Year A, Maundy Thursday
April 17, 2014
The Reverend Dr. Brent Was
Welcome to this table, friends. It is good to be gathered together in this way. It is very good to pray this way together. It is very, very good to begin this Holy Triduum praying this way, together.
Tonight, we are demonstrably participating in one of the deep and abiding mysteries of the church; anamnesis. Does anyone know what that means, anamnesis? It is from a Greek word that means reminiscence, recollection, or memorial. In liturgical studies, it is a very specific thing. The anamnesis is proclaimed in the words right after the words of institution, (This is my body that is for you… the words Paul recorded for us that we still use). Right after those words we say something to effect: “In remembrance of his death, resurrection and ascension, we offer you these gifts….” That is the technical anamnesis, which is followed by the epiclesis, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, marked by the hands of the celebrant doing something while words calling for the sanctification of the Holy Spirit that these things might be for us the Body and Blood of our savior.
Anamnesis. It means reminiscence. Recollection. Memorial. In the weekly liturgy of the Mass, we remember Jesus Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension, the key moments of the Paschal mystery. We memorialize these moments, they key moments in the salvation history that our ancestors passed on to us. This is a very powerful act, a gathering of faithful people recalling God’s saving deeds together, in a prayerful posture week in, week out, year after year, decade after decade, century after century. The cumulative weight of such ritual remembrance is astounding. And it is somewhere in there, some alchemy between the ritual inertia of our ancestors and the grace and generosity of God, that anamnesis blossoms with sacramental character.
Remember, anamnesis means: Reminiscence. Recollection. Memorial. It is all about memory. We can’t remember things we have not experienced, right? I can’t remember where I was when JFK was killed. Or when Pearl Harbor happened. Or when Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo. No. That is history, potent, powerful history, but history, it is outside of my experience. But memory… in our Liturgy, in the Mass, at this table right now, we are remembering our shared Holy past, we are recalling what happened, truly recalling it from a cloud of stored memories tended to over 2000 years of history, and in doing so, we truly enter into the Paschal mystery week after week, year after year, decade after decade, century after century. We truly enter the Paschal mystery because it becomes, mysteriously, from the inertia of our ancestors and the grace of God, it becomes my memory, our memory of an intimately shared past, a past passed down from generation to generation in the church on one hand, and through our individual relationship with God in Christ and with each other, gathered as we are around a common, a shared ritual table, on the other.
Our Jewish brothers and sisters are doing much the same at Seder tables around the world tonight, remembering through word and ritual action the Exodus out of Egypt. The bitter herbs, unleavened bread, dried fruit, the wine, all held together with words and prayers that have been passed on in their way for well over 2000 years. Powerful stuff.
So here we are in this very moment; gathered around a table, sharing a meal in the Passover season, not that unlike what Jesus and his friends did, the wine here, I am sure, is better, but then again everything on Jesus’ table would have been local and organic. But we are gathered here in the mystery of this hour, the evening of our ritual descent into the Paschal Mystery of the Triduum of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday and the lifting of the veil at the Great Vigil of Easter. In anamnesis, we are invited by God to enter, to truly enter into the eternal and actual Paschal Mystery. We are at this table, reminiscencing, recollecting, remembering what happened to us, members of the Body of Christ 2000 years ago… really, that is what we are after here, all you religious thrill seekers, you who are looking for a variety of religious experience. Here it is on a pottery platter, an invitation to actually remember the events of long, long ago, fully, truly. Mysteriously remember them, together. This is the central invitation to the great mystery at the heart of Christianity. “Understand, therefore Beloved, how it is new and old, eternal and temporary, perishable and imperishable, mortal and immortal; this is the mystery of the Pascha.” That is from a 2nd century sermon on the Paschal mystery and we still can’t say it any more clearly than that.
Don’t get me wrong; none of this makes sense. Not logically. New AND old; eternal AND temporary. Remembering the events of 2000 years ago. Entering into the Paschal mystery… That could sound a bit too Eugene woo-woo for some of our tastes, a bit to something for some of our Protestant sensibilities, but what it really is is some pretty ancient, pretty blood-soaked truth about the nature of the God in which we live and move and have our being, about the Savior we remember, follow, proclaim and are redeemed in, about the Spirit that animates us with breath each and every moment of each and every day. And by blood soaked, I am not just speaking of the blood of the Cross poured out tomorrow on Good Friday, the blood Christ shared with his friends in the cup that we will pass to each other in a few minutes. It is not just the blood of the martyrs, or the blood of the saints… I am talking about the blood of the saints in every generation. I am talking about the blood of your parents, and their parents, and their parents before them and of our children and their children and their children’s children for seven time seventy generations to come. It is the blood painted on the lintel as per the instructions of Moses. It is the blood that courses through your veins right now. That is the new and old, the eternal and temporary, the holy memory of anamnesis that we are invited to participate in tonight. Great is the mystery of faith: Christ has died. Christ is Risen. Christ will come again. Great is the mystery of faith.
Does anyone have any idea what I am talking about? What I am talking about, with words, which are so insufficient, is the heart of Jesus Christ and the mystery of His death, resurrection and ascension. What I am talking about is the betrayed and arrested and beaten, the naked and humiliated and bleeding and abandoned and forsaken and nailed to a cross heart of the mystery of the crucified God. It doesn’t make much sense here (in our mind). It doesn’t make much sense here(in our heart). It doesn’t make much sense here (in our body); not in our regular lives, not in the day in, day out lives we lives. But for those of us who will sit in vigil tonight, staying here all night or hauling yourself out of bed at some ungodly hour; it might become a bit more clear. For those of us who lean into the liturgy tonight, tomorrow, the next three days, treat it a bit like a prayer retreat; it might become a bit more clear. For those of us who commit ourselves to prayer, to reading scripture, to studying and practicing our faith week after week, year after year, decade after decade… it might become a little bit more clear. For those of us who show up Sunday after Sunday, minds and hearts and bodies open to the mystery of God in Christ with the Holy Spirit, open to the mysterious joy of a parish gathered around the Lord’s table, proclaiming the Kingdom of God and remembering the story that led us to this very moment. This is anamnesis, a great and Divine mystery that each of us, by virtue of our Baptism, by virtue of our practice, by virtue of our faith are heirs too. May you be open to this most holy gift. ‘tis the season. AMEN.