"Do This in Remembrance on Me"

A Sermon based on Luke 22:7-20

      

 

 

          It would have been on Maundy Thursday, near the end of Holy Week – one of the last three days that Jesus was alive on Earth – when Jews all over the world were remembering their ancestors… who were liberated from slavery in Egypt by Moses… long, long ago.

 

        To this day, the “seder supper” is celebrated by devout Jews at Passover.  Then as now, Jews associate every element of the meal with a different meaning in a liturgy drawn from their national liberation story – the bitter herbs (horse-radish & parsley), remind them of the bitterness of slavery; the unleavened bread reminds them of the hurried fashion of the meal preparation; a skewer of lamb reminds them of their last meal before fleeing Pharaoh; the blood of the lamb, which marked their doorposts; and several cups of wine – marking each time a part of the Exodus story was told to the children.  Every Jew knew what the “Passover” was about!

 

        In the same way that last Sunday was Memorial Day weekend here in America – and our attention was drawn to “remember” those soldiers, sailors, air force, & Marines who died in wars long ago (and more recently) – in the Passover story of Jesus’ people, they would have remembered the hero “Moses”, their great law-giver; and Aaron, his brother, their first priest; and Miriam, their sister, who sang and danced the story of God’s liberation of the slaves. 

 

      Yes, this annual festival of “Passover” had a lot of things for the people to remember…  a whole cast of characters, including Elijah.

 

        But on this particular Maundy Thursday, when Jesus himself hosted the “seder supper”, the focus was not on the distant past. 

Jesus made it about the present, and what was going to happen to him. As he broke the bread and blessed the cup to be shared around the table, he said: “Do this in remembrance of me.” 

 

       Even though Jesus’ Last Supper happened during the Passover festival, he pointed to the broken bread and the shared cup – not the blood of sacrifice of the lamb! 

 

          And yet because the Church has associated “communion” with the “saving effect” of the “blood of Christ”, many people think that that’s what the Lord’s Supper is about!  Instead of breaking bread and drinking wine, we are supposed to be remembering the blood of the sacrificed lamb, which saved the Jewish people from the Angel of Death in the Passover; or maybe associating the blood with the ram that Abraham sacrificed as a substitute for his son in Genesis – or, maybe even as the Gospel of John portrays Jesus as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world” -- rather than what Jesus himself asked us to “remember”! 

 

        On the last evening Jesus spent with his disciples, he wants to set a memory so deep and lasting that it will carry them forward into the future as his continuing community – his church, his movement.

 

        Jesus points them (and us) to the bread that’s broken and the cup that is shared.  This is the “new covenant”, he says, “sealed” with his life-blood. Jesus never once even refers to the Passover lamb, (!) nor any of the other elements of the Jewish seder.

 

        He could have done so.  After all, the lamb was the animal in the Exodus story who gave its life – whose blood was used to mark the doorway of each Jewish house, which then enabled the Angel of Death to “pass over” them in safety.  In other words, they were “saved by the blood of the lamb”!  But that’s not remembering Jesus!

 

       At that last supper, Jesus drew their attention elsewhere -- away from the piece of meat on the table… (away from the blood of the lamb)… to focus instead on the simple loaf of unleavened bread, and the cup of grape juice (or, in his day, fermented wine). Just as we did here a moment ago, Jesus took the bread… lifted it and gave thanks for it… and said: “This is my body, given for you.  Do this in remembrance of me.”  Then he lifted the cup of wine and said: “This cup… is the new covenant in my blood.” 

 

        My body – the bread.  My blood – the cup.  It’s not the Pass-over sacrifice (the blood of the lamb) that is on Jesus’ mind, but his own life and his soon-coming death.  He wants his disciples -- his friends, his church -- to see in the breaking of bread together, and in the sharing of the common cup, something that reminds them forever after of him.   “This is my body, given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.  This cup… is the new covenant in my blood.” 

 

        I appreciate the fact that Rev. Bob Case tackled the topic of “remembering” just last Sunday, as it regards Memorial Day.  “The importance of Remembering… remembering what?” was his title.  I don’t want to cover the same material, but I suspect we have a similar starting point… and Bob’s examples are worth noting again.

