Sermon for Maundy Thursday
St. John’s Church
April 1, 2010
I’m not sure how many of you have ever attended a Pesach Seder, or know what happens at a Seder, but one of the striking events of the dinner is one of the questions that the youngest child of the family asks to the patriarch. He asks him, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” The answer is always given in the present tense, “This is the night that our forefathers were delivered from bondage of slavery in Egypt.” This is the night. It’s not this was the night, but rather it’s mentioned in the present tense, and it’s done so for a reason. For the Jews, the Passover isn’t simply remembering something from a nostalgic perspective, and think, oh that’s nice to remember. No, it’s something far more important. It’s their story, right then, right now. It’s their story to embrace and hold onto. It’s the story that never gets old being told, and is the being told anew each and every year.
For us tonight, what makes this night different from all other nights?
It’s different because on this night our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ celebrated a Passover meal with his disciples, that took on new meaning. It was a Passover like they had never seen or experienced before. Certainly the unleavened bread, and the wine that they shared together carried in themselves the Passover story of the Jews. Jesus didn’t have to really say anything, and the symbols spoke for themselves. They were again part of the Exodus story; part of God’s plan of salvation to lead his people from bondage of sin into the Land of Promise. Everything that was promised to the Patriarchs and Prophets, they were celebrating once again with Jesus. However, this night was different – noticeably different. In place of the words which normally accompany a Passover meal, Jesus took the bread, he broke it, he gave it to his disciples, and said to them that “THIS WAS HIS BODY.”
After supper he took the cup of wine, shared it with them, and told them, “THIS IS MY BLOOD.” He then told them something else, he told them to go and do this in remembrance of Him.
One of the critical components of the Eucharist service is what is known as the anamnesis. This word means quite literally, “Loss of forgetfulness.” Obviously the opposite is amnesia which is the loss of memory. But anamnesis is the recollection and calling to mind the events of the past, bringing them into the present so that they might have future implications. When we say in the Eucharistic canon, “recalling his death, resurrection, and ascension we offer you these gifts,” we are recalling Christ’s once and for all sacrifice for our sins in the present with the sure and certain hope that the Resurrection awaits us. The canon also has two other points of anamnesis when the celebrant says, “and did institute, and in his holy Gospel command us to continue, a perpetual memory of that precious death and sacrifice, until his coming again.” Finally, when we hear Jesus’ word’s of institution, he concludes both times, “Do this in remembrance of me.”
We are not simply coming to partake of a small wafer of bread or take a small sip of wine. We are coming to meet the very Word of God who spoke all creation into being, and stepped out of eternity and entered into time and space so that we might be reunited with him. That is why when this service concludes with the stripping of the altar and our beautiful sanctuary is laid bare, we process the Blessed Sacrament in solemn fashion to the altar of repose with those haunting words of our Lord to St. Peter, “couldest not thou watch one hour?” I’m ashamed to admit that Jesus says to me, can you not even give me 5 minutes, let alone 1 hour!
From the start of the service tonight, if I were to ask you what makes this night different from any other, your answer might only be what time we started! However, if I ask that same question at the end, I believe your answers will be quite telling.
What makes this night different from any other night?
Wait and see.
Wait and see.