What Do You Remember?

We find ourselves in the twenty-second chapter of Luke, verses fourteen through twenty. You know the story. Time is running out on Jesus’s earthly ministry. So much has already happened. The last person has been healed. The last lesson has been taught. The events of Palm Sunday are nothing more than a memory. The tables turned over in the temple courts are now setting upright. The only thing left to do is to have one last supper with the disciples. It wasn’t just any meal. It was the Seder. It was, and is, a meal with a message. Everything they ate reminded them of their past as God’s Chosen People. The Exodus was not just remembered, it was celebrated. It was not their first Seder. They observed it annually. There is nothing negative to say about the Seder. Every Jew looked forward to it. That means, the disciples were looking forward to that particular Seder. They didn’t have a clue that everything was about to change.

We call it Communion or the Eucharist. At one point in the meal, Jesus picked up the bread and shared it with the disciples. The bread was more than a baked good, it was the body of Christ. They believed; it was a sign of fellowship with God. Later in the meal, Jesus picked up a glass of wine and shared it with the disciples. It was more than a fermented juice; it was the blood of Jesus. They believed; blood was the life-giving agent in the human body. The disciples must have been confused because Jesus changed the script. They had no clue they were witnessing history. They had no clue Jesus was giving them a memorial for the ages. However, the disciples must have known something special was about to happen. Jesus said it clearly. “Do this in remembrance of me.” It was not just a command for them. It was a command for us. This is my question for you today: When you consume the body and the blood of Christ, what do you remember?

I am not a United Methodist by birth; I am a United Methodist by choice. I was raised in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). My parents were members at Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Warren, Ohio. To the Sunday morning worshipper, there is very little difference between the United Methodist Church and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). However, one thing stands out. In the United Methodist Church, the pastor decides how often Communion is served. My churches took Communion monthly. In some United Methodist congregations, the elements are offered quarterly. It is the pastor’s choice. In a Disciples church, Communion is offered every time the church gathers for worship. If you throw in high holy days, Communion can be consumed sixty times a year. I was raised in that tradition and heard the words of Jesus many times, Do this in remembrance of me. Jesus’s words never changed, but what I remembered about Jesus did change because I changed.

When I was young, I remember sitting by my parent’s side as they took Communion. I remember the minister quoting Jesus, Do this in remembrance of me.  I did my best to remember Jesus. I was influenced by my family’s nativity set. In my mind’s eye I can still see it. The various characters were arranged around a simple barn shaped structure. I remembered the infant Jesus laying in the straw, surrounded by his mother and earthly father, Mary and Joseph. Jesus was the focal point of the set. To the side stood the blue-collar workers, the shepherds. They were the ones who first got the announcement, the Messiah had been born. One had a lamb draped on his shoulders. Outside of the basic structure stood the mysterious visitors from the east, the Magi. At the time I called them Wise Men. They brought the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Years later, I learned my nativity set was wrong. They came two years later. Hanging on a small hook over the doorway was an angel, who sang praises to God. At some point, I started thinking about Jesus’s baptism. I tried to remember as much as possible, because Jesus said those words, Do this in remembrance of me. As a youngster that is what I remembered about Jesus. What do you remember?

I committed my life to Christ in December of 1974. I was seventeen years old. When I took Communion after that pivotal moment, I remembered Jesus’s sacrificial death. I remembered how the great crowd of Palm Sunday abandoned him. I remembered how Jesus cursed the fig tree, the very symbol of Israel. I remembered how Jesus turned the tables over of the money changers. I remembered how Jesus went to the temple courts and taught about the Kingdom of God. I remembered how Jesus was anointed in Bethany. I remembered how Jesus washed the disciple’s feet. I remembered how he went to the garden to pray and was arrested. I remembered how he was tried and led to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. I remembered how Jesus was rejected by the crowd and was executed Roman style. I remembered how the blood Jesus was shed, but most how all, I remembered how Jesus was resurrected, the cornerstone of our faith. Still today, I am humbled that Jesus died for me. I tried to remember as much as possible, because Jesus said those words, Do this in remembrance of me. That is what I remembered when I was new to the faith. What do you remember?

Seven months ago, I finished my working career. Throughout my forty years in the ministry, I offered Communion many times. Sometimes, I offered Communion in the sanctuary. Sometimes, I offered Communion in the fellowship hall. Sometimes, I offered Communion in the outdoor chapel. The location changed, but not the words, Do this in remembrance of me. I encouraged people to remember Jesus, but I remembered the Master too. I remembered Jesus’s miracles. He got the lame to walk. He got the blind to see. He made demonic whole. I remembered his teachings. I remembered how Jesus taught us how to live. We are supposed to be practicing today, what we will be doing in heaven for eternity. How taught us how to handle many of life’s problems. I remembered how Jesus changed lives and I remembered how Jesus changed the world. I tried to remember as much as possible, because Jesus said those words, Do this in remembrance of me. That is what I remembered during my working career. What do you remember?

