Archive for Mystery

“Anamnesis” (April 13, 2017: Maundy Thursday)

Posted in Sermons with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 14, 2017 by montgomerybrandt

The following sermon was preached on April 13, 2017, being Maundy Thursday, at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Lafayette, Louisiana.

Readings: Exodus 12.1-4, (5-10), 11-14; Psalm 116.1, 10-17; 1 Corinthians 11.23-26; John 13.1-17, 31b-35 

Collect: Almighty Father, whose dear Son, on the night before He suffered, instituted the Sacrament of His Body and Blood: Mercifully grant that we may receive it thankfully in remembrance of Jesus Christ our Lord, who in these holy mysteries gives us a pledge of eternal life; and who now lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

“For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes.”–1 Corinthians 11.26[1]

“I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”—John 13.15

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

 I was talking with a colleague at the school earlier this week, during which the subject of Holy Week came up, with me noting how busy a time it is for us clergy types. In response, my colleague, somewhat kidding, but also serious, asked, “Why do we have to go through all that? We already know how it ends. Isn’t that enough?”

Yes, we already do know the end. And while we are thankful for that end, in recalling the events of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday year after year, we do that which the Lord tonight commands: “Do this in memory of Me.” Enacting those events from long, long ago reminds us of “the love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God.”[2]

Three crucial events occurred on this night. The first was Jesus’ institution of the Holy Eucharist, the Sacrament of His Body and Blood. The Eucharist is the memorial of Christ’s Passover, the making present of His unique sacrifice in the Church’s liturgy.[3] It is the Church’s principal act of worship, through which, as Saint Paul tonight proclaims, in our partaking of the Bread and drinking the Cup, we proclaim Jesus’ death until His Second Coming.

Next (and what immediately follows in tonight’s liturgy), Jesus “began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with a towel.” In washing the disciples’ feet, Jesus, God in human flesh, humbled Himself and became like a slave, displaying pure humility and service. It was an illusion to the sacrificial death He would soon endure on the cross. In Jesus’ washing of feet is found the summary of the Christian duty

You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind…You shall [also] love your neighbor as yourself.[4]

And lastly, represented in the Stripping of the Altar after Communion, was Jesus’ agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus “was in such agony and He prayed so fervently that His sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground.”[5] It is in His agony that we see Jesus at His most human. Make no doubt about it: Jesus was really afraid; He knew what was coming. He could have commanded the entire Heavenly company to whisk Him away to safety. Instead, Jesus chose His Father’s will: “Not my will but Yours be done.”[6] He knew that He had a purpose to fulfill, to be the “expiation for our sins…for those of the whole world.”[7]

But, again, why do we have to go through all this? The answer comes from one word—anamnesis. Meaning “reminiscence,” anamnesis is a word that originates from Plato’s philosophical thought, describing the remembrance of things from a supposed previous existence.[8] In Christian theology, it refers to the memorial character of the Eucharist, as well as the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. It is through anamnesis that we enter fully into the Paschal Mystery, the ceremonies of the liturgy actively bringing into our time elements of those things done in the past.[9]

Anamnesis is the word that is used in the Greek text of Jesus’ commandment, “Do this in memory of Me.” Through His mandate, Jesus is saying to us, “Do these things to make Me present.” His mandate speaks to His relational nature, how He yearns to gather His people together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.[10] That’s the heart of what Jesus commands. We are to go through these things in that Jesus may dwell in us and we in Him.

Tonight’s ceremonies render all human concepts of time irrelevant. We are, in a mysterious way, experiencing these ceremonies as if they are actually happening in real time. Through anamnesis, we become fully present with Christ in these events. We see first-hand how “God proves His love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”[11]

Of the Eucharist, Jesus says

“This is My body that is for you. This cup is the new covenant in My blood. Do this…in remembrance of Me.

“Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood remains in Me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent Me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on Me will have life because of Me.”[12]

In the Eucharistic Prayer, we ask God

“To send Your Holy Spirit upon these gifts that they may be the Sacrament of the Body of Christ and His Blood of the new Covenant. Unite us to Your Son in His sacrifice, that we may be acceptable through Him, being sanctified by the Holy Spirit.”[13]

All of this connects us in real time to Christ. Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist connects us all, one with another, both with those in the here and now and from ages past.

