"We Are What We Remember"
On Palm Sunday, I recall inviting everybody to make Holy Week a time to ‘remember’ the events of our redemption. I recall saying that as Catholics we are a people of memory; that “we are what we remember.” I also recall saying, “Without memory, everything becomes nothing.” My aunt who has dementia, for example. She just lost her husband, who was also her primary caregiver. Without her dementia, this would have been a different experience for her. But with her failing memory, everything has become nothing.
In the church calendar, Holy Thursday is the day on which ‘memory’ or ‘remembrance’ occupies a central theme. There are different kinds of remembering. For example, we remember events in our lives – a great vacation, a marriage, the birth of a child, or perhaps even an accident. But then, it is very different kind of memory when at a family event someone bakes grandma’s chocolate cake. This kind of remembering is more than recalling an event. It not only perpetuates grandma’s memory but in a certain sense makes memory her come alive.
The Passover: A Perpetual Institution
Holy Thursday is a different kind of remembering than the above two I have mentioned. It all began with that first Passover in the book of Exodus. The Passover lamb was sacrificed, houses were marked with the blood of the Passover Lamb, God’s angel passed over the land, and God set God’s people free from slavery. Many centuries later, by the time the events of their redemption from Egypt were recorded in sacred scripture, the celebration of the Passover had already been established as an annual festival.
However, the annual Passover celebration was not the first two kinds of memory I mentioned earlier. It was not a mere recalling of an event. Nor was it like grandma’s cake. When today’s reading says, “This day shall be memorial feast for you, which all your generations shall celebrate with pilgrimage to the Lord as a perpetual institution,” it refers to an actualization, a reliving of the original event (Ex 12: 14). Each year, what God accomplished at that first Passover was accomplished anew for every successive generation in perpetuity.
“Do this in Remembrance of Me”
When Jesus celebrated the Last Supper, he brought a totally new dimension to that original Passover. The Passover lamb was replaced by the Lamb of God – Jesus Christ. Jesus took the bread and gave it to his disciples saying, “This is my body that is for you. In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” Jesus Last Supper would become the new Passover. This Passover was not merely a setting free of a nation from slavery. This Passover would set humanity free from slavery to sin, death, and darkness. However, there was one thing that did not change. After giving the bread and the cup to his disciples, Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Cor 11:23-26). Just as that original Passover would be established as a perpetual institution, the New Passover would be established as a perpetual institution in the Eucharist.
Jesus’ New Passover, however, had yet another totally new dimension. During the Passover meal, Jesus took of his outer garments and washed his disciples’ feet. “This is my body,” and “This is my blood” were not mere words. The very next day, his body was broken for the world, and a New Covenant was sealed in His blood. Without Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, “This is my body” and “This is my blood” would have no meaning. Without Jesus sacrifice on the cross, everything would become nothing.
Today, two thousand years later, we are gathered here to, “Do this in remembrance of me.” This is the same kind of remembrance that God had established after the first Passover. It is an actualization, a reliving of the redemption that Christ accomplished for us. Today, what Christ accomplished for humanity is being accomplished for us as we “do this in remembrance of Him.”
But remembrance does not merely mean recalling what Christ has done. To ‘remember’ is to make Christ’s New Covenant a lived reality. In other words, like Jesus, what we celebrate here, we must take it out there to the world. Remembrance means we become the living embodiments of the Paschal Mystery in the world.
To put it differently, remembrance means that the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus is lived out in us. When people see us, they must see Christ washing his disciples’ feet. People must find us serving others rather than being served. When people see us, they must see body broken - for our families, our church, and our world. When people see us, they must see the New Covenant sealed in the blood of self-sacrifice, of selfless giving, of forgiving love, of reconciling justice, of reason-defying generosity, of world-changing kindness, of all-empowering peace. If we do this, then we do this in ‘remembrance’ of Him. Without this remembrance, everything becomes nothing.
Tonight, we will wash feet in remembrance of Him. Tonight, we will take bread and wine in remembrance of Him. Tonight, we will eat His Body and drink His Blood in remembrance of Him. Tonight, we will leave the church and go into the world in remembrance of Him. Let us do this in remembrance of Him. Because without this remembrance, everything becomes nothing.
- Fr. Satish Joseph