Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Do this in remembrance of me

When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. He said to them, ‘I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.’ Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, ‘Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. But see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table. For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined, but woe to that one by whom he is betrayed!’ Then they began to ask one another which one of them it could be who would do this.

- Luke 22:14-23

The Last Supper, here reported in Luke's gospel, is the Passover meal. Passover, we remember, is the remembrance of deliverance of the people of Israel. They would leave to find a promised land, a new kingdom - the Passover itself a remembrance of the "passing over" of the Spirit of the Lord of the Hebrew homes marked with the blood of a lamb. So, in this symbolic Last Supper meal, remembered to this day in the practice of the Eucharist, we have layers upon layers of meanings and symbolic spiritual messages. Jesus says here that he is entering into a new kingdom, with a new covenant, for a new deliverance. All will be fulfilled in the drinking of the cup, spiritually and metaphorically, on a number of levels.

But first we have here the great Eucharist, an institution of the remembrance which will be practiced in the church - the bread and the wine serving as remembrance of what is taking place in this moment. I read in commentary (in the Orthodox Study Bible) that "remembrance in its biblical significance is a reliving of the original event." Jesus has said, in Monday's reading, that "this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place." In this passage for today's reading, it seems to me that Jesus is making similar reference to the tremendous, significant spiritual events that are happening as he prepares this Eucharist at the Last Supper, the Passover meal. Being fulfilled in this moment is the deliverance into a new kingdom, the defeat of the great enemy, Jesus' sacrifice as the instrument of victory. Our remembrance, our recollection, of this timeless spiritual reality, fulfilled in that Passover Supper, is the Eucharist. We recall it to ourselves, we remind ourselves of its living and timeless reality, when we share and partake in that remembrance. To remember is to bring again to life a reality, a person, a relationship - this is the spiritual understanding of remembrance. We recall to ourselves that which lives and is always present to us, a part of the cloth of life we don't always see or experience but nevertheless must recall to ourselves, remind ourselves, is always there and present to us. And we need this reality.

This Last Supper is an occasion of deliverance from sin, I read in commentary. We have to understand the reality of that deliverance from the perspective of what it means that Christ makes this sacrifice: we have a new form of the blood of the lamb in the Passover, and the unleavened bread. Christ brings with him, and with his sacrifice, a spiritual kingdom, a defeat of the bondage of sin, a deliverance in spiritual terms that is set out for the whole world, in which we each can participate. It's up to us, I believe, to try to understand that deliverance from a perspective of good judgment. What does it mean that he faced his own death in such a way? How does a death on the cross create such a defeat? These are the important questions to ask ourselves as we go through these passages. Certainly we can see his heroism - he dies for a cause, a community, a relationship of people stretching into a new age, and beyond.

But what of this sacrifice? How did it defeat death and sin? How does it set us free from bondage? As Jesus accepts betrayal and death, we are to see what it means to serve a cause that is beyond this world, that transforms life through his death. The Greek Orthodox hymn of Easter tells us he "trampled death by death." Have we been through transformation and rebirth in our own lives? On what spiritual level does a condemnation of archetypal sin: betrayal and envy, the persecution of the Good, help to liberate us from its bondage in us? Can we transcend the most difficult circumstances and live to deliverance from fear, even of death? We will think about these things as we go through these passages; the deepest transcendence, the darkest and brightest moments of deliverance and death, and the final blessing of the birth of the kingdom. Many will follow in Jesus' footsteps as martyrs for something beyond "normal" human understanding. May these depths of transcendence serve you in all your difficulties as well. That's my prayer for everyone today.

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