In the Washing of Feet, we see the unconditional love of the One who stooped down to do an act that not even the lowliest Jewish servant performed. Jesus did this because He loves us. Jesus said

Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.[14]

In return, “whoever claims to abide in Him ought to live [just] as He lived.”[15] Jesus says to us tonight, “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” This is what Jesus calls us to do for one another.

We have an obligation to obey Jesus’ commandment. This obligation comes from the fact that “the word of the LORD is right and true; He is faithful in all He does.”[16] It brings to light the reality that in Christ, all of us, regardless of any form of difference, are no better than anybody else. It forms our hearts in being more gentle, generous, truthful, and kind towards one another. And whenever we fail in doing what Jesus commands, because of what happens at the end, there will be no need to fear. Because of grace, we can repent, learn from our mistake, and be given another chance. “If anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one.”[17]

 So, let us “be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and handed Himself over for us as a sacrificial offering to God.”[18] In the Church’s liturgy, may we make Jesus present, right here, right now. Let us do what Jesus commands: “Do this in memory of Me.”

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations contained herein are from the New American Bible (Revised Edition), copyright © 2012 by HarperCollins Publishers.

[2] 1 John 3.1

[3] Catechism of the Catholic Church (Doubleday, 1994), ¶1362.

[4] Matthew 22.37, 39

[5] Luke 22.44

[6] Luke 22.42

[7] 1 John 2.2

[8] R. E. Allen. “Anamnesis in Plato’s Meno and Phaedo.” The Review of Metaphysics (Volume 13, Number 1, September 1959).

[9] Ernest R. Falardeau. A Holy and Living Sacrifice: The Eucharist in Christian Perspective (The Order of Saint Benedict, Inc., 1996), p. 27.

[10] John 13.34

[11] Romans 5.8

[12] I Corinthians 11.24-25; John 6.54-57

[13] The Holy Eucharist—Rite II, Eucharistic Prayer B, The Book of Common Prayer (1979), p. 368.

[14] Mark 10.43b-44

[15] 1 John 2.6

[16] Psalm 33.4 (New International Version)

[17] 1 John 2.1b

[18] Ephesians 5.1-2

“Parables–Invitations Into Mystery” (June 14, 2015: The Third Sunday after Pentecost–Proper 6B; The Episcopal Church of the Ascension, Lafayette, Louisiana)

Posted in Sermons with tags , , , , , on June 14, 2015 by montgomerybrandt

“The Kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed upon the ground, and should sleep and rise night and day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he knows not how.” –Mark 4.26-27[1]

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

This past Sunday, here at the Church of the Ascension and for the majority of Episcopalians, it was the Second Sunday after Pentecost. But for many in our Church affiliated with the Anglo-Catholic tradition, it was the Feast of Corpus Christi[2], a Western Christian solemnity commemorating Christ’s institution of and Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist, first observed on Maundy Thursday, but away from the dismal atmosphere brought on by our Lord’s forthcoming crucifixion and death on Good Friday. And while sitting in the nave of Saint Thomas Church (Fifth Avenue) in New York City during its festal observance of this day, this particular line from the appointed Psalm caught my attention: “O taste, and see, how gracious the Lord is: blessed is the man that trusteth in him.”[3] At that moment, the thought of grace as being something that can not only be felt, but also tasted and seen turned the wheels of my imagination, opening my mind to concepts of God’s grace and the Holy Eucharist never before thought of. It was an invitation that brought me into deep wonder. Yet, in the midst of my wondering, in the words of John Wesley, “I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that [H]e had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.” As mysterious as the Eucharist is, because of the emotion of the moment, I could not help being drawn deeper into the mystery, not only feeling, but also tasting God’s grace, seeing that it is, indeed, good.

