Calvary Episcopal Church, Charleston
February 20, 2018
View the sermon on video here.
From Exodus today: “This day shall be a day of remembrance for you.”
And from I Corinthians as well as Luke’s Gospel just read: “Do this in remembrance of me.”
Remembrance. The role of memory is essential in the life of faith. I would go so far as to say that one of the central responsibilities of being clergy, deacon, priest, or bishop, is to help the people of God to remember. Thus this reflection and a time for us to ponder.
Ritual is foundational to sustaining memory. It has been said, “When we remember, God remembers.” Examples in scripture abound. By keeping ritual, faith is re-enacted, continued, and re-membered. Jesus remembered, thereby creating an energized community rooted in a living tradition. In a world like ours, we have an invitation to keep rituals in a manner that sustain faithfulness and community, for there is a very real threat of losing our moorings, of forgetting, a kind of cultural amnesia. It is a part of our “mandatum.”
Rituals also help us remember the reality of pain as well as hope. Look at the ritual of the vigils in Florida the last few days. In those times we meet face to face with brokenness and evil with a recalling of God’s presence in history, all in the hope that we have not been abandoned and are being led somewhere.
This grounds us in our corporate memory in order to be able to move into a new future, however haltingly. In the symphony of gesture, symbol and story, memories are sustained not as past data, but as transformative possibilities. In liturgy, past, present and future are not collapsed into the present. Rather, we are drawn into the movement from the past to the future by our participation in the present. Such liturgical remembering can then have the potential to lead us to committed and reflective action.
In that light, Christians remember not for a nice trip down memory lane that we might call nostalgia, but in order to be transformed, as in anamnesis. We do so not mired in polyannish sentimentality, after all when Jesus remembered with his friends it was in the night he was betrayed. Right at that table we are confronted with the truth that we are broken. We see it in the example of Judas and lest we forget and solely call him out, we must not forget Peter in the courtyard. In the face of betrayal, our Lord still offered the invitation—“Do this…”
Staying with the theme of broken community, in the midst of the Corinthian Church’s exclusionary practices, Paul addresses the call to remember in order to remind the people of the possibility of the healing of relationships. Why is it that we so easily forget who God is, who God says we are, and who God calls us to be? There are the usual culprits like the addiction to novelty, the rate of change and so much that competes for our attention. Whatever the reasons, we do participate in the human tendency to forget the basis of our hope and become, as it were, functional atheists. The Hebrews forgot. The disciples forgot. So we engage in rituals of remembering. I trust we realize that we are one celebration away from falling into empty routine. If we lose the ability to creatively imagine with God and one another, the community Eucharistic meal, or even the liberation celebrated in the Exodus event for that matter, can be robbed of its power and transformative possibilities.
As clergy, we are called to remember on behalf of our people. The point is not personal comfort with our rituals. It is not merely a collection of historical moments of nations, dates or heroes as important as some of that is. We are being invited to remember in a particular way that is formative, communal, and life-giving. The model is of course the Passover where Jewish identity is rehearsed and shaped by the saving hands of God. There is a reason for their being, their very existence!
Each time the Exodus saving event is remembered, the Jewish people of every generation, place and time, are invited to remember, not as if they were at the Exodus as observer, but that they were actually a part of the Exodus. This fires the synapses in the brain and forms a memory—once bound, now free, belonging to the God who saves them.
So for us, we remember not merely as if we were present by looking on the Last Supper with Jesus and his disciples, but that we were at the table with them and are now! We, once bound, are now free and belong to the God who saves us. “On the night he was betrayed,” we are invited to remember. When we betrayed him, Jesus offers us his life, and not just when we are charming, or clever, or worthy, or faithful or successful. We are invited to join him at table even and perhaps especially when we are at our worst.
“This is my body broken for you.” We remember not merely an idea or a philosophy or a feeling of well-being, we don’t seek a spiritual experience or a good teaching, but his life laid down, freeing us from slavery to sin and death. “This cup is the new covenant in my blood,” inviting us to remember not a thoughtful gesture or a passing promise, but a divine, eternal vow made to us by God that is unbreakable by human failure.
So we remember. Gathering the people. Reading the sacred texts. Praying the prayers. Setting the Table. Celebrating the great prayer of the Church—the Great Thanksgiving. There is life. There is liberation. There is hope. For there is Christ, who died that we and all the creation might live. We remember in here, in order to remember out there.
Bishop Skip Adams
The Right Reverend Gladstone B. Adams III was elected and invested as our Bishop on September 10, 2016. Read more about him here.