Each year as I come to Holy Week, and especially the last three days, I find that I have less and less ability or interest in trying to explain and make sense of this week. That’s true not only about this week but also about life. I don’t want explanations, mine or anyone else’s. I want to experience this week. I want to experience the truth of this week in my life.
I have no explanations of what happened on that first Maundy Thursday. And I am not going to tell you what it means or should mean in your life. I simply want us to reflect on our experience of this holy night.
Think about a time when you gathered around the table in remembrance. Where was the table? Who was there? Who wasn’t there? What was the conversation about? What was your remembrance as you gathered around that table?
It seems to me that we are always gathering around the table in remembrance. It’s just something we do. It’s feels right and natural, holy, and important.
My wife and I spent the last two days with family and friends for the funeral of her brother-in-law. The only thing we did those two days was gather around the table in remembrance. We gathered around the table at the home of a family member and we ate and we talked. We re-membered. And then we went to the church and we gathered around the table in remembrance. We ate and drank in remembrance. And then we went into the parish hall and you know what we did? We again gathered around the table in remembrance, and we ate some more and talked some more. And when we got home, you know what we did. We gathered around the table to eat and drink in remembrance.
It’s always about the table and remembrance. Every time there is a death or a loss we gather around the table to eat and drink in remembrance. But it’s not limited to deaths. What do we do at a wedding? We gather around the table to eat and drink in remembrance – first at the church and then again at the reception. We gather around the table in remembrance for anniversaries, birthdays, graduations. We do it with friends and family. We gather around the table in remembrance to mark our losses, celebrations, and transitions in life.
That’s exactly what this night is about. Every one of our readings has two common themes: the table and remembrance. In the first reading (Exodus 12:1-14) we hear instructions about gathering around the table for the passover meal. It ends with the injunction: “This day shall be a day of remembrance for you.” In the second reading (1 Corinthians 11:23-26) we hear how, on the night he was betrayed, Jesus gathered his disciples around the table offered his body and blood and said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” In tonight’s gospel (John 13:1-17, 31-35) Jesus washes feet and commands love in remembrance. “You also should do as I have done to you.”
I want to be clear that remembrance is not simply about recalling the past, returning to the past, or recreating the past. Remembrance has the ability to take the past and bring it into the present moment and let it have a continuing effect and impact on our lives. It’s the aperture into a new and larger life. We move forward through remembrance of the past.
There’s something within us that hungers for remembrance and knows that remembrance has the ability to feed and nourish life. That’s why we gather around the table to eat and drink in remembrance. We did last Sunday. We will tonight. And we will again next Sunday. Whether within or outside of the church we are always eating and drinking in remembrance.
We carry these remembrances within us. Let me tell you a few of mine. One of my remembrances is my grandmother’s perfume. We called her Bum Bum. I can still smell her perfume. And when I do, I re-member Bum Bum. Her presence is real and tangible. I know she is with me and I can feel her hands rubbing my little back. After she would visit our house my sister and I would argue over who got to sleep on her pillow because we wanted to smell and re-member her.
One of my remembrances is Orion’s Belt. Every time I look at those stars I re-member my little boy. I fell him laying on top of me as I lay on the ground and we gazed up into the night sky. His weight, his warmth, his life, his love are real and present in that remembrance.
Another one of my remembrances is a place called Kiotari Beach. It’s a place in Greece Cyndy and I visited on our sabbatical. When I re-member Kiotari I feel Cyndy’s hand in my hand. I feel the breeze and the sun’s warmth. I relive that time with her. I feel the connection and the fit. And it changes the present moment.
Remembrance has a way of putting us back together again. The opposite of re-membering is not forgetting but dis-membering. Remembrance is a condition of the heart. It’s a way of being in the world and relating to one another.
What are your remembrances? Who are the people? Where are the places? What are the circumstances? What do you experience in those remembrances? How do they affect you and put your life back together again? When was the last time you gathered around a table in remembrance? What happened?
The reason we re-member so much and so often is because as we re-member our faith is strengthened and fortified. We create a reserve. Our remembrances are the experience of faith renewed, emboldened, and made real. That’s why on those hard days of loss and sadness we gather around the table to re-member. That remembrance carries us through the sorrows. And it’s why on those happy days we gather around the table to re-member. That remembrance fills us with gratitude and opens our eyes to the beauty of the world, the wonder of life, and the mystery of love.
So I invite you on this Maundy Thursday night to re-remember, to gather your remembrances and bring them to this place and reflect on them tonight. We’ll need those remembrances when we come to Good Friday.
When have you gathered around the table in remembrance? What are your remembrances tonight?
Sermons for Holy Week 2017