The Rev. Canon Frank Logue gave this sermon
at Christ Church Frederica on Palm Sunday 2016
On the night before he died, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” So begins the long reading of the Passion from Luke’s Gospel.
We begin with Passover. Later, Peter will forget Jesus prediction and will deny three times that he even knows Jesus.
Then much later as Jesus after he has been crucified and looked out on those killing him, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” A criminal dying alongside the innocent Jesus wants this mercy too. The thief says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Our reading begins with an act of remembering, then out of fear Peter feigns amnesia trying to forget his connection to Jesus, and finally a criminal next to Jesus asks that the Lord remember him. I want to pick up this thread of remembering, forgetting, and remembering as a lens through which to look not just at Jesus’ passion, but also at our lives.
Remembering is essential to any understanding of Judaism and so the roots of our own faith. The most basic statement of the Judaism, to be remembered by all, is the Shema, a simple prayer taken directly from the Torah which Jews are to pray twice daily and are, if possible, to be reciting as they die. The words are:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.
These are the words written inside the phylacteries, the two small square leather boxes traditionally worn on the forehead and the left arm during morning prayer by Torah observant Jewish. These words also go into a Mezuzah, the decorative case that goes alongside the doorways of observant Jews. The central proclamation is to be recited to your children and talked about when you are at home and when you are away when you lie down and when you rise.
One story points to how powerful this act of remembering can be. Immediately on peace coming at the end of the Second World War, Rabbi Eliezer Silver went to Europe to find Jewish children hidden among non-Jewish families to escape the Holocaust. To find the children, he would later recount how he went to gatherings of children and call out:
: אֶחָד יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ יְהוָה יִשְׂרָאֵל שְׁמַע
אֱלֹהֶיךָ יְהוָה אֵת וְאָהַבְתָּ
מְאֹדֶךָ –וּבְכָל ,נַפְשְׁךָ- וּבְכָל ,לְבָבְךָ- בְּכָל
Shema Yisrael, Ado-nai Elo-heinu, Ado-nai Echad.
Vuh-ahav-ta ate Ado-noi Elo-hecha
Bi-chol li-vav-cha oo-vi-chol naf-shecha oo-vi-chol mi-odecha
Rabbi Eliezer would then scan the crowd and could see the children remember who they were as those words spoken by their Jewish parents spoke deeply to kids scarred by war. Just as they were trained to do from bedtime onward, the words Hear O Israel spoken in Hebrew broke the spell, cured the amnesia, and let the children remember who they were, and restored them to community.
The Torah instructs the faithful to tell of God’s great deeds to their children and their children’s children. This daily act of praying the Shema is coupled with the central act of remembrance, the Passover. At each Passover Seder, Jews recall that if God had not brought the children of Israel out of Egypt with a mighty arm, they would still be slaves.
An important part of every Passover Seder comes when a child asks the central question of Passover, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” The traditional response is, “On this night we remember we were slaves in Egypt…”
That key question traditionally comes after the second toast of wine. And Luke records in his Gospel the two toasts as well as Jesus’ words. After the second toast, Jesus, as the head of the Passover celebration, would be expected to tell the Exodus story.
Jesus should have said, “On this night we remember we were slaves in Egypt…” But that’s not what he said. What Jesus did say was, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” And Jesus also said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
Our word “remember” as we use it today is a weak compared to what is meant here. The Greek word is Anamnesis, which does mean remember, but it means this in a very real sense. If my arm or my leg is cut off, I am dismembered. Anamnesis is the opposite of dismembering. We re-member when our members are once more attached. We are made whole. We are fully ourselves once more.
Jesus said that when you do this, I will be re-membered. The Body of Christ will once more be whole. It is not that we will recall who Jesus was, but we will know fully who we are as he is present to us and we are part of his mystical body.
This anamnesis is in contrast to Peter’s feigned amnesia. Out of fear, Peter wants to forget that he is a follower of Jesus. Peter wants to forget the he is Christ’s own, forever. Peter does not want anamnesis; he does not want to be part of Christ’s body as he knows Jesus is headed toward the cross.
And yet when we do make our way to the cross, this word remember is spoken once more, this time by a criminal. We know he already knows something of Jesus. For when the other criminal derides Jesus saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” the second thief defends him saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
This is where we join the story. Our readings bring us to the foot of the cross. We are not to look away, for all of our faith is here at the cross where even as he was dying Jesus spoke words of forgiveness to those killing him and words of mercy to the criminal dying alongside him. We come to the foot of the cross, not in strength, but in weakness; not out of worthiness but with our failings, our losses, and our pain.
We join the thief on the cross who asked Jesus to remember him. And yet we know that Jesus has come into his kingdom. We know that Jesus remembers each of us, even me and even you. Jesus knows us each by name. He has your photo on the divine refrigerator in heaven.
The movement of this long account of Jesus’ Passion is the motion of our lives from remembering who we are in the Last Supper, to forgetting whose we are, to then once again standing at the foot of the cross with our sin and shame. There are many ways of forgetting—drug and alcohol abuse, trying to shop or eat or work our fears and inadequacies and disappointments away. With all of these ways of masking the pain, there is only one way to re-member, one way to be made whole again, and that is at the foot of the cross.
The words and actions of this Sunday show something of our words and actions throughout our lives. Like the crowd that Holy Week, we can go from singing God’s praises to denying his presence and his power. We deny Jesus by not speaking or acting when we are given an opportunity to say or do the right thing. Sometimes we deny him by saying and doing things that deny the Christ in us. We all miss the mark set by God, we all fall short of God’s glory. But rather than offering condemnation, Jesus offers forgiveness and much more.
I had a co-worker, Elizabeth Burns, the Diocese’s Missioner for Youth, who, when I would be leaving the office to drive to a meeting with a vestry or some other diocesan business would muster her best Mom impersonation and say, “Remember who you are. Make good choices.” Her joking way of sending me off to a meeting seems in retrospect like a perfect alternative for “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” In the Eucharist, we are to remember who we are. We are to leave empowered to choose to love and serve the Lord.
For Jesus invites us not only to the cross, but to the table where we re-member, we put back together the Body of Christ. In so doing, we remember who we are and whose we are. We are children of the Triune God who Jesus loved so much that he would not give up on that love even when the cost was suffering and death.
We gather at this altar because here we experience that forgiveness, healing, and salvation found in Christ alone. Here we bring not our strength, but our weakness, our powerless, and our pain. And here we are made whole once more. Here we cry, “Jesus, remember me” and here we are known and loved and remembered.