Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Throughout the season of Lent, I have presented a series of meditations based on the spiritual treasures offered in the sacraments. In Martin Luther’s Small Catechism, we are taught to remember our baptism and that in the sacrament God “brings about forgiveness of sins, redeems from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation.” In the waters of baptism we have been given the assurance that God washes away the marks of sin from our lives. It is the confidence that we have been united with Christ, and for that reason, we can walk as God’s forgiven and protected children in the newness of life without fear of the powers of the devil. We then turned to the sacrament of holy communion and Luther’s simple explanation, “For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.” Tonight, we are invited to come to the table and to receive these gifts through Christ’s body and blood, but we are also called to the Lord’s table to remember everything Jesus has meant and done for us.
A century ago, George Santayana, the Spanish philosopher, poet and essayist wrote in The Life of Reason, ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” It is a phrase that has been echoed by historians ever since. Santayana’s words, however, were not new. Indeed, one of the great fears running though world history and scripture is forgetfulness.
Of course, we often laugh about forgetfulness. There are three signs of old age: The first is memory loss, the second is.. oh, I’m sorry, I can’t remember the other four. In his poem, Forgetfulness, Billy Collins, a former Poet Laureate of the United States, wrote: The name of the author is the first to go followed obediently by the title, the plot, the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel which suddenly becomes one you have never read, never even heard of, as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain, to a little fishing village where there are no phones.
But then there is the fateful turn when forgetfulness isn’t so funny. Yes, it is one thing to forget something for an exam or the plot of a movie; but it is something else entirely to forget a person who loves you. That, however, isn’t the sort of forgetfulness Santayana described, or is the fear of forgetfulness warned of in scripture. No, it is a far greater form of forgetfulness that can cripple you. It is a forgetfulness of God. And oh, how easy it is to be condemned to repeat it.
Forgetfulness begins harmlessly enough. Perhaps out of panic or anxiety, you try to forget some things in your life that are going badly. Or for the sake of survival, you forget about God and focus on getting yourself out of the mess. On the other hand, sometimes you forget about God simply because life is going so well. Yes, when your days are taken up with enjoyment and the excitement of new things, what’s the point of remembering?
Scripture speaks a great deal about remembering. In the Old Testament, we read of God remembering his promises, and the nation of Israel being taught to remember their past. In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul simply says to his young disciples Timothy to “remember Christ Jesus.” Now, why is this intentional remembering so import, you may ask? You see, when people remember the deeds of God from the past and when God remembers his relationship to his people, there is a new confidence and hope. This isn’t simply about recalling God’s mighty deeds, but when we dare to remember, truly remember, we grow to trust that God who was present with his people in the past, will be present with them now, and in the future. And so Jesus places remembrance into one of the most central human activities where it cannot be forgotten- eating and drinking.
Meals and memories have a way of getting tied together. They tell us the stories of our origins and hopes. And the foods we eat, especially the meals we prepare and serve ourselves, remind us of the people and places we have known and loved. Even before I liked coffee, the smell and the sound of a new 3 pound can of Folger’s Coffee being opened transported me back to the safety of my parent’s home. The foul smell of lutefisk brings me back to the joy of Christmas when I was small, when I still had a generation or two watching over me. Is it any wonder that God’s people have been invited by Jesus to tie their memory to eating and drinking?
There are all kinds of stories of meals woven into Holy Scripture. We recall Abraham and Sarah preparing and serving a calf when three strangers came to visit, and there was manna and quail provided in the wilderness for God’s people on their way to the Promised Land. We recall the story of the Prodigal Son and how he was welcomed home with a feast far beyond his own deserving. We recall Jesus feeding thousands with a few fish and loaves of bread, and of course, in the night in which he was betrayed, Jesus’ shared the Passover Meal with his disciples, mere hours before his own suffering and death. It is this meal we remember again this night. We share together this bread and wine which speak to us of our origin and hope and utter joy. We share this meal which carries with it the message, “I love you, and you are mine,” as we hear the words, “The body of Christ given for you. The blood of Christ shed for you.”
“But for those who cannot remember the past, they are condemned to repeat it.” There is a danger for those who simply forget the death and resurrection of Jesus, and choose never truly remember them. Of course, they know that it happened years ago, but what does that have to do with me today? That would be a fatal forgetfulness. And so Jesus helps us to remember, by offering us this meal to eat and to drink and enjoy the wondrous gifts of life and salvation.
A man was walking through a cemetery when he came upon a gravestone. It was stone with a lamb sitting on the top. It was the grave of a child, who was born in the summer of 1957 and died in the spring of 1960. The epitaph read, “Sleep on sweet baby and rest. We loved you so much but God loved you the best.” At Holy Communion, we are reminded that God indeed has loved us best, and that he has chosen to give his only Son for us. In this meal, he offers the promise of salvation unto eternal life. And there’s more as well. In this meal, God whispers into your heart that Jesus gave his life not only for that little child buried beneath the lamb, and not only for his disciples, but Jesus also gave his life for you.
My friends, the Lord invites you to come to his table not simply for forgiveness, but for strength Yes, the Lord invites you to come to the table, not simply for consolation, but for renewal. Come, eat and drink and remember all that Jesus has meant and done for you, so that you will remember him until he comes again! Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.