The importance of remembrance

Holy Thursday | Ex 12:1-8; 11-14; 1 Cor 11:23-26; Jn 13:1-15 When people give advice, they often recommend that you remember some past event so that the way you live now may be changed. If you are passing through a hard time, someone might say “remember that time when you went through something much worse? You can get through this!” If you are struggling to get along with a particular person, a friend might tell you to remember a time when that difficult person did something kind for you. When I am eating a meal with my family, they often say to me, “remember how you said your pants are getting too tight? Don’t eat so much dessert!” Remembering some past event has the power to shape and influence our present and future. This idea of remembrance is a central theme in the readings of Holy Thursday. In the first reading from Exodus, we heard how the Passover meal was meant to be a remembrance of the Exodus. Every time the people of Israel ate the Passover meal, they were supposed to remember that central event in their history when God liberated them from slavery in Egypt and entered into a unique relationship with them. For the Israelites, remembrance was not simply some mental activity like when I remember a past vacation I call to mind images of the places I went and experience anew the emotions I felt. Instead, when the Israelites remembered the Exodus at Passover, they believed that they were made present at that very event. They were now among the group of people God liberated from slavery. Even though this event happened so long ago, they were put in their shoes. Like that group, they were faced with a choice. How would they respond to God’s work of salvation? Would they choose to follow him wholeheartedly? When the Israelites remembered the Exodus at each Passover, they were made present at the Exodus and this was meant to profoundly influence their current behaviour. In the second reading from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, we heard how the celebration of the Eucharist is a remembrance of Jesus on the cross when he gave up his body and blood for us. When we hear Jesus say at the Last Supper “do this in remembrance of me”, we should understand “remembering” in the Jewish sense of the term. Just as when the Israelites remembered the Exodus at Passover they believed that they were made present at this event, so Christians understood that when they celebrated the Eucharist in remembrance of Jesus, they were really present again at the Passion and Death of Jesus. At every Mass, we believe that we are there at the one sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary nearly 2000 years ago. You know the song, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”  We should answer “Yes, I was there!”; every Mass I am there. Because of this, when we do “this in remembrance of Jesus” He really becomes present in our midst. The bread and the wine truly become the body and the blood of Jesus. During our remembrance at the Eucharist, we receive Jesus and this should profoundly affect our life.Ford Madox Brown [Public domain]In the Gospel, in which Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, we remember what happens when Jesus is in our midst and the type of action the Eucharist should call us to. Unlike Matthew, Mark and Luke, in John’s Gospel, we find not institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. Instead, John gives us the account of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet and telling them to do the same. In John, it is as though Jesus is trying to show us the effect that the Eucharist should have in our life. In washing the feet of his disciples, Jesus did a job reserved for a lowly slave. Although we act out this scene on Holy Thursday, we can sometimes miss the radicality of what Jesus did. Some years ago I spent some time with a community of priests in Tijuana, Mexico. During the Triduum, we went to a prison to celebrate the liturgies with the inmates. On Holy Thursday, it was very moving for me to watch the priest wash the feet of inmates. These inmates, who had been chosen at random, were not given the opportunity to wash regularly let alone change their socks and shoes. When Jesus washed his disciples feet, he did something radical. Jean Vanier, who founded the L’Arche communities, wonderfully communicates the significant of this action and the effect it should have in our lives:All groups, all societies, are built on the model of a pyramid: at the top are the powerful, the rich, the intelligent. They are called to govern and guide. At the bottom are the immigrants, the slaves, the servants, people who are out of work, or who have a mental illness or different forms of disabilities. They are excluded, marginalized. Here, Jesus is taking the place of a person at the bottom, the last place, the place of a slave. For Peter this is impossible. Little does he realize that Jesus came to transform the model of society from a pyramid to a body, where each and every person has a place, whatever their abilities or disabilities, where each one is dependent upon the other. Each is called to fulfill a mission in the body of humanity and of the Church. There is no “last place.” Jesus, revealing himself as the least one in society, the one who does the dirty jobs, the one who is in the last place, calls his followers to be attentive to the least in society. God is not out of reach, in the skies. God is hidden in the “heavens” of the hearts of all those who are in the last place. The gospel message is the world upside down. (From Drawn into the Mystery of Jesus through the Gospel of John) Remembering past events is meant to have an effect on our present actions. In the Eucharist, in which we remember what Jesus has done for us, this principle is taken to the next level. At every Mass, in remembering Jesus self-sacrifice, Jesus is made truly present in our midst. In receiving Jesus in the Eucharist, we receive Jesus and are meant to become more like him and continue his mission. Jesus came to transform the word from a pyramid to a body, showing that all people have incredible dignity and value. Jesus taught us to serve others – especially the least among us – with humility. Today, as we give thanks for the gift of the Eucharist, it might be helpful to ask ourselves, what effect does the Eucharist have in my life? In remembering what Jesus did for us and receiving him, am I continuing this mission of Jesus?

Praise the Lord

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