Friday, March 25, 2016

Remembrance

For Maundy Thursday, 2016

Remembrance: this is crucial to faith. It is so central to the Eucharist that theologians and liturgists have a special word for it: anamnesis. Amnesia is forgetting; anamnesis is remembering. We do this in remembrance of him, according what we have been taught of old.

People tell us that spirituality is all about a search for God, and that furthermore, one carries out this search on a path of ones choosing with some vague confidence that, if nothing definite is ever found, it is the searching that matters. But that is not how true religion works. This is not to say, not at all, that God is not to be sought, but rather that the world makes God the passive and silent object of a person's seeking. But the LORD God, so the story of scripture says, is not passive; indeed, it seems more the case that He is wont to reveal Himself to people without warning or invitation. Abraham, Moses, and Samuel in the Old Testament; Zachariah and Mary in the New: all these were the target of God's revelation, wanted or not. In the case of Paul the apostle, the divine presence was thrust upon him quite against his will.

We moderns, for the most part, are spared such revelations. No burning bushes, no voices, no angels speak to us, and we are apparently in little danger of being thrown from our horses. So how do we know God? Well, by word and sacrament, as the prayer book says. Language is fundamental to humanity: while other animals do communicate, and we have taught some rudiments to a few apes, it is humans who speak and hear and write and read. Humans, and God. God said, “let there be light.” Jesus is the Word who is God. Thus scripture manifests God, simply by telling the divine story.

Scripture testifies to the LORD God, and he commands its recollection. Tonight we have heard two of these commands. In Egypt, on the eve of deliverance, he tells the Israelites to prepare the Passover meal out of which will come the mark, the sign of their separation; but he also commands festivals in perpetuity, that the Jewish people should ever remember their exodus and how it was accomplished. A thousand-odd years later, Jesus ordains another meal, bread and wine, which we are to do in remembrance of him, until he come again. In obedience to this the church has set apart ministers to break the bread and offer the cup, that the death and resurrection of Jesus be remembered to the end of ages.

So here we are: The LORD God, in the words of scripture, is sitting there revealed to anyone who would but read. We have been given the story, and we have but to have faith in it, and do as it tells us. But if words come from God, well, lying came from the serpent. And the words of scripture: well, God spoke them through the mouths and pens of men. Thus we are presented with a paradox: the truth is not only out there, it is right out in the open; but being words, we cannot of ourselves sift it from all the untruths and misapprehensions and outright frauds that pretend to tell us the fundamental truths of the cosmos. Thus, when we turn away from written revelation and conduct our own search, we like as not end up at an idol of our own construction, having forgotten the God once shown.

But we have more than word; we have sacrament. Jesus said, “do this in remembrance of me”; but he also said, “this is my body”, and “this cup is the new covenant in my blood.” And while many have argued through the years that these words are purely symbolic, that is not what the church as a whole has taught, and this is not what this church has taught. Broken bread and poured wine are not merely token; Jesus is really present, in a mystery whose explanation is beside the point. We eat and drink, and Jesus becomes part of us, in reality. Likewise, in baptism we are bathed in Jesus' death and resurrection, not just in play-acting, but in a truth which is beyond mere materialism. And all this is carried out in the Church, that great and sacred mystery, in which the words and sacraments are handed down, from one generation to another. We remember, because the church remembers—because we remember. We remember the holy story, and we repeat it again, and thus it is passed along, the most fundamental ministry and evangelism there is. The truth is not found; it has revealed itself, and that revelation must be told, and must be partaken of in the rites of the church.

And thus anamnesis: remembrance. To remain the people of God, we must remember that we are the people of God, and we must tell the story anew. Otherwise the gospel, the good news, dies as we die, and the vine of which we are the branches fails to grow. In this age of studied skepticism and contempt for authority, this is a very hard thing, since after all, our telling is but the latest in a long chain of speakings, and who will believe what he has not seen?

And yet, in so believing, we are blessed. And therefore in telling, we are the more blessed. Jesus commanded the disciples to love one another; and if our love for the world leads us to tell the sacred story to those who have not heard it, our love for each other must manifest itself in our mutual encouragement, in the repetition of the gospel, that it not be forgotten. Let no one be a stumbling block to another's faith; let us recollect together the holy Word which is within us and which binds us into the church. Let us, in remembrance of him who died for us and rose again, break the bread, drink the cup, and repeat the story of salvation as we await the day of his coming, when the story will be fulfilled and we will see the truth, face to face, world without end. AMEN.