I preached four times this weekend, during the “Great Three Days” worship service that lasts from Thursday evening through Sunday morning. In current Evangelical Lutheran liturgical understanding, this is one long service that begins with Maundy Thursday and ends with the Vigil of Easter.
This is my Maundy Thursday sermon.
During my medical leave, I attended a silent retreat at Holy Cross Monastery in upstate New York, led by a teacher named Martin Smith. The theme of the retreat focused on how Christ offers wholeness in a world that is so full of distractions. Rev. Smith talked about how we find ourselves distracted by so many things, how our lives feel as though they are fragmented. He discussed how Christ desires to provide wholeness for us, and that one way Christ does this is through a spiritual practice called recollection. In a spiritual context, the word recollection means “concentrating the mind and soul on the presence of God.” It’s kind of like meditation. It’s kind of like contemplative prayer. It’s a slowing down, a concentration, a quieting of our heart, our mind, our soul, to focus solely on God.
Recollection provides time and space away from our distracting concerns. Rev. Smith said, “Think about the word recollection. Recollection is literally re-collection. When you are focused on God, God takes the pieces of you that are distracted and fragmented, and re-collects them. Brings them back together. Makes you whole.”
Then he added, “In regular speech, we often think of recollection as remembering. But think also about the word remembering. It’s the same thing – re-membering. Bringing our fragmented ‘members’ back together. And that’s exactly what God does for us. Brings all our fragmented and distracted ‘members’ back together. Re-members us. Re-collects us. Makes us whole.”
And the beauty of it is that this isn’t something we have to do for ourselves. It’s a gift of God’s grace. In our Baptism, we are bathed and are made clean. We are made whole. But we know that we don’t stay that way. We get distracted. We drift. We fragment. We sin.
So what does Christ do for us? The same thing he did at the Last Supper. John tells us that at the Last Supper, Christ washed the feet of the disciples. He said, “Those who have bathed need only to wash the feet.” And he said, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” We have already been bathed in baptism, and here Christ washes our feet. Cleanses us anew. Re-collects us. Re-members us.
What does Christ do for us? The same thing he did at the Last Supper. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Paul tell us that at the Last Supper, Jesus took bread and wine, and gave them to the disciples saying, “This is my body, given for you. This is my blood, given for you.” Jesus gives us his very self. We ingest the true presence of Christ, and he fills us, nourishes us. Re-collects us. He re-members us. Every time we gather for this meal.
Christ takes us just as we are, and brings our fragments back together.
This is my body, Christ says, given for you. This is my blood, shed for you. Do this in remembrance of me.
Ah. There’s that word again. Remembrance. But listen again. Christ says, “Do this in re-membrance of me.”
As I said, in Holy Communion, Christ re-members us. But Christ says that we do it to re-member him.
Jesus said, “Do this in re-membrance of me.” Jesus himself didn’t need to be re-membered. He was without sin. He was unfragmented. However…think of the phrase “the body of Christ.” In the New Testament, that phrase has two meanings. Sometimes it refers to the bread in Holy Communion. And sometimes it refers to the people of God, the church, us. You are the body of Christ, and individually members of it, Paul tells us.
But we know that, just as we are fragmented as individuals, the church is fragmented as well. We do not live as one. We are not united the way Christ would have us be. We have not succeeded in following his commandment to love one another.
Jesus said, “Do this in re-membrance of me.” When we share communion, are we not sharing a meal together? Are we not coming together as one? Are we not gathered together here to become one body, Christ’s body? This meal brings us together, re-collects us with one another. Re-collects us with all those around the world who also share it. Re-collects us with all those who have shared this meal before us, with our grandparents and their grandparents, even with Peter, and James, and John. Re-collects us with all those who are coming after us, with our grandchildren and their grandchildren.
And so, when we share this meal, we, the fragmented members of the body of Christ, are re-membered. Christ’s body is re-membered. When we share communion, Christ indeed is re-membering us. And through us, Christ himself is re-membered. We do this in remembrance of him.
St. Augustine wrote, “So if it’s you that are the body of Christ and its members, it’s the mystery meaning you that has been placed on the table of the Lord; what you receive is the mystery that means you.”
About forty days ago, we gathered together and heard: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Tonight, we gather together and discover that Christ re-members the dust that is us. Christ re-members us as individuals, and as a community. And through this re-membering, Christ himself is re-membered. On this Maundy Thursday, we remember that he did not just give his life for us; he gave his life to us. We now live in him, and he in us.