Thursday, May 24, 2012

where the eating and the remembering are one

This past Mother’s Day, Sarah and I were having coffee with Mom and Dad and my Auntie Laurel and Uncle Don, and somewhere along the way they got talking about what life was like during their childhoods.  “There were no supermarkets,” said Uncle Don.  Their memories grew more and more elaborate as they recalled early-morning milk deliveries, fresh baked bread from the bakery, old propane tanks along the house, tabs at the corner store, woodstoves and glass pop bottles.

Remembering is a key part of what it means to be human.  We could almost say that our memories are essential to who we know ourselves to be.  We reminisce over the little moments, and we pay homage to the big events like where we’ve lived, who we’ve known—who we’ve loved.  When we take the time to savour these memories, we find ourselves being drawn to see our lives as a story and as a journey.  We learn how we came to be living here and now.  Good remembering can teach us who we are.

Now there’s a difference between a simple reminder and these sort of active, full-bodied acts of remembering.  Being reminded is, I would like to think, a thing that happens to us—something outside tweaks our brains to recollect a fact or appointment.  “Dance Lessons @ 6:45”,  “Pick up the kids @ 3:00”, “Get lettuce on the way home.”  That sort of thing.  Reminding might lead to remembering, but it is not in and of itself of the same quality.

Remembering involves action.  We retell the stories.  We re-enact the moments.  We draw others into the memory.  “Remember when the van broke down with the wedding dress inside?”  We allow the meaning of an event or a person to saturate our minds, our hearts, and our imaginations.  It gets inside us.  We become changed.

If remembering is so essential to human life, it is therefore essential to the Christian life.  The people of God are called to be a remembering people.  We are a people who are being changed and made anew through the love of Him whose life has invaded our lives: Jesus Christ.  “The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood.”  (John 1:14 The Message).  When we immerse ourselves in the story of Scripture we find that God is often teaching us that we must learn how to remember well if we are to stay in stride with all that is going on in this Father-created, Christ-redeemed, Spirit-blessed world.  Take these stones, build this altar, make a memorial, eat this meal.  This kind of remembering involves real people: hands and shoulders which carry altar stones, feet to walk across riverbeds, voices raised in adoration, eyes lifted, words spoken, legacy passed on.  Biblically speaking, remembering is an embodied thing.  There’s more going on here than just the firing off of electrons in our brains.  Our whole selves are present in active remembrance.

The Church is to be a remembering people.  She is a community of memory and of hope.  The Bible draws our attention both to our pasts in gratitude, and to the future glory in anticipation and expectation.  We live out our remembering in the present: in the already and not yet of the Christ's Kingdom.  All of this is bound together, sharpened, clarified, and exalted when we gather together the worshipping, praying, witnessing community to the most poignant act of remembrance:  the sharing of a meal.

Alexander Schmemann, one of our best writer-poet-pastors on the subject, gets us pointed in the right direction:  In Genesis we find that man is created hungry.  God provides for him trees and fruit, a garden, of which to eat.  God gives the world to man to become his food.  In eating, man takes the world into himself and it becomes sustenance to the flesh and blood of man.  The world is transformed into life.

In the Bible the food that man eats, the world of which he must partake in order to live is given to him by God, and it is given as communion with God. . . . All that exists is God’s fit to man, and it all exists to make God known to man, to make manes life communion with God.  It is divine love made food, made life for man.  God blesses everything He creates, and in biblical language, that means that He makes all creation the sign and means of His presence and wisdom, love and revelation:  “O taste and see that the Lord is good.”[1]

          So we come to the table, a place of family and sharing together.  We come to eat.  We take food into ourselves and it nourishes us and is transformed into life.  Only here, we find that Christ has offered himself as food for us.  He becomes the Life which will nourish and sustain and transform us:  “Take and eat.  This is my body.  This is my blood.  Do this in remembrance of me.” 

          As Stanley Grenz so right puts it: "We not only announce the truth we also mysteriously participate in this grand event."[2]  We retell the "old, old story", we respond to his gift of himself to be our food--our nourishment, our sustenance--our life.  He invites us to the table, to join with the family for the meal.  

          And so we come: eating, remembering, and living.

   “Let me go over with you again exactly what goes on in the Lord's Supper and why it is so centrally important. I received my instructions from the Master himself and passed them on to you. The Master, Jesus, on the night of his betrayal, took bread. Having given thanks, he broke it and said, 

   This is my body, broken for you. 
      Do this to remember me.
   After supper, he did the same thing with the cup: 
      This cup is my blood, my new covenant with you. 
      Each time you drink this cup, remember me.

   What you must solemnly realize is that every time you eat this bread and every time you drink this cup, you reenact in your words and actions the death of the Master. You will be drawn back to this meal again and again until the Master returns. You must never let familiarity breed contempt.”

1 Corinthians 11:23-26 The Message

[1]Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1963), 25.
[2] Stanley Grenz, Theology for the Community of God (Grand Rapids: Broadman & Holman, 1994), 522.

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