Friday, April 06, 2012

Days of Anamnesis

It struck me first during the Old Testament reading. So many years before I had heard those words spoken, the account of the first Passover, and then during the epistle, and finally during the gospel, which I recall James Salango declaiming in his operatic preaching, forty years ago or more in my Presbyterian days: "and say ye well, for so I am!"

Of all the days in the church year, the days of the Triduum are the most concerned with the remembrance, not only of who we are, but of where we began. So we hear the same readings, year after year, or at least we did until the RCL got into the act and we are now doing a different psalm on Maundy Thursday and a different passion section on Friday. But the hymns are largely fixed too, though again 1982 has mucked with the harmony of "Ah, Holy Jesus" and we have a new hymn, set to the Third Mode Melody, whose words I am not too keen on. But "Pange Lingua" is still given 1940's accompaniment, and as ever we sing C. W. D.'s beautiful setting of "Were You There". And the lessons: after years of repetition (and helping to sing the passion on six occasions) I have nearly memorized them. The story of the Passover, the communion narrative, the footwashing and new commandment: I repeat the words in my mind, more or less. Having been raised on the RSV I still haven't gotten used to the NRSV text. But it is close enough.

And it will soon be sundown, and there will be fire. "Rejoice now; this is the night." I can sing the first section of the Exultet from memory. Then will come the lessons, not so many, this year, I would imagine, for fear that the service might offend for its length. If I were in an Orthodox church, even the sermon would be the same, and indeed for two years Barbara Seras read for us Chrysostom's incomparable sermon.

This is the season in which recall the reason for the church, which is not inclusion, but incorporation. Christ established his feast, and was killed for us, and rose as the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep, as the apostle says. And we are made part of his body, the church, through the baptism which he commanded us to take to all the world, and to recollect, to remember, to feed that body's members through the new paschal feast of his body and blood. Welcoming people is good, feeding people is good, but there are two great commandments, not one. We are first, to love God, and to love God, we must do as his son commanded. And to do that, we must worship him by and through recollection of our story as those baptized into his death and resurrection. This is why giving communion to the unbaptized is wrong, and even spiritually harmful: it is out of season. The Eucharist is not the sacrament of inclusion; it is the sacrament of the included. Those who partake, but are not baptized, are not really included; they remain outside the body. It is only baptism that incorporates.

And that is why it is important to repeat our story, year after year. We must remember that our savior's story is not just a myth, to symbolize or epitomize a salvation which he did not really enact. Possibly the second lowest point of the past few days was when I found myself reading the BCP rites largely to see where they would be deviated from. If I come to an Episcopal Church, and they do not do the liturgy in the book, then they do not recall for me the church into which I was confirmed, but some other construct of theological adventurism.

So I commend all of those who join with us, throughout the church, in reaffirming their baptismal vows. Let us say it together:

Christ is risen from the dead, trampling death by death, and restoring life to those in the tomb!

Alleluia, Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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