Several months ago, I lost a good friend, Kay. I sincerely miss her. She was in her mid-nineties when she died. I officiated at her funeral. I met Kay in the Mahoning Valley District of the East Ohio Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. Our friendship grew because I called her daily as I walked my dog, Macy, the world’s best dog. We shared many stories and opinions. She was never afraid to talk or share an opinion. She was concerned about the direction our denomination was taking. I couldn’t disagree. Near the end of her life, she was homebound. Many days, outside of family, who watched her closely, I was her only call. She knew the end was coming, and she faced death head-on. Regularly, she would say, “The only thing that matters to me at this point in my life is Jesus.” We would speculate about heaven. I cherish the memories of those discussions. Since Kay’s death, I remember what Jesus said about heaven. After all, none of us get out of this world alive.

The first significant death in my life was my maternal grandfather, Walter Milligan. I was about eight years old. He lived in Brooklyn, New York with my grandmother, his wife, Nina. My grandmother was harsh and opinionated. She wrote harsh critical letters weekly to Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945) to tell him everything he was doing wrong. This is the truth: As harsh and as critical as my grandmother was, my grandfather wasn’t. He was quiet and kind. He worked for his father, who owned apartment buildings in New York City. At his calling hours, I have heard the stories of how he helped his tenants during the Great Depression. He only expected them to pay what they could afford and that wasn’t much. Personally, I have very few memories of him. However, I do remember him smoking a pipe. Every time I smell pipe tobacco, I think of him. I will never forget his funeral because it was the first time, I saw my mother cry. When I get to heaven, I am going to spend some time with Walter Milligan. He was the grandfather I never really had a chance to know. Who do you want to visit first when you get to heaven?

When death invades my personal space, I always remember the fourteen chapter of John. Jesus is with the disciples, and he tells them that he is going to be leaving them. He had told them in the past but this time they hear it, Jesus was leaving them. Upset, the disciples begin to question him. Jesus sees they are upset and tries to comfort them with these words, “In my father house are many mansions,” or rooms. That means there is a mansion or room waiting for you and me when we get to heaven. That means our departed loved ones are already occupying their room in heaven. My grandfather, Water Milligan, is occupying one of those rooms. My good friend, Kay, is occupying one of those rooms. The hope of occupying one of those eternal rooms is only possible because of the redemptive work of Jesus. Death has a way of making us think of Jesus’s eternal promises. When death invades your personal space, what do you remember?

According to the people at World Data, there are 2.2 billion Christians in the world today. In various ways, and at various times, each believer finds themselves partaking Communion. The sacred words are read, and Jesus is quoted, Do this in remembrance of me.” What do you remember? Your answer will depend on your personal situation. There is no such thing as a bad memory about Jesus. In the end, only one thing truly matters, Jesus cannot be forgotten. English Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) may have said it best, “We can’t have communion with Christ until we are in union with him.”  What do you remember?

In Remembrance

How is your memory? I heard of an older couple that was having some trouble remembering so they signed up to take a memory course together. A few months later the husband was out working in his garden when a neighbor stopped by and began to talk to him about the memory course, what was the name of the instructor? The husband paused, then asked “What is the name of that flower that smells so nice but has thorns? You mean a rose the neighbor answered. Yeah, that’s it, “Hey Rose, what’s the name of that guy who taught us the memory course?” How is your memory?

It is impossible to remember everything. How many things have you forgotten recently? When was the last time you forgot a loved one’s birthday? When was the last time you lost your keys? When was the last time you forgot to return a phone call? Is there some secondary person in your life you don’t call by name because you forgot their name? Have you ever forgotten to get milk at the store or to pick up a youngster from school? Have you ever forgotten where you parked at the stadium or the grocery store? You can admit it. We have all forgotten something. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter. For example, I can never remember Ronald Reagan’s first wife. Sometimes, it does matter. Don’t forget to file your taxes by April 18. This evening we remember an event that you must never forget.

