This is a night of remembering. Most of us remember this text from 1st Corinthians, which is the earliest account of the Last Supper we have. We have heard it hundreds of times in the sacred liturgy and it is part of our ingrained memory.
This is a week of remembering for Christians throughout the world, a kind of mental pilgrimage. We recall the irony of Palm Sunday, the ominous last supper of Jesus with his disciples, the agony of his death on Good Friday, and the joy of Easter Sunday. There will be many pilgrims in Jerusalem these days, visiting the sacred sites, including the Cenacle, the traditional site of the Last Supper. Tonight, millions of Christians throughout the world will be revisiting this site if only in imagination and in quiet meditation.
The somberness of this night perhaps gives rise to some personal memories: perhaps your first communion, or the time you went to the altar full of doubts, participating in a ritual that meant little more than empty repetition. But irrespective of what was going on inside, you were drawn to there by Christ to receive grace and a strengthening of faith. You may recall the last time you communed with a loved one and you may remember that time when you knelt at the altar with a heavy burden of guilt and shame on your shoulders and you went away with lighter step: forgiven, healed, given new hope.
What were the disciples remembering that night two thousand years ago? The ‘Last Supper’—the expression has an ominous ring! Something is coming to an end, and Jesus’ followers are swamped by a fearful uncertainty. Except the one thing that is crystal clear, that Jesus is playing right into the hands of the authorities. It’s crisis time-the time has come.
The disciples are surely remembering how Jesus has hinted at a painful parting from them when he has spoken of the necessity of his death. Now he eats with them in the framework of the Passover meal, which requires the death of a sacrificial lamb. And as he presides over the meal, one thing becomes clear: This is a farewell of soughts.
He is about to die.
“My body given for you…my blood shed for you. Remember me.” This dinner is prelude to a death, his own.
St Paul makes the context of our Lord’s words of institution quite clear. He begins by recalling that the meal took place on the night Jesus was betrayed and then ends his account by speaking about proclaiming Jesus’ death.
The first will be last and the last first. From death comes life and as said so well be St. Augustine:
“Faith is to believe what we do not see, and the reward of faith is the see what we believe. That day will come when all is made clear and we will understand the unblemished mysteries of God.
Tonight we partake in a mystery of God. A gift of God for us here on earth from heaven above.
‘Do this in remembrance of me’ does not mean that we are to cast our minds back to the distant past and remember who Jesus was. The Eucharist is not the repeated last rites for a fallen hero. We don’t remember a martyr who died for an ideal. Remembering here is not visualizing the terrible events of Holy Week: betrayal, false accusations, farcical trial, brutal torture, mockery and death.
The wonder of this holy meal is not that it represents the past, but that it re-presents the past. That is, what our Lord gained for us by giving his body and blood in death for us is made a present reality as we eat and drink. Even better, Christ the Son of God, our crucified Saviour is himself present for us.
As we participate in this sacred meal, God is saying to each one of us: I did this for you. This sacrifice is for you. You are not asked to make yourself worthy of the gift. Just take, eat…take, drink. Do nothing more than receive in faith.
Again, our Lord didn’t institute a funeral wake but a continual re-presentation of a joyful celebration of his presence with us. Even tonight, on the Eve of Good Friday, it is still the meal of joy as it celebrates not only a saving death- but a Easter life and that is why we can repeat the cry of the early church. Come, Lord Jesus!’
As we remember Jesus we are re-membered into him. We became members of the body of Christ by baptism, as the life-giving Spirit united us with him in his death and resurrection. In the Eucharist, in the mystery in which past, present and future are united, we are again membered with all the saints on earth and in heaven into the one body of Christ, his church. His past, present & future are ours.
Tonight as we eat and drink in remembrance of Jesus, so too does God the Father also remember, because in this celebration we hold up to the Father the perfect atoning sacrifice of Christ and in faith we claim that sacrifice as ours, and so yes: with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven we laud and magnify his holy name evermore praising him and singing, Holy, Holy, Lord God of hosts; heaven and earth are full of your glory.
In faith we recognise the glory of the one who comes in the name of the Lord and in faith, we still see that glory even in the broken body and the blood out-poured.
This experience of glory as redeeming love carries us to a fuller vision of God’s glory out in the world. The one whose story we recite, and proclaim which becomes our own story as we discern God’s power and presence in all the contradictions of life: where hopes are dashed, dreams frustrated, and when injustice seems to triumph over justice-because this through bread and wine we remember the larger vision of Christ’s return, and through His body and blood of Jesus does come the larger reality that as we remember Him, so too does He remember us-for now, and for eternity.Amen