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Remembrance and Re-membering

[A sermon on Luke 22:7-34; for an audio recording of this sermon, click here]

Do this in remembrance of me.”

I have said those words several hundred times at the altar table, and I’ve heard them thousands more, but they grabbed my attention in a new way, this Lent. That’s because late one night, in early March, I woke up with those words ringing in my brain and a conviction that they needed to be at the center of this Maundy Thursday sermon.

In case you were wondering, that is not how sermon inspiration usually works for me, but there was no doubt in my mind that the message was from God’s Holy Spirit, so I have been dwelling with these words for more than a month. In particular, I’ve been dwelling with the word remember. It is so familiar that the incredible depth of meaning in those three syllables can be easy to miss.

We use it in the mundane realities of daily life – remember to take out the trash tonight –

We also apply it to our most sacred and tender collective commitments – remember the fallen; remember the poor.

When Jesus uses this word, I think he’s encompassing that full range of meaning. He’s creating a sacrament – a sacred practice to form the church with the remembrance of his broken body and shed blood… But perhaps he’s also calling us to the more daily kinds of remembrance: like remembering the stories of all the other meals he shared… meals with sinners, and with tax collectors; meals that taste of bread and fish, and meals scented with a perfume made of pure nard. Preaching professor Barbara Lundblad suggests that when we repeat Jesus’s call to remembrance, “perhaps we can hear him saying, ‘Remember me in how you eat – and with whom.’”[1]

Do this in remembrance of me.

In his call to remembrance, Jesus is calling us to a practice of remembering that includes, but also exceeds, the Last Supper that shapes our worship tonight. And I suspect that Jesus is also calling us to a practice of remembering that exceeds even this comprehensive work of recalling Jesus’ life. Because remembering is more than recollection. As Episcopal priest Barbara Brown Taylor writes about the words from tonight’s gospel: “’Do this,’ (Jesus) said, not ‘believe this, in remembrance of me.’”[2]

When he commands us to remember, Jesus is not commanding his followers to engage in a cognitive discipline – Surely not! Not on this night of all nights that is leading him to his profoundly physical expression of love for us. No, he is commanding us to engage in a physical discipline of remembering.

And in the physical experience of remembering we discover an even greater depth of meaning to his command. Because we re-member that which has been dis-membered.His body, broken for us.

Do this in remembrance of me.

When we share the communion meal, I physically break the bread. I tear it apart, so that each person may have their piece of Jesus. This is what he told us to do, and it is one of the most transformative gifts of my calling that I get to look each of you in the eye, and hand you the broken bread, and tell you with total conviction, “this is Christ’s body, broken for you.” There is beauty, and power, and truth in that proclamation.

But as I have been pondering the call to remember this Lenten season, I couldn’t help but wonder whether the remembrance is not supposed to STOP there. If we are called to do this in remembrance of him, then it can’t stay individual. The broken body in the broken bread given to each of us, is an incomplete remembrance if it stays separated, in all these little pieces. To do this in remembrance of him requires us to re-member, to bring the broken pieces back together in wholeness as the united body of Christ.

The practice of communion, as the practice of foot-washing that we will share later in this service, cannot be a personal, private practice… not if we are doing it in remembrance of Jesus. These are practices that call us to do the active work of re-membering, to embody our identity as the body of Christ..

Borrowing again from Barbara Brown Taylor, she offers this wisdom about remembering as an active, physical practice:

“Why else did Jesus spend his last night on earth teaching his disciples to wash feet and share supper? With all the conceptual truths in the universe at his disposal, he did not give them something to THINK about together, when he was gone. Instead, he gave them concrete things to DO, specific ways of being together in their bodies that would go on teaching them what they needed to know when he was no longer around to teach them himself. After he was gone, they would still have God’s word, but that word was going to need some new flesh…. So Jesus gave them things they could get their hands on. Things that would require them to get close enough to touch one another.”[3]

Do this in remembrance of me.

Remembrance looks like getting close enough to touch one another. Which is an inviting command when we are thinking about touching people we love (for the record, I love washing all of your feet).

But what about the people who are hard to love?

What about the friend who used a bigoted slur or posted a hateful meme?

What about the customer who yelled at us for something that wasn’t our fault?

What about the family member who hurt us so deeply that we don’t think that wound will ever really heal?

Or what about the people who scare us?

The homeless man mumbling to someone we can’t see;

or the politician pushing an agenda that terrifies us;

or the person who has the power to hurt us in any number of ways.

Do we have to include them in the work of remembering Jesus, of seeking wholeness in the body of Christ?

Well, Jesus spoke these words to both Peter and Judas. To the man who would deny him, and the man who would betray him. He told them – even them – to remember. He gave them practices to do in remembrance of him… things that would bring them close… around a table… bent over each others’ feet. He gave them “specific ways of being together in their bodies that would go on teaching them what they needed to know when he was no longer around to teach them himself.”

And he gave those things to us as well because the doing – the re-membering – is what teaches us how to be his body in this broken, dis-membered world. Because he wasn’t going to be present in the body anymore, he needed to teach us how to be his body. A body that kneels in service, rather than seeking greatness. A body that is broken for others, but is brought back to wholeness when we re-member it.

Do this in remembrance of me.

It’s a weighty task. It’s one at which we fail at least as often as we get it right. It’s one we tend to do only part-way: cherishing the gift of the sacrament for ourselves, but forgetting the way that it is supposed to change us: by turning us into Christ’s body, drawing us together, close enough to touch all the unexpected people he has chosen to be part of his broken, re-membered body too.

Including, even, people like the criminal whose words we will hear tomorrow night: “Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.”

That man’s body was being broken right alongside Jesus’, and in his agony his last prayer was to be remembered. He probably meant it as a prayer not to be forgotten, but Jesus heard is as a prayer for re-membering – for being brought back to wholeness, and to unity with God. And Jesus promised to grant that petition.

And that’s our hope as well, in all the broken ways that we fail to remember. The hope that just as Jesus calls us to do this in remembrance of him. He is the one who has promised to remember us, to make us whole, so that we can be part of making his broken body and this broken world whole as well.

Thanks be to God.


[2] Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World.

[3] Ibid.

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