Sunday 6 September 2020
The Bible is full of instances where God is seen to be giving instructions to some chosen mouthpiece as to something that God is not happy with or that God wants to be done. I doubt that many of these texts have been as significant for the people of Israel down through the centuries as the one that we had read this morning.
We read last week that God had heard the cry of his people as they suffered in slavery in Egypt and today we have the instructions that they are to follow on this momentous night when God will act decisively for his people and bring them out of slavery.
The instruction ends with the words: “This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance”.
It is important for us to reflect for a little while upon the word “remembrance”. Remembering is understood in a particular sense generally. Some of us can probably remember our three times tables. Some of us can probably remember an event in our childhood which is as far back as we can remember. Some of us can probably remember what we were doing when we heard the news that John Kennedy had been assassinated or when the planes went into the World Trade Centre Towers in New York. We may be able to remember the birth of our children. We may be able to remember some not so good events in our lives.
Most of the time when we talk about remembering in this way, we are talking of an act of the conscious mind. We recall things which we have saved in our brain’s storeroom somewhere. Sometimes, our remembering can be so vivid that we experience similar emotional responses to those which we experienced at the time that the events happened.
We can also remember events that we did not experience ourselves, Every ANZAC Day, we hear the phrase “Lest we forget” repeated on many occasions. We are encouraged to remember events that have taken place at which we were not present. We can even become quite emotional about this sort of remembering if we imagine ourselves in the position of those who stormed the beach at Gallipoli in 1915 and experienced the privations of the months that followed.
But these instances of remembering are not what God is talking about in the reading from Exodus today. It is not the way that the Jews have “remembered” the Passover down through the centuries.
When the Jews remember the Passover through the ritual of the Passover meal, they do not just think about the event, they do not just imagine themselves back in the event, although they do both. The event of the past becomes real for them in the present. God’s saving love is manifest to them in the very ritual that they are enacting. Sure they imagine themselves as being amongst the slaves fleeing Pharaoh, but not as participating in an event from hundreds of years earlier. It is taking place for them now – in the present.
And it is this sense of the present experience of the great saving love of God in the Passover that Jesus drew upon by gathering his disciples together on the night before he died to celebrate this last Passover meal with him. It is clear from the gospels that Jesus intended to meet his opponents in the Passover context. That is why he travelled to Jerusalem and entered the city, mounted on a donkey, a clear sign of his claims to being the Messiah in the light of the prophecy of Zechariah – Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
He intentionally chose to do that at the beginning of the week of Passover to enmesh his own sacrifice that would follow with all of the meaning of the Passover and more. When he told his disciples to share the bread and wine in remembrance of him at this final Passover meal for him, he meant them to remember in exactly the same way as Jews had always remembered the Passover – as a past event whose full impact is felt in the present. When we share this special meal in memory of Jesus, we make present now the effects of his life, death and resurrection which occurred at a previous time and place.
That is not to say that Jesus dies over and over again. As I said though, we make the effects of his saving love present in this place, at this time.
That is why it is such a privilege for us and such an awesome gift that we have to be able to gather at Holy Communion each week and to be nourished as we are through the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ.
I invite you to listen very carefully to the words of the Thanksgiving Prayer as I pray on your behalf as the presider at this liturgy. Let the great mystery of God’s saving love throughout history and especially in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus touch your heart and fill you with awe and wonder at the great love of God which is so much greater than anything that we ask for or imagine. And then as you put your hands out to receive communion, be mindful of the wonderful words of St Paul: For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me”. In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me”. For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
Archdeacon Allan Paulsen