What shall I render to the Lord
For all his benefits toward me?
I will take the cup of salvation,
And call upon the name of the Lord.
I will offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving,
And will call upon the name of the Lord.
I will pay my vows to the Lord
Now in the presence of all his people.
In the courts of the Lord's house;
In the midst of you, O Jerusalem.
Passover / Easter
This week the synagogue has been celebrating Passover; in a few days the church celebrates Easter. These great festivals of freedom and liberation carry a similar focus of remembering God's acts of deliverance from death. Seder participants recount the Exodus narrative of Israel's wayfaring from slavery into the gift of the promised land with symbolic fresh food that no longer depends upon empire—they sometimes call it "eating history." After Lent ends, Christians retell and re-enact their experience of death and resurrection with the Triduum or Three Days: One Liturgy in Three Acts.
1 Corinthians 11:23-26Maundy Thursday
23For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, 24and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me."
25In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." 26For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
The one liturgy in three acts of the Triduum – "Three Days" – begins on Maundy (mandate or command) Thursday with Jesus' example of servanthood when he washes his disciples' feet, and then another demonstration and command as he takes, blesses, breaks, and distributes bread, followed by taking, blessing, sharing a cup filled with fruit of the vine. The second act happens on Good Friday. Act three? Easter: Vigil – Sunrise – Day. Saturday has been described as "the day nothing happens, yet the day everything happens."
The Lord's Supper founding meal we find in Paul's first letter to the Corinthian church and in three of the gospels evokes familiar images and rings with unforgettable phrases. The central picture is Jesus sharing a meal with his friends; whether it's Leonardo's Renaissance Italy or twenty-first century Mercy Street Church Downtown, it's the same reality. While Jesus breaks bread and blesses wine, he tells us to do what he does—"in remembrance." Do this religious ritual? Jesus' world already had plenty of religious rituals. Our world has enough of those, too.
According to Mark, Luke, and Matthew, the original setting was a Passover meal, maybe a seder, possibly not. In any case, Jesus' words and actions continue the Jewish practice of remembering by re-enacting God's people's Passover from slavery and death into life and liberty. There where any observant Jew would have been on that day, Jesus tells his friends to "do this." Repeat this blessing and breaking of bread, this pouring-out of wine? "Do this" blood of the new covenant announcement?
Re-membering means re-collecting the pieces and putting them back together to restore a broken whole. When an individual or a community re-members, they weave together past and present. Scripture abounds with instances of God's command to remember, with instances of community remembrances, with stories of God remembering how quickly humans forget. Our scriptures are written-down accounts of countless communities remembering by telling stories that later got recorded on parchment, still later printed on paper. Even later accessible on-screen!
God told Israel to remember their passage from slavery into freedom; when the church obeys Jesus by breaking bread and pouring out wine in his memory (the Apostle Paul explains doing this proclaims Jesus' death!), part of the liturgical action includes retelling the story of God's people from creation through redemption in order to make it part of our own history. So it's not only about Jesus for each of us, for everyone gathered in a virtual or in-person local assembly—remembering becomes about all of us throughout the history of the cosmos. We recollect how God has led us, how even those hard days didn't last forever…as COVID surges, recedes, and threatens to overwhelm us again, we re-call the small deaths and the huge losses; we again trust God whose final answer always is resurrection from death. For the apostle Paul, the gospel is death and resurrection.
"Do this" religious ritual? There are plenty of those. "In memory?" We keep celebrating this sacrament, this holy communion, this freedom feast of the Lord's Supper with each other. And we're not likely to keep on performing an action unless it has meaning, unless it says something to us and about us.
Do we need bread and wine to remember Jesus? Aren't there other ways? Well, throughout the records of Jesus' life we find Jesus feeding other people and feasting with his friends; Jesus repeatedly talks about those who will banquet in the Kingdom…and about giving his body for the life of the world. The Reign of God, this Welcome Table, and the Calvary Cross are tightly bound together.
As Christians gradually return to their church campuses, resuming some pre-COVID ministries and initiating new ministries in response to new needs, all of us trust God into the future because God has gone ahead of us and waits for us there. Similar to ways a Passover Seder and the Lord's Supper re-member liberation and resurrection with all five senses, we serve our neighbors' whole lives as we attend to their needs and even to some of their wants. When Jesus breaks bread and blesses wine, he tells us to do what he does—"in remembrance." Do this religious ritual?
Wherever we go we become a living and a life-giving memory of Jesus. In us, Jesus again becomes alive in the world and we become a living connection to the heaven of God's reign on earth. Where will people find us as the world opens up? Will people recognize us as the body of Jesus Christ when we share our substance and pour out our lives?
Today is Thursday, tomorrow's Friday—Sunday's coming!