Exodus (12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14)
The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. [Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn.] This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the LORD. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.
Psalm (116:1, 10-17)
1 I love the LORD, because he has heard the voice of my supplication, *
because he has inclined his ear to me whenever I called upon him.
10 How shall I repay the LORD *
for all the good things he has done for me?
11 I will lift up the cup of salvation *
and call upon the Name of the LORD.
12 I will fulfill my vows to the LORD *
in the presence of all his people.
13 Precious in the sight of the LORD *
is the death of his servants.
14 O LORD, I am your servant; *
I am your servant and the child of your handmaid;
you have freed me from my bonds.
15 I will offer you the sacrifice of thanksgiving *
and call upon the Name of the LORD.
16 I will fulfill my vows to the LORD *
in the presence of all his people,
17 In the courts of the LORD’S house, *
in the midst of you, O Jerusalem.
1 Corinthians (11:23-26)
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, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In 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.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
John (13:1-17, 31b-35)
Before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.” After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord–and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.
Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, `Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
Memory evokes meaning. It is in remembering – not just in a superficial, intellectual sense, but in a deeper, more comprehensive way – that we come to perceive the meaning of what we have experienced and of what we are experiencing now. It is in remembering in that deeper sense that we come to appreciate the effect that people and events and experiences, good and bad, have had on who we are and on how we think and on how we perceive and how we interact with the world of which we are a part.
The great narratives in the scriptures are not primarily — sometimes not at all — about what happened at a particular point in the life of the people of God, but about remembering the meaning of the stories in the ongoing life of the community and of those who are a part of it.
When Jews throughout history have told and retold the great story of the first Passover supper, as we heard in this evening’s first reading, they have understood it, not just as an account of something that is said to have taken place over 3000 years ago, but as the story of how God brought us out of Egypt, out of slavery, out to a new and fuller life. By remembering, they have become part of the story so that it now provides the central meaning to their lives here and now.
And when Christians first came to recall the story of the Last Supper and of Jesus’ giving of Eucharist, as St. Paul recounts in our second reading, they experienced it as giving meaning to their lives as people baptized into his death and resurrection. That Eucharistic sharing was, as the old expression puts it, the repeatable part of the baptismal rite. It served as a remembrance of and a renewal of and a recommitment to what they had solemnly vowed when they first received the sacrament of new birth. They knew that they were again committing themselves to life in Jesus and, if necessary, to death in Jesus, and to life bound with one another and, if necessary, to death with and for one another.
Coming to the table to eat of the bread and drink of the cup was no light matter. It was an act in which, as Paul puts it, they proclaimed the Lord’s death until he comes. It was an act in which they remembered the meaning of what Jesus had done and the meaning of what they had committed themselves to in baptism. In a time of persecution, reaching out their hands to share in the ritual meal meant: “I remember what this means. And, by sharing this meal with the rest of you here, I solemnly pledge that I will live my entire life, and if necessary give my life, for you and for the sake of God’s kingdom, just as Jesus did.”
Memory evokes meaning. But we human beings have the tendency and the ability to forget the meaning, to forget the significance of even our most powerful symbols. And in forgetting them, we rob them of their meaning.
Over the centuries, Christians have, in a variety of ways, done that with the Eucharist. We have found ways to eviscerate it and to trivialize it.
Sometimes, we have distorted its meaning by trying to make it into a private affair between God and me; whereas its core symbolism comes in its expression of, and lived experience of, and building up of the Body of Christ of which we are all a part. This is the heart of Paul’s criticism of the Corinthians as he charges them with failing to “recognize the body” and, in doing so, being made “answerable for the body and blood of the Lord.”
At other times, we have watered down its meaning by making it little more than a nice, friendly thing to do together: not really any different from offering somebody a cup of punch and a cookie at Coffee Hour. In doing so, we have trivialized it. Instead of understanding and experiencing it as the way that we “remember the Lord’s death until he comes,” we have forgotten the deep and abiding power of this solemn commitment to and with one another and to the Lord.
But this evening can serve as a reminder: an invitation to remember. And, in remembering, we can recover the meaning: not only the meaning of what we do, but the meaning of who we are as a people baptized into Christ. To use T. S. Eliot’s words from “Four Quartets”:
We had the experience but missed the meaning,
And approach to the meaning restores the experience
In a different form, beyond any meaning
We can assign to happiness.
Memory evokes meaning. And each time that we do this in remembrance of Jesus, we open up once again the possibility of experiencing and living the meaning of this sacred meal. We recommit our lives to God and to one another. We solemnly pledge once again that we will live our lives in and for the kingdom of God. And, in doing so together, we, by our actions, proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.