doesn’t consciously record and store information unless some significance is attached to it – you must focus on the event or the fact in your working memory to make it stick. If it’s some event that’s happened in your life, you only really remember it if you repeat it in your mind. In essence, you must think about it, remember it, “relive it” to make it become a long-term memory.
Here’s the cool part: in the past several years, scientists have learned more about the differences between short- and long-term memory and what happens in the brain for each of them. To store short-term memories, the brain uses existing proteins, existing neural pathways, and existing synapses (the connections between brain cells). It makes some temporary changes to those things, but, once the memories are gone, the brain returns to its former state. Storing long-term memories is another matter entirely: the brain actually activates genes, which results in new proteins being built and new synapses being formed. When a memory is created and stored long-term, your brain is physically changed. It is literally transformed, rebuilt, renewed.
Long before modern science even came close to understanding the mechanisms of memory, the God of all the universe, the One who knows how our minds and our memories function, the One who knows our brains inside and out, down to the smallest atom, commanded us to remember, to take the bread and the cup with intention. He knew our brains needed to relive events to create long-term memories. He knew that the creation of such memories literally changes our brains. He told us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, and He gave us the exact way to do that.
1 Corinthians 11:22-26:
“For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.””
Remember. Remember what He has done and is doing and will do. Remember who you are and Who He is. Dwell on His goodness, on His love, on His sacrifice, on your own desperate need of Him. Transform your mind – literally. Remember.