 

        Bob quoted Master-sergeant Charles Donnelus talking about how to “remember” those who had fallen in war.  “You remember and honor them not by parades, saluting the flag, or singing patriotic songs.  You remember them by living the values of the Constitution,” he said … “freedom of speech, the right to vote, working for justice and for the good of the country.” Bob then cited the Preamble of the Constitution:

               “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect

                Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the

                common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the

                 blessings of liberty to ourselves & our posterity, do ordain and establish

                this Constitution for the United States of America.”

 

       Those words were written and ratified in 1787 – that’s 75 years before our church was even founded here in Alpena.  (!)  And yet, as Rev. Bob Case reminded us: the way we remember and honor those early American patriots is by continuing to live out those values.  “We continue to form a more perfect union,” he said, “by abolishing slavery, by giving blacks the right to vote and working to get rid of segregation; it was only 100 years ago that women got the right to vote.”  We remember those men who drafted our Constitution “when we work to make our country more just… and with more liberty.”  That’s what it means to “remember”. (Thank you, Bob Case.)

 

        I wanted to look a bit deeper into what science has to say about “remembering” -- what it is and how it works -- so I went to my old Time/Life Science Library[1] discussion of “The Mind”.    Rene’ Descartes was born in France in 1596. The Protestant Reformation was going strong all over Europe, and there was a Renaissance of learning.  Using the new “sciences” available to him (including the work of Copernicus & Galileo, Erasmus of Rotterdam, and other “Enlightenment” thinkers), Rene Descartes investigated “mind and matter” and came up with the dictum: “I think; therefore, I am.” [2] 

 

       In other words, it is in our “thinking” that we give “meaning” to our sensations and bodily experiences.  We make “connections” in our “mind” and that’s what is registered in our memory… if anything.  We assign meaning to certain experiences and that’s what we remember.

 

        William James, the great Harvard Medical School professor who wrote “The Principles of Psychology” in 1890 -- a textbook that is still in use now: 130 years later! -- described consciousness as both “continuous” (that is, always on-going) and “selective”.  He compared the mind to the life of a bird – sometimes swooping in motion… other times it perches on an object.[3]  .. That’s what we remember… where our attention is focused, and where “meaning” arises in our mind.

 

         To most investigators of the subject, “consciousness” began with the appearance of “associative memory”.  That’s how we learn.

 

             In their experiments, if an animal could modify its behavior on the basis of its experience, it meant that they must be having an experience in the first place (a sensory, physical experience of some kind) and a memory of that experience… in order to learn from it and then modify their behavior. “Consciousness” began (according to this evolutionary theory) when memory became “associated with” an experience.[4]  -- I think that is what Jesus is doing in today’s text.

 

         Jesus asked his disciples to associate his memory with the experience of breaking bread and sharing a cup around a common table.  “Do this in remembrance of me.”  When they ate together…

 

 

       It’s interesting to me that highly regarded Greek philosophers, like Plato (four or five hundred years before Jesus), explicitly denied that the “mind” had anything to do with bodily sensations & physical experiences,  because they believed that the realm of “ideas, ideals, & pure spirit”  -- which for them was the realm of divinity & perfec-tion -- would have been contaminated by any association with “mortal” (physical, temporal) experiences like eating food or drinking. 

 

        The Apostle Paul brought Plato’s way of thinking into the Church as he spread Christianity across the Roman Empire.  Here’s how he put it in his letter to the Christians in Corinth: “flesh & blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. … This perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality.” (I Cor. 15:50 & 53).That’s how the Greeks saw it, thanks to Plato & earlier Greek mythology. The Apostle Paul is speaking their language!

 

        St. Paul also wrote to the Romans (8:6-78) (and I quote ): “To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life, and peace!  For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s Law; indeed, it cannot! And those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”  Frankly, this is pure Greek philosophy as could have been articulated by Plato, drawing on the earlier mythology of “The Iliad”.

 

        This theological dualism -- dividing what St. Paul calls “flesh” (earthly life, bodily functions, and sensual experiences) from what Paul calls “Spirit” -- is pure Platonic Greek philosophy.  It has nothing to do with Jesus, nor with the God of the Hebrew Bible: “the Father” whom Jesus wants us to meet.  In contrast, the key theological insight from the Gospel is that Jesus was an “in/carnation” -- a living, breathing, in-the-flesh, mortal example of what the Living God was like (!) Jesus, the Man of Nazareth, was a total reversal of the “ideal” Greek divinity.  He was flesh & blood -- he was body broken and blood poured out!  (“Yuck!” Where’s the “divinity” in that?!)

