“Do this in remembrance of me.”
Today begins the Triduum, a time of remembering, honoring, and walking with Jesus on the road to his death. This day, Maundy Thursday, we hear the words and see the actions of Jesus on his last night with his closest and dearest friends. What Jesus did on that long ago night helped those original disciples, and the generations of disciples to come, to know him and his message of deep love.
Holy Week offers us many once-a-year images. All that we do this week is in remembrance of Jesus. There were the palms we carried on Palm Sunday as we walked through the alley and into the church. There will be the stripping of the altar tonight, removing everything that makes this building a church. Late tonight and Friday morning some will sit in the garden watching and waiting with Jesus. Tomorrow we will sing the reproaches as we venerate the cross and then on Saturday, we will light the new fire and bring the light into the worship space. We will be sprinkled with holy water and ring the bells to accompany the great proclamation of Easter and more. And probably even if this is your twentieth holy week you will still see or hear something you had not noticed in the past. Each action, each sight, each smell, each sound is intended to involve us with all our senses and to imprint on our bodies what happened that first holy week and Easter. Just as it was for Jesus’ disciples, so much happens in such a short period of time, it can be overwhelming. Actually, it is supposed to be overwhelming! We can process later; for now, we experience.
It is fitting that tonight’s actions begin with the Passover celebration. As one of my Jewish-born friends, who became a Christian as an adult, describes it, Passover is like the Easter Vigil and Thanksgiving all rolled into one. It has the rite of scripture and prayer as well as the joy of being with extended family and friends, using special dishes, eating special foods that only are served once a year at Passover.
Jesus wanted to spend his last night with his friends in celebration of God’s leading the Hebrews out of slavery and into freedom. The plagues that were to convince Pharoah to let God’s people go are named with a special remembrance of the 10th plague, the death of all first-borns. The Hebrews were to mark their doorposts with the blood of a lamb so God would know to leave those households intact. God’s people were protected by the blood of a lamb. This Exodus brought redemption and liberation for the Hebrews from the Egyptians. The Passover meal Jesus had with his disciples on that last night set the stage for the events ahead. What Jesus would do over those next few days brought freedom from sin and darkness and death for all. He is that lamb whose blood will mark his followers as God’s own people and protect them forever. So it is meaningful that Jesus actions tonight begin with the Passover.
For three years Jesus had used his time with his disciples readying them for these next few days and what would happen to him and what God would accomplish through him. Ever since he called his disciples, he had fed them, taught them, and set an example for them. At first what we see happening this day may seem the same. Jesus does teach them; he does feed them, and he does set an example for them. Yet there is more in his actions. Today Jesus is also equipping these disciples for their life ahead. Jesus has been their master, their teacher, their leader. They have been his students, his followers, and his aides. Today Jesus shows them that their relationship is about to change.
Through being with him daily he has taught them love, love for each other and love for God. This group of ordinary people had at some level come to understand that Jesus was the Messiah, the one sent by God. They had experienced his love overflowing in so many ways. Theirs was a deep relationship. They knew Jesus and Jesus knew them. He knew their human characteristics with all the pluses and the minuses and his love for them included and accepted their human qualities. Jesus knew that these friends would be the ones to carry out his ministry. He depended on them. On this night so long ago, Jesus gives them what will sustain, nourish and help them to be able to do just that.
Near the end of the Passover observance, “Jesus took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
In English remembrance; in Greek anamnesis. The Greek word means a little bit more than the English translation. Let me explain using an example from Laurence Stookey’s book on the Eucharist. If you were asked to remember an event in your life, let’s say your high school graduation you could probably come up with some thoughts. You might mentally picture the building, remembering that you had a party afterwards, and with a bit of time, perhaps who had come to see you walk across the stage. But if you “remember” in the way of the ancient Hebrews you would put on a cap and gown, play a version of Pomp and Circumstance on you- tube while you walked in a very dignified manner across the room. You would have invited many of your friends and relatives and had a party following. This is what is meant by the word anamnesis. It is bringing to life again what you are remembering. And this is precisely what we do in these days of Holy Week. Carrying the palms, shouting the words, “crucify him” lighting our candles, ringing our bells, it is our actions in addition to our thoughts that connect us to the truth of what Jesus did for us.
And it is more than Holy Week where this type of remembrance happens. Jesus knew our human frailty too, and how much we need his continuing presence to be able to carry out His work on earth. This remembrance, this anamnesis, is what we participate in at each and every Eucharist. The priest takes the bread, gives thanks, breaks it and gives it to us. The very same actions that our Lord did at that last supper with his friends. We do this now following Jesus’ instruction, “do this in remembrance of me”. The actions of the Eucharist are not just something done once many years ago and on only that particular night. Rather those actions connect the past, the present and the future. Jesus gives himself for us in the bread and the wine. They are his real presence, his body and his blood given for us. This ritual meal lets us know that God does not forget us, nor do we forget God. He is with us in all. He gives us his strength to bear what we have to bear and do what He calls us to do.
We are under the blood of Christ now, and marked and protected and guided by his holy body and blood. Jesus, the living Christ, is among us still, giving himself to us. And we receive him giving ourselves to him in witness to his great love.
We do this, with our actions, we do this in remembrance of him.
The actions of the Triduum continue—don’t miss this once a year experience! Amen.