Three sisters living in the same house together:
First one, preparing to bathe, puts one leg in and stops–asking, “now, was I getting in or out of the tub?”
Second one goes up the stairs to check on the first. Halfway up, she stops: “now, was I going up or down the stairs?”
Third sister, still in the kitchen thinks about the other two. Rapping on the table with her knuckles, she exclaims, “Knock on wood I’m not like my poor sisters… Now, let me see, was that the front door or the back door?”
I thought it was a funny joke and acceptable for a sermon.
That is, until I saw the tears of one parishioner whose mother was in the throes of Alzheimer’s. It was one more lesson of how dangerous humor can be.
It drove home the pain of forgetfulness, the pain of our potentially forgetting who we are and whose we are.
Mindful of our ability to forget as humans, mindful of the sad and painful consequences of our forgetting, Jesus commands us in this evening’s text to remember.
But what does that really mean: “do this in remembrance of me”?
1) Sadly, we’ve belittled the meaning of remembering. We turn it into mere thinking, mental recounting. To be sure, that’s a good and necessary start. Part of what we do tonight – indeed, this Holy week – is recount the movements of Jesus and the disciples. Physical movements, yes, but also emotional and spiritual movements.
2) However, as there are pronounced differences between the Western way of thinking and Middle Eastern ways of conceptualizing things, we should not be surprised that there’s more to remembering than narrowly recounting past events. In the Greek, as the Hebrew, the words we translate “remember” suggest more than a transport of mind but, more, a transport of being – so that what’s being remembered is actually being re-experienced. It’s not just someone else’s story that we are recounting but a story that which is ours — a story we are in.
“Memorial,” “commemoration,” “remembrance” all suggest a recalling of the past, whereas the Greek word [anamnesis] used by Jesus is practically untranslatable in English. It means making present an object or person from the past. Sometimes the term “reactualization” has been used to indicate the force of anamnesis.
–The New Dictionary of Sacramental Worship, p. 45
Even so, when Jewish people today celebrate the Passover at a Seder, they do not recall the Exodus in terms of what happened to an ancient “them” — the Hebrews of old. Instead, they do so in terms of “we”: “on this night we were freed….” It’s their own personal story: the present being informed by the past, the past infiltrating the present.
a) This kind of active reminiscing begins with our identifying those things in the evening to which we can relate and identify. You know, the kind of things where we say, “Yeah, I’ve been there…”:
“Yeah, I’ve been prideful—seeking a better position than others.”
“Yeah, I’ve been frustrated when others have sought a privileged position above me.”
“Yeah, I’ve been confused by Jesus… and his words… and his actions.”
“Yeah, I betrayed Jesus and tried to sit at the table like nothing was wrong.”
b) But here, the reenactment, the “re-experiencing” goes much deeper! Truly, there’s more going on in this meal than we can think or imagine. Here, I am mindful of our Church’s teaching about this Sacrament in a document entitled, This Holy Mystery:
Jesus Christ, who “is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being” (Hebrews 1:3), is truly present in Holy Communion. Through Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit, God meets us at the Table. Christ is present through the community gathered in Jesus’ name (Matthew 18:20), through the Word proclaimed and enacted, and through the elements of bread and wine shared (1 Corinthians 11:23–26). Holy Communion is remembrance, commemoration, and memorial, yes, but this remembrance is much more than simply intellectual recalling. It’s a dynamic re-presentation of past gracious acts of God in the present–so powerfully as to make them truly present now. Christ is risen and is alive here and now, not just remembered for what was done in the past. This sacred moment is more than a remembrance of the Last Supper and the Crucifixion. Through this Sacrament, the divine presence is a living reality and can be experienced by participant.
Dear Friends, more than some transportation of our minds to far off events, this meal is a transportation of the Divine Presence of Christ into our very midst so that we are active participants in a feast which spans the centuries – even until “Christ comes again and we feast at his Heavenly banquet!”
[Does not this help us, in fact, to make sense of what Paul writes in 1 Conrinthians: “is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?” (10:16)]
3) All this leads to one more way that we “remember [re-member] Christ” in and through this meal: namely, that as we’re about the business of recounting and re-experiencing the life of Christ among us and within us, we are put together anew (reassembled, re-membered, re-gathered) by God and Spirit into the body of Christ–redeemed for a broken world.
You heard me tell the story this last Sunday (which hails from Stephen Ministry) of the young child, scared by a storm, who’s told by his parents to not be afraid, that “Jesus is with him.” To which he cries, “I know but now I need Jesus with skin on!”
Indeed, on the basis of this Holy Mystery in which we encounter the divine presence of Christ anew – and one another as divine members in His body; we become, we reassemble, we are re-membered, we are re-gathered as the ongoing body of Christ in a broken world. Remembered, regathered, together we become the “body of Christ”–Jesus with skin on!
Even so we pray in the Great Thanksgiving:
Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here so that we may be for the world the body of Christ, redeemed by his blood… Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here so that we may be. re-membered, reassembled, reconnected, regathered as the ongoing body of Christ in the world.
As I recall that terrible backfire in humor a few years ago, I am still haunted by the tears of that woman for her mother. They underscore what we all know and see: that there remain tragic diseases in this world which can rob us of memory, rob us of loved ones, rob us of much of our identity. But, even here, in this hell, there’s comfort and hope at this table of Remembrance – that, beyond all our failings and weaknesses and diseases, our is a remembering God. Yes, there’s good news that He promises to give us a spirit of remembrance. But, perhaps even greater, the Scriptures abound with reminders of a loving God who never forgets His children, who has each of us engraved on the palms of his hands, a loving God from whom nothing in all creation can separate us—even our forgetfulness!
Yes, Praise be to God!
The God Whom we remember tonight–
The God Whom we re-experience tonight:
A God who passes over our sins (remembering them no more),
A God who washes our feet – giving us an example,
A God who redeems and sustains us – putting us back together,
A God who is incapable of forgetting his children.