Sermon: St Alban’s, Maundy Thursday, 24 March 2016


Rev. Catherine Eaton

Readings: Ex 12.1-4, 11-14, Ps 116.1-2, 11-18, 1 Cor 11.23-26, Jn 13.1-17,31b-35

Last night our lives and televisions were once again dominated by news of more terrorist attacks. I wondered if I should say something different tonight but then I realised that’s what they want, to change our focus. It is too easy to give all our attention to them, to let these acts shape our view of the world and distract us from what is most important.

These 3 days are the most important in the Christian year. They need our full attention. Our focus needs to remain on our journey with Jesus – let us see where he leads us in this:

Do this in remembrance of me, he said, as he took the bread.

Do this in remembrance of me, he said, as he took the cup.

Do this in remembrance of me, he said, as he took the towel.

Do this, he said, in remembrance of me, as he took up his cross.

Remember this (bread)….. Remember (wine)….. Remember (towel)..(cross).

Tonight is literally ‘a night to remember’.

Remember these things, says Jesus. You will need them to find your way into your future. Your journey will demand of you, so remember these things.

Words to his disciples, words to you as a parish, words to us all. But who knows what the disciples remembered from that night: their own inner turmoil, the familiar smells of the food, the strange behaviour of Judas, Jesus kneeling at their feet.

Who knows what was going through their minds ….?

Did they remember the unspoken fears, the whispered wonderings amongst them, the strain on Jesus’ face, yet the depths of his gaze upon them, his fingers as he held the bread……?. Did they remember the chill breeze which seeped under the door, the glimpse of a star out the window, the rough table between them, the walls enfolding them in this last place of sanctuary?

Fragments of memory.

We all know, especially those of us who are getting older, how much we rely on our memories to tell us who we are and to guide us into the future.

Joan Chittister tells the story of George and Bertha:

George and Bertha were aware they were getting on and starting to forget things. So they decided to write everything down. One night as they were watching TV, Bertha said ‘I feel like some ice-cream.’ George said he’d go and get it. Good, said Bertha, but write it down!’ ‘I won’t forget ice-cream,’ says George. ‘Write it down!’ she said, ‘because I want strawberries as well. Write it down!’ ‘Don’t worry I won’t forget that.’ ‘Write it down,’ insists Bertha, ‘because I want cream on top. Write it down’. George assured her he could remember all that, and went off to the kitchen. After a while and some banging around, George emerged from the kitchen with plates of bacon and eggs. ‘George!’ she said. ‘I told you to write it down. I knew you’d forget the toast!’

We can almost hear Jesus on this night saying, remember this (bread), and the wine, and don’t forget the towel, and this (cross). Write it down, write it down. And the disciples, saying – we won’t forget, how could we forget?

But Jesus knows – yes, you will forget – as soon as things get tough, as soon as you’re in the thick of it, as soon as the fear hits…….as soon as you leave this room. The seeds of forgetting are already being sown.

But remembering is not the same as not-forgetting.

Memories are typically 2-dimensional, flat reflections of a past that is gone.

We hold our memories in our bodies, in our muscles, our minds and hearts, filing them away often without even knowing what’s there.

Jesus is here demanding something more.

Remembering happens when we embody our memories, allow them to become fully part of us and given new life as we let them find a place in us. We literally re-member ourselves through our experiences.

Jesus wasn’t hoping the disciples would just have a memory of the evening, of his words and actions, as past history.

He wanted them to take it all into themselves, to let it to become a part of them. They would need to know these things from within themselves, if they were going to find their way into the future.

In offering himself to them, they could begin to re-member Jesus – within themselves.

So what’s this all about?

Remember this and this, and oh, yes, one more thing to remember – love one another. Love one another as I have loved you.

Even hearing the words makes us feel good. But what does this really mean and why can’t we do it?

Because I think we don’t remember the fundamentals:

  • The body must be broken (break bread) if the goodness is to be shared.
  • The wine must be poured – the cup of suffering must be drunk.
  • The towel must be taken, and the dirt wiped away.
  • And the cross needs to be embraced if we are to find our way through the darkness.

How are we to love one another except through sharing the body broken, drinking from the same cup, kneeling at each other’s feet, and facing our own realities?

Do this in remembrance of me – for love’s sake, he said.

  • Nourish each other with your lives, with your tenderness, and gentle holding of each other in respect and honour.
  • Share in the sufferings, for the more they are held together, the lighter will be the burden for each, and do not add to the cup.
  • Serve one another in humility, refuse to let your egos lord it over others, and do not demand service from others.
  • And let your lives always be ready to receive the cross which waits for you.

Remember these things said Jesus. You will need them for your future.

‘Yeah, yeah, got that’, we and the disciples both chorus – and so begins our forgetting..…

Unfortunately, sometimes our remembering of the wrong thing is so deeply ingrained that we’re not even conscious it’s operating in us. I’ve just had a problem with my neck because of my posture – I’ve remembered wrongly how to hold myself. I now need to retrain, literally to re-member myself.

Beatrice Bruteau refers to this night as the ‘Maundy Thursday Revolution’, because she says that on this night Jesus overturned 2 of our most unconscious illusions about the world and ourselves:

She says,(5) “Our ways of seeing the world are so deeply embedded in our consciousness that we do not even know they are there. We presume….that our basic way of perceiving the world is the way the world really is.”

When Jesus took the towel and the master became the servant, it’s no wonder Peter was so affronted, so threatened by this upending of his taken-for-granted world, a world made up of winners and losers, the dominant and the weak.

While Donald Trump may be a perfect caricature of this mindset, it resides in all of us – in our need to be liked, to be successful, to be right, generally to be better than others. We all know that slight sense of disdain, superiority or satisfaction which passes through us when someone else says something stupid!

There’s a fundamental equality in our humanness which we too easily forget.

Then, Jesus took bread and wine, and said ‘this is my body, this is my blood’. In identifying himself with these elements and inviting us to take them into ourselves, he’s giving himself to us in a way that says, ‘we are not separate’. My body becomes your body.

We perceive others as separate from us, a potential threat to our own sense of self. But Jesus reminds us, we all have an indwelling connection, not just with him, but with one another.

Jesus, knowing he had come from God and was going to God, took the towel…… In remembering who he was, Jesus was free to live out of a deeper and truer reality, offering us all a way to re-member who we are and our fundamental one-ness in God.

On this night the world was turned upside down in more ways than one. But Jesus says to us – remember. Make an effort to remember these things……

…But there’s far too much to remember on this night, and so, as we go out into the dark night of waiting, uncertainty and fear, for us, as for the disciples, the seeds of forgetting are already sown.


Catherine Eaton