Maundy Thursday 2020: “Remembering” means present and active

Willingly I shall bring myself
To accept the cross and cup,
I drink as my Saviour did
For his mouth,
Which flows with milk and honey
Has made the cause
And bitter taste of suffering
Become sweet through first drinking himself.

English Translation by Francis Browne

• • •

The Passover Seder is ordained in the Torah: “This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord. . . . You shall observe the feast of unleavened bread, for on this very day I brought your hosts out of the land of Egypt: therefore you shall observe this day, throughout your generations, as an ordinance for ever” (Exod. 12:14, 17). The Passover is to be observed as a “memorial day.” Biblically understood, this is a world removed from what we usually mean by “memorial.” Memory (remembrance) in biblical thought does not mean “calling to mind.” “Remembering” means present and active. That is the reason for the statement in the Passover Haggadah that it was not our ancestors who were brought by God out of bondage into freedom, but we ourselves. The Seder supper is not a memorial of God’s saving action in the past, but an appropriation of that same saving power in the present.

…Similarly, if we say that the Lord’s Supper is a “memorial,” we do not mean that we are simply thinking about Jesus’ last supper. When we repeat Jesus’ words, “do this in remembrance of me,” in the communion service, we do not simply call Jesus to mind. Jesus is actively present with power in the communion of the people. Disputes about the Lord’s Supper have divided the Christian church, but understanding the biblical concept of remembrance can help us. We are not just thinking about Jesus’ actions in the upper room; we acknowledge that he is present and acting with the community gathered at the table in the present time. The doctrine of the real presence of Jesus in the Lord’s Supper can be understood in this way by everyone, from the most sophisticated person to the simplest.

• Fleming Rutledge. The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ
(pp. 217-19)

28 thoughts on “Maundy Thursday 2020: “Remembering” means present and active

  1. Thanks for the GoFundMe suggestion. For now, I’m going to wait to see when the unemployment benefits and the stimulus check come, and try to make things work until then. But I’ll keep it in mind, though I wouldn’t want to presume that CM should shoulder that burden. If the time comes, maybe I could set it up myself, though I have no idea how it all works.

    And thanks to Tom and ChrisS for your ready generosity.


  2. Robert, Capon again–and I cannot resist his take on things;

    “By sacrament, I mean a real presence, under a particular sign in a particular time and place, of something that’s already present everywhere. It’s not just a de novo production of that something or a mental reminder of that something, but the same old something itself present under a renewable sign. Take a kiss between two lovers: it’s not some third thing that merely rep­resents their love; it’s their whole, already present love, re-presented — made really present again — at a specific point under a specific sign.

    The Eucharist, for example (to take the highest view of it), is precisely a sacrament. It’s not a transaction — not the mixing up of a fresh batch of the body and blood of Jesus so we can reinsert him into our lives. Nor is it merely a reminder of some wonderful things that a onetime Jesus did for us a great many Fridays and Sundays ago. It’s the real presence, under the signs of bread and wine, of the Jesus who has indwelt all our lives, in all his power, all along. To take another example, the Passover is a sacrament. It’s not just a casting back of the communal mind to a liberation that happened once in a distant past, nor is it the celebration of a liberation newly arrived because we have somehow activated it. It is the real presence, at this year’s celebration, of the same old liberation that has made us who we have been all along. Witness the words of the Seder ritual in the Haggadah:

    In every generation, we should feel as though we ourselves had gone forth from Egypt, as it is written, “And you shall explain to your child on that day, ‘It is because of what the Eternal did for me when I, myself, went forth from Egypt.'”

    And so, by the same token, the church is a sacrament. It’s not a Kitchen-Aid mixer that produces the dough of redemption from scratch for people who didn’t have cookies before, nor is it just a Kmart aisle sign to remind us that it might be a nice idea to think about making cookies. It’s the sign of the real presence of the goodies of salvation in everyone, everywhere, from square one. It’s God’s same old sweets, repackaged.”

    (pg. 41-42, The Astonished Heart, Robert Capon)


  3. RobertF

    See if Chaplain Mike can set up a GoFundMe for you. I wouldn’t do anything that would make it easy to find people to find you in Real Life.


  4. Sorry to hear your news. I’m sure it’s got you torn up a bit between happy to not be out in public, distressed over the financial hit.

    In terms of “embrace the mystery”…

    I guess I was thinking “the mystery of a walk with Jesus,” not necessarily “the mystery of just simple, plain livin’.”


  5. I have to say it’s hard for me to “embrace the mystery” when I was just furloughed from my job starting today for 11 weeks. It’s not all bad — my employer is continuing my health care insurance and intends for me and the others to return at the end of June, and it will make it possible for me to quarantine rather than report to my essential business work for nearly three months. But we are so financially stressed now, I just hope the unemployment benefit comes in soon (yes, I filed this morning). I could do with a little less mystery when mystery seems very much like uncertainty.


  6. so much easier for the Eastern Orthodox

    so very hard for fundamentalists who are strict literalists


  7. In addition, my understanding is that the Greek stressed our participation in what is going on…

    Is the implication that it is always going on, with or without our participation?


  8. Yes, FR gets that bit right. In addition, my understanding is that the Greek stressed our participation in what is going on, like the Jewish view of all of Israel having participated in the first Passover.

    Chronologically, the first feast of the Jewish year is Yom Kippur, and it’s important in remembering that we need to be cleansed of our sin. But God commanded that Passover be the “first” – that is, the foremost feast on the calendar, because nothing else makes sense if we are not delivered from the power of death.



  9. add to that concept the power of the Holy Spirit working in the communal consciousness of the Body of Christ which, in Council, speaks in collegiality . . . . or sometimes, even in a voice of communal acclamation

    thank you, Stephen, for that reference to Blake . . .
    I’m a fan


  10. I look at “remembering” as active creative imagination not in a dreamy colloquial sense but as described by poet William Blake – an act of transformative consciousness. In our culture we think of the imagination as purely private so we tend to be suspicious of its insights. Here we have the old idea of the communal imagination.


  11. The idea that in the mystery of the Incarnation, Christ ‘assumed’ our humanity to Himself in order to care for it, to heal it.
    How does this play out in Christian praxis?

    How did the Lord’s Supper come from ancient days to be celebrated in a ‘church’ where a very young pastor bought some cheap bread on sale and placed it by the back door of ‘the church’ and told people if they wanted, they could take some on the way out the door? What happened? or maybe ‘why’ did it happen?

    more and more evidence there is that ‘fundamentalism’ is far from Christian orthodoxy, and people have tried to replace their own teachings into ‘theology’ and consigned what is ‘holy’ to ‘mystery’ that is alien to them


  12. I would argue that it’s the other way round – His presence will draw people to want to enact the doing and saying. Chicken/egg.


  13. Does Jesus’ active presence “with power in the communion of the people” depend on the people doing (and to my thinking believing is a form of doing) and saying the certain things? Does the people’s doing and saying make him present and active with power?


  14. anamnesis: to recognize Him as present in the ‘breaking of the bread’, as when He spoke the Words first to His disciples at the Last Supper and as He was there with those men as is written in the Holy Gospel of St. Luke:

    “29 But they pleaded with Him, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.” So He went in to stay with them. 30 While He was reclining at the table with them, He took bread, spoke a blessing and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Jesus—and He disappeared from their sight “


  15. Rutledge gets that right. Active. Present.

    Even our English rendering carries a powerful image; “re-” “member(ing)”; putting the parts/members together again.


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