Memory and the Gift of Epiphany

By Caleb Karnosh

A few years ago, I was sitting in the back seat of my family’s minivan, and my grandma sat next to me with a black jacket on her lap. Not too long into our trip, I noticed she began to stroke her jacket, petting it gently. When my parents asked what she was doing, she replied that Piper (our family dog who also had a black coat of fur) was curled up in her lap.

Several weeks earlier, my grandmother had been diagnosed with a form of dementia and was deteriorating rapidly. This moment with her served as a kind of epiphany for me, a deep perception that human memory is a fragile thing. However, we don’t need a family member to fall ill in order to realize this basic fact. We all struggle to remember, we all are haunted by memories we wish we could forget. Yet memories often fill us with joy–the smell of fresh bread kindles a happy moment in our childhood, a trip back to where we grew up often triggers memories long forgotten that lift our spirits. Human memory can bring both an intermingling of joy and sorrow. 

It may seem a bit strange, then, when we read the psalmists asking God to “remember” them. But beyond simply asking God to think about them, they are actually imploring the Lord to save them. As Psalm 136:23-24 recounts, “It is he who remembered us in our low estate, for his steadfast love endures forever; and rescued us from our foes, for his steadfast love endures forever.” The Lord’s “remembering” is salvation itself, life itself. In contrast, another psalmist laments, “I am counted among those who go down to the pit…like those whom you [Lord] remember no more, for they are cut off from your hand” (Psalm 88:4-5). The Lord’s memory, then, is a saving activity. To be remembered by the Lord is to taste salvation, to be forgotten is a mark of death. 

In the season of Epiphany, the Church celebrates the in-breaking and reality-shifting event of God the Son coming to dwell with us. The principle feast day of Epiphany is this Sunday, the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord. This feast day blesses us because, among other things, it is an opportunity to celebrate that the Lord has remembered us. Jesus Christ, God incarnate, stepped down into the murky waters of our sin-soaked human existence so that the gates of paradise may open to us. This event of Christ’s baptism serves as an epiphany to us, here and now, that the Lord has not forgotten His people, He has come for us. Even as we sit in a fallen world, our memories are always prone to forget the God who came for us. The season of Epiphany and the feast of Christ’s baptism point our attention and adoration to the Lord Jesus Christ who never once forgot his heavenly Father. And thus we, who have been baptized into Christ Jesus, being made members of His Body–the Church, now participate in the eternal, life-giving memory of God! 

This Sunday, my one-month-old son will experience this life-giving memory of God as he receives the sacrament of baptism. In this baptism and every other,  we will be confronted with the reality of Christ’s baptism, the descent of the Holy Spirit, and the gates of paradise opening to welcome us into the fold of the Church. So, wherever you find yourself this Epiphany season, whether in a season of forgetfulness or pain, take heart and rejoice, for the Lord Jesus Christ has not forgotten you.  He has split the heavens wide so that you may participate in the eternal memory of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Caleb Karnosh is currently serving as the RezYouth Middle School Manager.  In his spare time, he loves searching the shelves of used bookstores, going on walks with his wife Makenna and his sons, Luca and James.

Art: “Baptism of Jesus” by Liz Valente, Instagram @donalizvalente

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