Tonight, the church begins her annual remembrance of Jesus Christ’s betrayal, arrest, trial, sentencing, beating, crucifixion, death, and burial.
Tonight, we gather as one with Jesus’ disciples around the table in an upper room and witness Jesus’ last meal with his dearest friends and his last instructions to his beloved followers.
This is deep stuff.
From the Scriptures, we first hear God speaking to the ancient Israelites, at this time still trapped in slavery in Egypt. God promises them deliverance and freedom as God’s people, and gives them the way to remember this mighty action of God-what we now know as the Jewish celebration of the Passover. (Exodus 12:1-14)
Next, we hear the Apostle Paul reminding his troubled church in the city of Corinth of the tradition of the Lord’s Supper, Communion, passed from Jesus himself to his 12 disciples, and from them passed on to Paul, who passed it on to his church in Corinth. “This bread is my body, which is for you; do this to remember me….This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Every time you drink it, do this to remember me.” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)
Finally, we hear from John how Jesus lowered himself down to the status of a household servant to wash his disciples’ dirty, smelly, stanky feet. He does this to give his disciples an example to remember after he has gone. He gives his disciples (and us) a new commandment “Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.” (John 13:1-7, 31b-35)
Tonight is about remembering.
Remember how God freed us from slavery in Egypt, wherever and whatever our own “Egypt” is.
Remember this sacrament of Communion, and how Christ gave it to us to bind us closer and closer together, across any and all lines of separation.
Remember this outlandish, awkward, uncomfortable way Jesus showed his love to us.
In these Scriptures, the Greek word translated as “remember” is anamnesis. This is a really special word. “Remember” is probably the best word for it in English, but it doesn’t capture what this word really means, and robs it of a lot of its meaning.
Anamnesis refers to a way of remembering. Anamnesis is remembrance that becomes alive in the present. Anamnesis calls us to remember a person, object, event, feeling, anything in a way that brings it forward into the present.
This is active remembrance. If I asked you to remember, say, your childhood home, what you would probably do is this: You would sit back, think for a minute, and start describing it to me. “The front door looked like this, the walls were such-and-such color, my room was here, the living room was over here, the kitchen was over there, the back yard was big or small, we had this tree in the front yard that was perfect for climbing, etc.” That’s remembering. But it’s not anamnesis.
Have you ever had a memory associated with a particular scent? Perhaps you catch a whiff of a certain cigar or a certain baked good, and someone from your past seems to come into the present-it’s like you’re experiencing their presence and memories associated with them all over again, right now. Or perhaps there is a certain event in your memory that is tied with a specific piece of music. As a senior in high school, I auditioned for my college’s music department with Alexander Goedicke’s piece “Concert Etude for Trumpet and Piano (Op. 49).” Whenever I hear or play that piece, I am right back on the stage in Ohio Northern University’s Presser Hall, playing my trumpet for the assembled Music Department faculty.
This is the type of remembrance, anamnesis, to which we are called by the Scriptures for today. Engage in acts of remembrance. Don’t just go back and mentally relive something. Remember these truths of our faith, remember those pivotal moments in the history of God’s people in a way that brings them into the present for new generations and new persons to experience them.
We celebrate Holy Communion to remember who Jesus is, what Jesus did for us, and how Jesus called us to live. We can’t actually remember the man Jesus, or the original institution of this ritual meal. But in the sacramental nature of this ritual meal, the past is somehow mystically transported into the present, so that we celebrate Communion with Christ and with all other believers of Christ, past and present.
But perhaps today, Maundy Thursday, is about more than that. St. John’s story of Jesus’ last meal with his disciples does not include Jesus’ institution of Communion. We get that from the other Gospels. There are a plethora of possible reasons for that. But perhaps tonight, as we gather to remember this sacred story and begin the rehearsal of the center of our faith, perhaps we are called to remember in a different way.
Communion is a great ritual way to remember Jesus. We can always count on that. But perhaps tonight, Jesus is pushing us to remember in still another way.
Do you remember what Jesus’ command was to his disciples tonight?
“Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. this is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.” (John 13:34-35, CEB)
On this night of remembrance, of anamnesis, Jesus doesn’t tell us to remember him in the bread and wine of Communion. Jesus tells us to love.
Perhaps Jesus is calling us to go beyond ritual acts of remembrance. Perhaps Jesus means that there is another way to bring the witness of the past into the present so that it may shape the future.
Remember by doing. Doing what?
Love each other as Christ loved us.
In this way, we will bring Christ so powerfully into the present that we will become Christ for others.
Jesus calls us to do our remembering, our anamnesis, not just in our churches, gathered safe around the Communion table. Jesus also calls us to do our remembering, our anamnesis, outside of the four walls of our church buildings, out among those around us: our neighbors, friends, coworkers, family, those we don’t even know.
Just as Jesus loved us.