On Maundy Thursday and Remembering

“Maundy Thursday” is Thursday, March 28th this year. It is always the Thursday before Good Friday. “Maundy” is from the Latin word mandatum. It is where we get our word “mandatory,” meaning something that you must do. On that day we reenact and recall the first Lord’s Supper, where Jesus instructed his disciples on how to remember him. That meal is a remembrance in the truest sense of the word.

A few months ago I was listening to a podcast called “Paradosis” by Father John Hainsworth, an Orthodox priest. He was taking issue with the idea of the English word “remember” that is used to describe what happens in Communion. He was taking the word “remember” to mean the opposite of “forget”. He thought of it meaning that we remind ourselves what happened in that upper room during the first Lord’s Supper. His argument was that we don’t remember. We relive. It is happening right there, then, with us there. There is an alteration of space and time and we are there with Jesus and his disciples, and they are there with us in our own churches. We are all together with each other in spirit.

I think that is a perfectly valid understanding. But “remember” is a good word. In this sense it means really the opposite of “dis-member” Another word for our limbs is “members.” When you dis-member a body, you chop off the arms and the legs. All the parts of it are removed from the trunk. The parts that do the work are removed. When a doctor reattaches a limb that has been chopped off, he is actually “re-membering” a “dis-membered” limb. He is putting a member back. When we take communion, we are rejoined with Jesus. He is the body, and we are the arms and legs. We do His work in this world.

He tells us that he is the vine, and we are the branches. In the Gospel of John chapter 15 verse 5 we are told that “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” When we are rejoined in Communion, we are stronger. We gain sustenance. We are refueled. We gain the strength to do God’s work in our communities and in our world.

Jesus appeared to two of his disciples on the road to Emmaus after his resurrection. The three of them talked for a long time. They didn’t recognize him physically. They didn’t recognize him by how he talked and what he talked about, as he explained all that was said about himself in the Scriptures from Moses and the Prophets. The recognized him in his action of blessing and breaking bread. In the Gospel of Luke, chapter 24, verses 30-31 we hear that “ 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.” Not by sight or sound or reason did they recognize him. He was there with them and they didn’t know. These are his own disciples, his hand-picked followers who knew him intimately. It was only in the blessing and breaking of the bread that they were truly rejoined with him. The same is true with us. It is in that simple, human experience of sharing a meal with our Lord in a community of believers that we can truly be re-connected and re-vitalized.

(all translations of the Bible are from the New International Version)