These powerful ancient readings of Holy Week are so rich in the cultural background from which they come. As my contribution to our commemorative celebration on this Holy Thursday of 2015, I have selected three concepts drawn from those biblical times for our consideration –
First, take notice that our Jewish sisters and brothers have been instructed by their religious leaders and tradition to keep alive forever the memory of God’s providence toward those who had lived and died before them as faithful, practicing Jews. Above all, they were taught to honor in memory and in ritual those who were led out of slavery under the Egyptian monarch. They are to do this by preparing and eating a special meal on the tenth day of the first month of every year. That meal is to consist mainly of a lamb, whose blood would be applied to the front doors of their houses. The bread at the table had to be unleavened as a way of 23with them on the journey they were about to make. And, finally, each family should stand, not sit or kneel or recline, while eating this meal because they are the successors of a people on the move. They had fled for their lives, escaping Pharaoh and protected by the blood sign around their doors, a signal to God’s avenging angel to pass over that marked dwelling and harm no one there. (What a powerful mixture of factual history and highly symbolic sacred fiction in that ancient account!)
This is why we stand to receive Holy Communion. We are a people on the move. We journey in the constant company of Jesus. The blood that he shed on the cross is the unmistakable sign of how much he loves us and loves the one he called Father. The Spirit leads us from life to Life. We join our Jewish sisters and brothers as we celebrate the saving actions of our loving God.
The second concept I have selected: “Do this in remembrance of me,” the Jewish Jesus said to us. What did he intend us to understand by that little pronoun “this?” What was he asking us to do? Recall again the wonderful insight of the late Father Gerald Martin, who wrote that what Jesus was referring to by the word “this” was not the changing of bread and wine into his body and blood but rather our imitation of his generous self-giving in service to those who suffer or who are in desperate need in of any kind. That we serve them, if necessary, to the point of denying ourselves or sacrificing what is dear to us – perhaps even (as rarely but really happens) by giving our lives so that others might live. That’s where and how the imitation he speaks of comes in. Ritual is the talk; gift of self is the walk. Do this in remembrance of me.
The last of the three concepts I have chosen is this: Jesus took a towel and tied it around his waist. He washed their feet and dried them with the towel. To be a Christian, a true disciple of Jesus, the mark we bear should be that of humble servanthood, not lordship over others. An apron, not an ermine wrap, should be the message.
What we do here, tonight and week after week, has nothing to do with magic. The Eucharist does not and will not perform miracles. Nor should we see it as self-contained, isolated, complete in itself. The Eucharist is a microcosm, a little world of many realities. What is most important is that we do Eucharist, not merely receive it. In partaking of the sacrament, we are acknowledging the real presence of Christ in the bread and wine, but also, and more importantly, in ourselves and in all others. We are saying an ever-renewed yes to entering into his life in service to others, most especially those who suffer, who are longing for and waiting for help.
Do this in remembrance of me.