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"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 th