Maundy Thursday

April 18, 2019


In the United Kingdom, it is Remembrance Day. In Australia, it’s Anzac Day. In the US, it is Memorial Day. In Ghana possibly it is Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Day or the newly created Founders’ Day. The hint is often in the name but not always – for these are days of remembrance – to remember battles, wars, sacrifice, nationhood which means identity – and to do so is deemed important because I think we all subscribe to the quote attributed to George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.

In the Second Letter of Peter there is a call to the faithful to live the faith – Paul would say ‘faith active in love’ (Galatians 5:6) – but Peter is a little more detailed by talking about virtue, knowledge, self control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love (2 Peter 1:5-8) and then he says: For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins (2 Peter 1:9 ESV). For Peter the real danger is forgetfulness and so he says: Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have (2 Peter 1:12 ESV).

Hands up anyone who doesn’t know why they are here? Who doesn’t know the story of today? Who has never heard from Luke’s account? And [Jesus] took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. (Luke 22:19,20 ESV)

While the Church Year regularises Christian remembrance and this worship service – the Easter Triduum – is one service over 4 days, we are not here as the Jesus Historical Society – but as the Body of Christ whose remembrance is not cerebral in terms of our imagining what things were like ‘back then’ – which is why religious tourism and pilgrimages are so special for people – but it is dynamic, active, verbal, personal, sacramental because God and us are interacting, engaging, and relating to each other as we both remember. Remembrance is more than just a neuron moment.

Biblically speaking, remembering can be thinking about the past, as well as considering our actions now, discerning good and evil, being mindful of things, talking and speaking now. We remember in our prayers and ask God to remember us – particularly when we lament – by which we want God to act. We also remember by proclaiming, celebrating and even solemnising in festivals and public worship that God is our creator and redeemer and we are his people and this has private aspects too which might be seen in belief, obedience, and repentance. Our confessions of faith, our praise and adoration of God are all aspects of remembering. Perhaps we could frame the Christian experience in terms of remembering or forgetting – both of which shape our behaviour.

And it is not irony but profound that this day/night of remembrance, when Jesus institutes a holy communion – a new covenant – recalls to mind God’s promise in Jeremiah that in this new covenant which God cuts – remember we’re not talking about shaking hands on a deal here – but the cutting of a covenant – something living – blood – which happens in heart surgery and through which God’s people will know him personally. And what is God doing with this new covenant? He says he will forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more. And on this night, at this Passover – another feast of remembrance – Jesus fulfils Jeremiah’s words and gives himself to his disciples and the call to remembrance includes us.

Paul will remind the Corinthians: For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes (1 Corinthians 11:26 ESV). Proclaim to yourself. Proclaim to those who see you, who hear what you say about tonight or about what this Holy Communion means to you, does to you. Proclamation, of course, is a response to Jesus who comes to us, along side of us as we are, where we’re at, and calls us to remember – his presence, his grace and
mercy, God’s faithfulness, his absolutions, his blessings. No matter how we come home to the Lord’s house – how battered, bruised, dirty, forlorn, how prodigal we feel – Jesus always washes us – cleans us – and then feeds and strengthens us – yes, through his Word – but most intimately – heart surgery – heartfelt at times but still real if the feelings are not there, Jesus forgives us, strengthens us, and heals us – all under the umbrella term of ‘remembrance’ and we go forth remembering – living our faith – and battling forgetfulness, distractions, fake news about God and about ourselves.

At Christmas the Church remembers the incarnation is all about the Word made flesh, the mystery of the infinite God in the finite Jesus, and today this truth is brought to our home – Jesus comes under our roof so to speak – and lives up to his name ‘Immanuel’ – God with us. That is a most special holy communion. This remembering, this encounter with Jesus who left the Upper Room for the darkness of the night and the darkness of the cross, can draw people back from darkness, from sin, from rebellion, from frailty, from forgetting for another day, another week in the world.

We are here today/tonight because we don’t want to forget. We want to remember. We want God to remember us – as the thief on the cross said to Jesus – and in this mystery of bread and wine and body and blood of Jesus – the past and the promise of the future – come to us here and now in Jesus who never tires of serving us. This is what we remember. This is how we live.

Bible References

  • Luke 22:19 - 20