Thursday, April 2, 2015

Remember Me

Remember Me

A Maundy Thursday Homily

Epistle: 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (KJV)

23 For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread:
24 And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.
25 After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, this cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.
26 For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come.

Memory is a strange thing. We can be forgetful. People tell me things they remember I said in sermons, and I don’t remember the sermon much less the saying they remember. Memory can also be unreliable. We can have vivid memories of events - the who, when, what - but in reality there is a big gap between what happened and what we remember.

The Bible calls on God’s people to remember the great things he has done for their salvation.

When Joshua at last led the children of Israel across the Jordan River into the Promised Land, the Lord stopped the river from flowing, and all the people crossed over on dry land. The LORD told Joshua to have one man from each tribe of Israel to go back to the middle of the riverbed and each to pick up a large stone and to take them to the place of encampment for the night. The stones were stacked together to make something like a monument. Joshua instructed the people what they were to do in future years:

When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’  then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever (Joshua 4:6b-7 ESV).

These memorial stones would call to mind for the present and future generations that the LORD had stopped the Jordan River so that his people, whom 40 years earlier he had redeemed from slavery in Egypt, could cross over and take possession of the land the Lord had promised Abraham over 400 years earlier to give his descendants. The stones were supposed to lead Israel to fear - that is, to love, trust, and serve - the Lord who had worked for them such a great salvation.

During the days of the judge Samuel the Philistines attacked the people of Israel. Samuel offered sacrifices and prayers to the LORD, the LORD thundered against the Philistines and threw them into confusion, and the Israelites defeated the Philistines. Samuel wanted people to remember how the Lord had helped and saved them:

Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, ‘Till now the Lord has helped us’ (1 Samuel 7:12 ESV).

The name Ebenezer given to this memorial stone means “Stone of Help” and was meant to remind the people whenever they saw it how the Lord had intervened on their behalf and helped them win a great victory over their enemies. It was a monument to another act of God’s salvation of his people. We still sing about that stone today:

Here I raise mine Ebenezer;
hither by thy help I'm come;
and I hope, by thy good pleasure,
safely to arrive at home.
By far the greatest and most important memorial of the Old Testament was not a monument but a ceremonial observance. This was the annual celebration of Passover. On the day God delivered Israel from slavery in Egypt he had the people kill a lamb, take some of the blood and sprinkle it on their doorposts and lintels, roast the lamb, and eat it in haste along with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. That night the Death Angel passed in judgment over Egypt taking the lives of firstborn Egyptian sons but sparing Israelite homes. The Lord instructed the Passover should be observed perpetually:

This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast....You shall observe this rite as a statute for you and for your sons forever.  And when you come to the land that the Lord will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this service.  And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the Lord's Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses’ (Exodus 14:14, 24-27 ESV).

For all generations Israel must remember the mighty salvation accomplished by God in Egypt. Children down through future generations must understand what the Passover commemorates and what it means.

Jesus and his disciples were celebrating Passover together in the Upper Room when he transformed the Passover into the Lord’s Supper. Our Lord gives thanks, breaks the bread, and as he gives it to his disciples says, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” He takes the cup, and says, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it in remembrance of me.”

Twice Jesus says, "Do this in remembrance of me." When we hear the word "remember" we may think it means no more than to call to mind something that happened in the past - that Jesus died for our sins. So we would not forget his death he put in place Holy Communion.

But for both the Passover and the Lord’s Supper remembering is more than mental recollection of facts. When the Jewish people observed the Passover, they did more than call to remembrance the facts of what God did to deliver them from Egypt and the origin of the Passover observance. They put themselves back into the situation in which Passover was instituted. They put themselves in the places of their forefathers and the sense of ominous anticipation the original participants felt on the evening of the first Passover as they waited to see what God would do. They remembered the mighty miracles God had done in Egypt, especially the slaying of the firstborn by the death angel while the same angel passed over their homes and spared their sons, not just as the events which led to freedom for their forefathers. They entered into it all as something that, though they were not there, they were involved in and could now participate in. When God acted in Egypt, he not only redeemed and saved their forefathers; he redeemed and saved them. They go back and relive, participate in, and claim as their own God’s mighty saving acts in Egypt. They celebrate the Passover, not just as something that happened in the past, but as their own participation in God’s work of salvation.

When we come to the Lord's Table we put ourselves in the Upper Room with Jesus and his disciples. We enter into the nervous excitement akin to dread of the disciples who sensed that something momentous was about to happen. We go to the cross engulfed in darkness and we hear our Lord’s cry of abandonment as he bears the sins of the world: “My God, my God, why hast thou abandoned me?”  We see and understand what is happening - that there God is God acting in Christ to save us from the devil and sin, from death and hell.

And we come to this, his holy Table, where he meets us as both Host who invites us and the Feast that nourishes us. He gives us the bread and says, “This is my body for you,” and gives us the cup and says, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. By this bread and wine, received in faith, you commune with me - with my body given and my blood shed for you.”

According to Thy gracious word,
in meek humility,
this will I do, my dying Lord,
I will remember Thee.

Thy body, broken for my sake,
my bread from heaven shall be;
the testamental cup I take,
and thus remember Thee.

Gethsemane can I forget?
or there thy conflict see,
thine agony and bloody sweat,
and not remember thee?

When to the cross I turn mine eyes,
and rest on Calvary,
O Lamb of God, my sacrifice,
I must remember Thee;

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