It is imperative that you remember Jesus’ last Seder. Our primary scripture is First Corinthians 11:23-26. It would be his last meal before his appointment with the cross. For it is at that meal, Jesus gave us a memorial for the ages. You know the scene. We have reenacted it. It has been reenacted in movies and inspirited some of the greatest pieces of art. That makes it easy to imagine this evening’s lesson. The Gospels tell us, the disciples were wondering about the Passover meal. This is not shocking. It was the reason they came to Jerusalem. They had been observing the Passover meal annually since childhood. Jesus sends two of the disciples ahead to make the arrangements. When Jesus arrived, everything was ready in that upper room. The menu for the meal was traditional. Each course represented something from the story of the exile. Every word was scripted. No one dared change a single word, but Jesus did change the words. Instead, of just remembering the past, Jesus began to talk about the future. He began to speak of the future when he would be separated from his disciples. We know the words that he uttered because we are his contemporary disciples. The bread represents his body. The wine represents his blood. He gave us those elements for one reason. He did not want to be forgotten. Remembering Jesus is extremely important. On Maundy Thursday we need to remember three things.

First, we need to remember past events! Did you know in the state of Ohio there are 1,750 historical markers? Each one has been placed by the Ohio Historical Society. That program started in the 1950s. I think my father read every one. It used to drive me crazy when I was young. Now I read as many as I can. Time changes things. Did you know there are 16 historical markers within the zip code of this church? Maybe you have seen them? Has anyone read the marker at the old The Mahoning Dispatch Building or the one at the Pioneer Pavilion? Each one exists for the same reason. They don’t want you to forget the past.

The disciples observed that annual Seder to remember past events. It was a meal designed to remember the past. It was a meal designed to teach the youngest about their past. Each participant heard the story again. Their ancestors were held in bondage in Egypt. They had no hope of liberation, so God sent them a liberator. His name was Moses. He spoke on behalf of God to the Pharaoh and announced a series of plagues. Each one was miserable. There was the plagues of blood, frogs, gnats, flies, livestock, boils, hail, locust and darkness. However, the last plague was the worst, the plague on the first born. It was that plague that changed the heart of Pharaoh. He released the Hebrews. We remember because there are events that should not be forgotten. It is not just true of them. It is true of us. We should never forget the events of that upper room. We remember because of past events are important. We remember because past events hold lessons.

Second, we need to remember past lessons! Someone asked me recently, “What is the worst thing about traveling?” I think he wanted to hear about bad food and lumpy beds. Instead, I told him about airport security. If you have traveled in the past twenty-plus years you know it is true. It is part of the day. You take off your shoes. You take off your belt. You empty your pockets. You show your boarding pass and passport. You step into the machine to get x-rayed, and you are patted down by someone who needs a breath mint. It is annoying, but I never complain. Why? You know the answer. We have learned from the past. September 11 changed our world. Someone once said, “Growing up is learning from yesterday’s mistakes.”  How many times have you said, “I will never do that again!” We remember so we don’t make the same mistakes again. We remember because of past events are important. We remember because past events hold lessons. We remember because those events remind us of our core values.

Third, we need to remember our core values. The Seder is designed to help people remember the past. However, the Seder is designed to do more. It was designed to remember past values. The Seder is an annual reminder to the Jews that their relationship with God is unique. They call themselves “God’s Chosen People.” It is a statement that is hard to argue with when you remember the events in the wilderness. Pharaoh had changed his mind and sent his army to retrieve the slaves. Moses had led the people to the shore of the Red Sea. Things looked bad. The people could not go back because of the army. The people could not go forward because of the water. They were trapped and they had no hope. However, they are God Chosen people, so God divided the waters for them. The water was held back for the Hebrews but not the Egyptians. It is not just a story of a miracle; it is a reminder that they are special. When they remember it; they remember their core values.

When we partake of the body and the blood of Christ you are not just remember some past event. You are remembering our core values. You have a unique relationship with God. You are a disciple of Jesus Christ!

The Taj Mahal in Agra, India is considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The history is interesting. It was built in the 1600’s by the fifth Mughal emperor, Shah Jahah. He built it as a memorial for his wife, Mumtaz Hahal. The building, itself, is truly an amazing. It is an octagonal building with walls measuring 130 feet long by 70 ‘high and it is surmounted by a dome adding an addition 120’ in height. It is constructed entirely out of white marble, which is reflected by a huge pool. The interior design is magnificent, containing 12 types of inlaid stones, and mosaics of great beauty. Many consider the Maj Mahal the greatest memorial in the world today. They are wrong!

 The greatest memorial today is found at the communion table of every church. It is the body and the blood of Christ. When we come to the communion table we remember. In is important that we remember past events. It is important that we remember past lessons. It is important that we remember our core values. We have a special relationship with God. We are disciples of Jesus Christ! Saint John Bosco (1815-1888) once said, “We do not go to Holy Communion because we are good; we go to become good.”