Asaph’s observation in Psalm 77:19 that the Lord’s “footprints were unseen” (or unknown) in the time of the exodus is instructive. There, God was clearly acting in His singular and sovereign power, for on the shores of the Sea of Reeds, with Pharaoh behind them and the forboding waters in front of them, the people were commanded to “stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today” (Ex. 14:13). And yet there was nonetheless a hidden dimension to the Lord’s presence even when He revealed His awesome deeds. “Truly, you are a God who hides himself, O God of Israel, the Savior” (Isa. 45:15). For Asaph and the exiles, the God whose steps were inconspicuous on one level was not far removed or inaccessible to His people in captivity. Rather, His presence could be apprehended as faith-filled recollection was exercised: “I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds” (Ps. 77:12).
As Christians, we’re not believers in vague principles or even in “absolute truths” in the idealistic sense. The core of our worship is to respond to God as He has revealed Himself, our God as He has acted in time and the fullness of time (cf. Gal. 4:4). The redemptive events of the Red Sea and Israel’s deliverance from Egypt were preparing for the final exodus in the death and resurrection of Christ. Through His crucifixion, Jesus destroyed Satan, the ultimate “Pharaoh”: “that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Heb. 2:14–15). In emerging from the tomb, Christ is the Shepherd greater than Moses who leads His blood-bought flock behind Him on the path of life (Heb. 13:20). These are for us the “wonders of old” over which to reflect with grateful remembrance.
The word re-member literally means “to put the members back together in one piece.” What is the opposite of re-member? To “dis-member.” To forget is to leave ourselves in pieces, to be individually taken apart and corporately scattered (recall that Humpty-Dumpty could not be put back together again). In contrast, the church as it lives by faith is gathered together through a shared, sanctified memory. We are part of the communion of those who remember God. “The Lord, the God of hosts, the Lord is his memorial name: So you, by the help of your God, return, hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for your God” (Hos. 12:5–6).
God has put in our path monuments and Ebenezers (stones of remembrance) by which we are stabilized and able to maintain our bearings on our pilgrim journey.
The Sabbath is a “memory stone” to mark the milestone of both God’s original creation and now His new creation in the resurrection of Jesus. On the first day of the week, we remember that Christ pushed back the waters of death and emerged victorious from the tomb. On this day, we remember that God has “raised [Him] from the dead [and made Him] the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20).
Voltaire is reported to have written, “If we wish to destroy Christianity, we must seek to destroy the Christian Sabbath.” He was right: take away the time and space for the exercising of collective remembrance of God and His saving deeds, and the church soon loses its hold on the very source of our strength and hope. But as believers keep the Sabbath, we obey the command of Hebrews 10:23: “Let us keep the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” Through the Sabbath, the future hope of our eternal rest is also brought forward into the present: we remember the future God has in store.
The sacraments (baptism and the Lord’s Supper) are also visible memorials of God’s saving grace.
Baptism “marks” the place where Christ parted the waters for us in His death and resurrection and testifies that we have been united to Him in all that He has accomplished for us. The waters of baptism are not quiet waters—through baptism, God is speaking to His people, and we are to hear and see His divine voice communicated. Baptism into Jesus is a seal that binds us to Christ, and by faith in Him we have a share in all that He did, such that what is true of Him is true of us: He died, and we died in Him (cf. Rom 6:3–4).
The Lord’s Supper is a table of tangible remembrance. The Directory for Public Worship of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church states: “It [the supper] is not a re-sacrificing of Christ, but is a remembrance of the once-for-all sacrifice of himself in his death for our sins. Nor is it a mere memorial to Christ's sacrifice. It is a means of grace by which God feeds us with the crucified, resurrected, exalted Christ. He does so by his Holy Spirit and through faith. Thus he strengthens us in our warfare against sin and in our endeavors to serve him in holiness.”
What does Asaph show us in this psalm? Sleeplessness is much to be preferred to forgetfulnes—especially if in our wakefulness in the watches of the night, we are stirred to remember the Lord and His wondrous works.