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  • Writer's pictureFather Benjamin von Bredow

In remembrance of me.

A Sermon for Maundy Thursday

March 28, 2024 at the Last Supper

1 Corinthians 11:23–29

“Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:24). In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. ☩ Amen.

On my grandparents’ property in rural Prince Edward Island, there are three trees, planted by my grandfather on the occasions of my birth and the birth of my two sisters. It is possible that, when I have grown old and pass away, my tree will still be growing there, a living memorial for someone who has gone on.

We live in a world of memorials. This building is surrounded by memorial stones over the graves of departed saints, whose names are “with an iron pen engraved in the rock forever” (Job 19:24). We hold meetings in memorial buildings and participate in memorial sports tournaments. As we walked in today we passed the just-blossoming bed of daffodils donated in memory of Joyce MacKay, whom, I am told, was always surrounded by flowers.

What is the difference between a “memorial” and a “memory”? Both make someone or something that is past present to us again. But memories and memorials do so in different ways. Memories are inward: we enter the remembered presence of someone in our minds. But memorials are outward: they are physical things—sometimes even living things like a tree or a flower—continue to act in our world.

When a wealthy businessman gives his name to a building, whenever we use that building we are brought back into the presence of his active and ongoing generosity. That person becomes present not because we spontaneously call him to mind—the same is true when we refer to buildings named after people we never knew—but because, through his memorial, that person continues even now to act for our good.

The Bible loves memorials, outward signs or acts that make someone or something present to us now. In our Old Testament Lesson, after the people have received and affirmed the covenant, they set up twelve piles of stones, one for each of the tribes which ratified the covenant, to be a memorial of that event down the years.

Likewise Jesus, at his last meal, took bread and broke it and gave it to his disciples and said, “Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:24). Unfortunately this conventional translation doesn’t capture the nuance of the original Greek, which sounds much more like, “Do this as my memorial.” What Jesus commands is not, “While you do this, make sure that you call me to mind.” Although calling the death of Jesus to mind while receiving Communion is praiseworthy, that is not in fact what Jesus means. His command is “Do this”—”Do this, and it will be a memorial of me.” The breaking of the bread is itself the memorial, the way that Jesus becomes present to us again. Jesus’ memorial is an action; it is outward, embodied, practiced. Jesus is present to us through touch and taste as we receive this memorial loaf and this memorial cup as his body and blood.

But celebrating the holy Eucharist is not the only commandment to “Do this” which Jesus gave at his last meal. After Jesus washes his disciples’ feet, he says, “If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you” (John 13:14–15). It would be a mistake to think that Jesus was simply laying a moral obligation on us to do something. He is instituting a memorial: whenever one disciple washes another’s feet, the humble Jesus is there, made present again by that memorial action. As feet were washed here this evening, Jesus the Master did the washing by my hands, just as Jesus the Master will later break bread at this holy table.

But Jesus clearly didn’t mean that our duty to wash one another’s feet was restricted to the Maundy Thursday service. Metaphorically, we know that we wash one another’s feet by acts of humble service. One of our footwashing hymns says it very simply: “Sister, let me be your servant, let me be as Christ to you.” In fact, this is not a metaphor—Jesus is memorialized and made present whenever we serve one another in imitation of his example.

The same is true when Jesus breaks the bread. Yes, of course he institutes the Holy Communion, but the memorial he commands is much larger. He says that the bread is his body, and so he breaks and shares it, giving his body for the life of his friends, showing what he will do on the cross, and saying “Do this as my memorial.”

Of course bread is Jesus’ body: bread is every person’s body. There is no symbol of what it means to be a living person more basic than food on our tables. We are what we eat: from the beginning of creation, man is bread (see Genesis 3:19). To break your bread and give it to your friends is to give something of your life to contribute to theirs.

The point for us is that “Do this” does not just mean “Celebrate the holy Eucharist” any more narrowly than “You ought to wash one another’s feet” means “Observe Maundy Thursday.” “Do this” means, “Give yourself for the life of the world.” It means, “Break your bread and give it to your friends and to your enemies.” Remember that Judas was also at the table. The holy Communion is a memorial of Jesus’ self-giving life. Whenever a Christian gives any part of his life for the life of others, Christ becomes memorially, sacramentally present.

Christianity is the religion of hospitality, the religion of costly welcoming and sharing. That makes it sound very soft, perhaps. It is also the religion of enduring suffering patiently, and the religion of repenting from sin—but even then the sins we repent are above all offences against community and relationship. So when was the last time that you exercised hospitality? When did you last give something of your life to contribute to the life of another?

Or, more importantly, when will the next time be? I do not ask this to lay an obligation on you, but so that you might experience the presence of Jesus. He will be present to you as you memorialize him by breaking your body for the life of the world.


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