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Sermon: Maundy Thursday

April 1, 2010

1 Corinthians 11:23-26

I remember when my dad pushed Jim Martin off the garage roof.  My father was in junior high school at the time, and I wouldn’t be born for another dozen years, but I remember nonetheless.  I remember when my mother and her brothers threw rotten oranges at each other at their home in San Gabriel, even though my mother was only 12.  All three of my children remember the time that my son Riley went around the house in Hawaii with an open bottle of baby powder and sprinkled it everywhere—on the floor, on the walls, on the bookshelves.  They all remember, even though Riley was not even two-years-old, and the two girls were living in Ohio with Desiree.

To belong to a family means that you remember things that you don’t actually remember, that you couldn’t possibly remember.  But you can remember because someone still tells the story.  You’re sitting around the table on the back patio after dinner on a hot summer evening, and somebody says, “Do you remember the time when Grandpa pushed Jim Martin off the garage roof?”  Everybody smiles and nods because they know how it all happened.  Maybe there is a young child or a new in-law present who hasn’t ever heard the story before, so Grandpa says, “It was summer vacation, and Jim Martin and I were playing, and we went up on the garage…”  By the time Grandpa finishes, that young child or that new in-law is really, truly a part of the family, because now they know the story, and they can remember, too.

In the early days of the Christian Church, a man named Paul traveled all over the Mediterranean visiting Christians.  Because he didn’t have cable, he wrote a lot of letters.  In one of those letters to the Christians in a city called Corinth, Paul wrote, “Do you remember that night Jesus was betrayed, how he took a loaf of bread and broke it?  He said, ‘This is my body.’  And he took a cup after supper and said, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood.’  Remember that?

“Whenever you eat the bread and drink from the cup, do it in remembrance of Jesus.”

Paul wrote that letter to Gentile people who lived in Corinth, hundreds of miles from Jerusalem.  They had never met Jesus and had a limited understanding of his Jewish heritage.  In fact, Paul himself was never in that upper room when Jesus broke the bread and shared the cup.  Yet he could remember.  He could remember, and so could the Christians in Corinth.  They could all remember an event they had never witnessed, but in so doing, they became part of the family.  Remember.

A woman lost her husband to a sudden and unexpected heart attack.  For years and years after, you could walk into her house and see the photographs of the two of them on the mantle, and a hand written to-do list—now yellowed and curled—he had put on the refrigerator two days before he died, and his slippers were still by the bed, and everything on his nightstand was arranged just as it had been when he was alive.

This woman was not in denial.  She did not expect that she would hear the sound of her husband’s car in the driveway.  She was perfectly well and healthy.  She simply understood the power of memory.  Each time she looked at his slippers on the bedroom floor, and each time a visitor commented on how handsome her husband looked in his high school portrait on the wall, this woman could remember what was good and best about her husband and her marriage.  “Yes, he was very handsome.  The year he took that photograph was the year I fell in love with him.  I can remember it like it was yesterday.”

Sometimes the grandchildren would come over to the house.  The younger ones had never met their grandfather, and even the older ones never knew him well.  But they would ask about the pictures, and the woman would help them remember the grandfather they had never met.  That made the little ones a part of the family, but it also brought her husband into the present.  Whenever they remembered him, he was present with them in a very real way.  The man he was then made a difference in their lives now.

That’s what we do tonight.  We did not walk with Jesus.  We did not sit together with him in an upper room.  We did not sit around with our wine talking about the crowds in town for the Passover celebration, or laugh about the time James was bitten by the donkey as we all traveled up to Jerusalem.  Nevertheless, we remember.  As we remember an event that we never knew, we become part of a great family that reaches around the world to a group of outcaste girls in a small village in India, to a family living in a crowded slum in Rio de Janeiro, to worshippers in an ancient stone cathedral in Europe, and to everyone who remembers the same stories.  Our family also stretches back in time for 2,000 years, to people through the ages who remember our story and who passed it on to us.  When we sit at table together tonight, we are actually just gathering around a very small corner of a very large table.

But as we remember, we are also drawing Jesus into the present.  We are acknowledging that he has a place in our lives and in our time.  The man he was in the upper room, the man he was during his beatings and his trials, the man he was as he hung on a cross, makes a real difference to who we are tonight…and tomorrow.

Paul wrote to the people in Corinth and said, “Whenever you share the bread and cup, remember Jesus.  As you do that, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”  There is in our memory of the past, a seed of hope for the future.  We do not simply remember the awful events of Holy Week in sorrow.  We remember them in anticipation of final fulfillment of God’s promise to redeem all Creation, to bring us together into a family that is no longer separated by time or distance, or life and death.

That is why tonight, we remember.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Rev. Stephen F. Precht permalink
    April 19, 2011 1:29 pm

    A masterful job of highlighting the notion of remembrance. I am
    using that theme as well in my preparations.

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