Sermon for Maundy Thursday
Thursday, March 28, 2013
I Corinthians 11:23-26
My paternal grandmother died of breast cancer when I was just eight years old. It was an unexpected tragedy for our whole family. And sadly, just being eight years old, I don’t remember my grandmother all that much. I have faint memories of family dinners and birthday parties, but not much beyond that. She is the grandmother I never knew. I don’t remember the sound of her voice. I don’t recall hardly anything she ever said to me. The cancer came too quickly and too assiduously for me to ever get a chance to really know my grandmother.
But the strangest thing happened last Christmas. Maggie received a gift basket of Chanel Number 5 products. I didn’t give her that gift, because I didn’t know what Chanel Number 5 was. And I didn’t think much of it; until Maggie opened that basket full of Chanel Number 5 products. *Snap!* I am five years old again, sitting in my grandparents’ house on Christmas Eve. The whole family is getting ready to go out to dinner, and my grandmother, the grandmother I thought I didn’t know, is giving me a hug, and speaking tenderly to me. I can feel her arms around me. I can hear her loving words. I smell her Chanel Number 5. My grandmother’s favorite perfume.
The grandmother I thought I didn’t know was just buried deep in my memory. Somewhere, in the recesses of my mind, her hugs, her tenderness, her love, was remembered. I had forgotten all of that. But that smell, that smell of Chanel Number 5 made her come alive again. And I remembered.
Tonight, Maundy Thursday, is all about memories. We, as fragile human beings, tend to forget. We forget pedestrian things like names and phone numbers. We forget important things like what our grandparents were like, or the details of weddings or graduation ceremonies. And we forget the most important thing – the Lord Jesus. We forget his words. We forget his purpose. We forget those times in our lives when we were close to God. We forget.
Our forgetfulness is not a symptom of our sinfulness, but a reflection of our humanity. Memories important to us – even the ones filled with love and joy – find their way to the dark recesses of our minds.
The Lord Jesus, in all his great compassion, knows this about us. He knows that we cannot remember the things we need to remember. Jesus knows that we need something to hold onto, something to smell, something to eat or drink, in order to remember.
And so on the night before he died for us, our Lord Jesus Christ took bread; and when he had given thanks to God the Father, he broke, and gave it to you and to me. And the Lord Jesus said, “Take, eat: This is my Body which is given for you. Do this to remember me.” And after supper our Lord Jesus took a cup of wine. And when he had given thanks, he gave it to you and to me and said, “Drink this, all of you: This is my Blood of the new Covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness. Whenever you drink it, do this to remember me.”
It is far too easy for us to get caught up in what happens to the bread and wine on the altar. Does it become the actual body and blood of Jesus? Or is it just a spiritual presence? I tell you that does not matter. What matters is that when we eat this bread and drink this wine, we remember Jesus.
We remember his glorious birth witnessed by shepherds and wise men. We remember his baptism in the River Jordan. We remember his temptation in the wilderness. We remember his words of challenge and compassion. We remember how he healed the sick and raised the dead. We remember how he was betrayed, arrested, and crucified. For me, and for you. All of that, in just a stale cracker and a sip of wine.
Spiritual amnesia is a prevalent and particularly nasty condition. We forget the things God has done for us. We forget the mountaintop experiences we’ve had with Christ. We forget love that we have shared. But this altar, and this meal, call those memories back from the dark recesses of our minds.
Tonight, as you chew the bread, remember those times when things were tough, and when you were gnashing your teeth. And remember how God saved you. I know it has happened. God has saved each one of you, in some way or another, or you wouldn’t be here tonight. When you chew the bread of heaven, remember how God loved you even as you gnashed your teeth in despair.
And as you drink this wine, feel the warmth run down your throat. Remember the warmth and the love you have received from God. I know it has happened to you. A moment of grace or a prayer answered. When you drink the cup of salvation, remember when God poured his love and grace into you.
Remember. Open your mind, open your heart, and when you partake of this meal, *snap!*, you will remember our Lord Jesus Christ.