 

           That’s why St. Paul said the Crucifixion of Jesus was “foolishness” in the eyes of the Greeks.  The realm of “mind” and “spirit” -- the realm of immortality and divinity -- would have been degraded… contaminated by any association with mortal (physical) experiences.

 

        And yet, Jesus asked his disciples to associate his memory with the experience of eating.  “Do this in remembrance of me.”   Remember me… when you break bread together, when you drink.

 

        I’ll admit: this is a long way around the topic that Bob Case raised last Sunday: “Remembering” – what it is… and why we do it.  In today’s text – which gives us the raw basics of the communion service -- Jesus asked his disciples to associate his memory with the experience they were having at the Last Supper: breaking bread and sharing a cup around a common table...   something we might do at breakfast with our family, or with friends in the middle of the day.  Jesus wants us to remember him whenever we gather for a shared meal around a table.  Okay?  Not just in church.  Not just on Sundays.

 

        Breaking bread together and sharing a glass of grape juice/wine – elements of Jesus’ last supper with his disciples – was a way for his followers to remember Jesus after he was gone.

 

        We have grown so accustomed to this ritual, that we don’t feel any surprise in Jesus’ words.  But for his first followers, there would have been shock!

 

        First, to ask us to “remember” him suggests that he will not be there with them. (!)  Jesus had already said that he would be handed over to the Gentiles, and be killed, and (on the third day) rise again.  But his followers had not taken it to heart. (!)  We know Jesus had mentioned it several times, but now – with these words at the last supper – it hits them: Jesus really means it!  And it’s coming soon.  “Do this in remembrance of me.”  And he added: “I tell you, that from now on I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the Kingdom of God comes.” (Luke 22:18) This is literally Jesus’ Last Supper!

       

           The second thing that should surprise us is that the elements of the Exodus story (the “Passover” story of liberation from slavery) already had their specific associated meanings.  (!) The unleavened bread indicates hasty departure (right?), the bitter herbs indicate conditions of slavery (right?), the blood of the lamb is what “saved them” from death.  Everybody knows what the various elements mean!  How can Jesus ask us to remember him instead of Moses?

 

         Brian McLaren says that the original Passover of the Exodus-story recalled one kind of liberation – liberation from slavery in Egypt: overturning the power of Pharaoh, the political and military and economic oppression of one class of people as “slaves” and the others as their “masters.”[5]   But the broken bread and the common cup (which Jesus would have us notice) suggest another kind of liberation…

 

       If the first Passover got people out from under the heel of the slave masters, this meal gets them out from the desire to be slave masters in the first place. (!)  This meal celebrates a new model of community, based in self-giving, being blessed and being broken, one’s lifeblood given for the well-being of others… a new covenant.

 

       The bread… “This is my body, given for you.  Do this in remembrance of me.”  

       The cup of wine: “This cup… is the new covenant in my blood.”  A covenant of forgiveness.  A promise of always being there, with them… even when Jesus is no longer seen by them.

 

      To keep Jesus present in our lives, we just need to break bread together (as often as possible), and remember Him.  The next time you lift a glass of wine… remember to “toast” Jesus, our Savior.

 

        Our choir put it like this: “In remembrance of me, eat this bread.

In remembrance of me, drink this wine.  In remembrance of me,

pray for the time when God’s own will is done.  In remembrance of me, heal the sick.  In remembrance of me, feed the poor.  In remembrance of me, open the door and let your neighbors in. … In remembrance of me, search for truth.   In remembrance of me, always love.  In remembrance of me, don’t look above… but in your heart… Look in your heart for love.  Do this in remembrance of me.” (words by Ragan Courtney, music by Buryl Red, 1972)

 

                                                                                             Amen.

 

 

 

[1] Wilson, John Rowan, “The Mind”, New York: Time-Life Books,  1964, page 9

 

[2] Ibid., page 11

 

[3] Ibid., page 13

 

[4] Jaynes, Julian, “The Origins of Consciousness in the Break-down of the Bi-cameral Mind”,  Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1972, page 6

 

[5] McLaren, Brian D., “We Make the Road by Walking”, New York: Jericho Books, 2014, page 154.

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