We have just heard Jesus speak two parables, together known as the Parables of the Kingdom. “…With what can we compare the kingdom of God…?” Jesus has compared it to two types of seed: a growing seed, scattered on the ground, sprouted and growing night and day, and a mustard seed, one that starts off very small, but “grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs…” But, as Jesus points out, “[we know] not how” of the Kingdom’s unlimited breadth, depth, and height. That is because the Kingdom of God is itself such a mystery so beyond our comprehension that no matter what you compare it to, it can never come close to the actual truth of what it actually is. Hence, the parables that Jesus speaks throughout the canonical Gospels are, for us, only mere glimpses into the nature of the Kingdom of God. They are offered as invitations to wonder into the greater mystery of who God is, what He is like, and of His love said to be unlike any other ever known. Although we do not know the absolute fullness of the nature of the Kingdom of God, because of Jesus and what He has done, we are continually drawn in, wanting to know more than what we had before known. To be a disciple of Jesus is to be one willing to learn, which makes the purpose of His parables become clearer—stories that are simple, yet convey a deeper meaning, only more fully gained through constant learning from and dependence on the living Christ.

I am convinced that God’s holding back of humanity from the fullness of knowledge of Himself—apart from the fact that our minds are incapable of comprehending God on such a level—has to do with relationship, in that while He is present to us, at the same time, He keeps hidden aspects of Himself by which our curiosity attracts us to Him. This is what I believe Jesus’ modus operandi to be in using parables—to give us lessons that, at their heart, reflect the truth about Himself and of the Kingdom, but their full meaning veiled in such a way that the only way to get the full meaning is to go back to Christ for the full meaning. All that we saw, heard, and experienced during the first half of the liturgical year—Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, Easter, Pentecost, and Trinity Sunday—have directed our attention to Christ and His Kingdom. Jesus’ parables help bring us closer to the heart of what it all means, which, like the growing seed, over time, through the moving of the Holy Ghost, causes us to feel Christ’s presence more within us and notice the Kingdom of God’s extension around us. The more we lean into Christ, the more He becomes part of us, thus the better our lives become. Furthermore, like the mustard seed, the more we lean into Christ, the more grafted we become into God’s Kingdom, which, in turn, over time, opens our eyes to the sight of God’s Kingdom as “the greatest of all shrubs…put[ting] forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”  Here on Earth, we sing, “Thy kingdom comes and grows for ever, till all thy people own thy sway.” Jesus says that the fullness of the Kingdom will be brought to us in God’s time. But until that time comes, as long as we do the things that Jesus has told us to do, living in His abiding presence, the seed will be planted and will bring forth its increase.[4]

What we do know for certain is that at the heart of these Kingdom parables, as well as at all the other of our Lord’s parables, is Jesus Himself. The growing seed and the mustard seed are both the Word of God, and the Word of God is Jesus. And with Jesus at the heart of these parables, we know them to be different from fables and legends, in that they all communicate the truth. As Pilate asked Jesus during His Passion, “What is truth?”[5] It is this very question that the Gospel parables guide us in figuring out. They help bring us closer to the Person of Jesus, realizing that He, in His very Self, is the Truth. The parables help awaken the realization of Jesus’ offering of grace to us, that “in Christ shall all be made alive.”[6] Yet, the pivotal key in our quest for better understanding of these parables is a willingness to surrender our own will in favor of Jesus’ will for us. “With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.” Here is another way of looking at it from Saint Paul: “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”[7] In order for us to know more about Jesus and for our certainty in His Word to grow and become firm, we must first and foremost be His disciples.

“…With what can we compare the kingdom of God…?” The simple fact of the matter is that we cannot, for our comparisons, no matter how big, how small, or how well presented, will ever be adequate enough to get to the very essence of what the Kingdom of God is. “For now we see in a mirror dimly,” Saint Paul says, “but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood.”[8] The veiling of the fullness of God’s Kingdom is not meant by Jesus to shield us away, but rather to draw us in. By doing so, not revealing everything to us all at once, Jesus conveys His desire to be in constant relationship with us. By embracing the mystery, pulling back its many layers and committing to Jesus for the long-term, the Word becomes more meaningful to us, our relationship with Jesus becomes more precious and important, and our foretaste of the Kingdom of God becomes more real. “Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”[9] Let us not resist the mystery; let us, instead, embrace it. “O taste, and see, how gracious the Lord is: blessed is the man that trusteth in him.”

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations contained herein are from the Revised Standard Version Bible, Ignatius Edition, Copyright © 2006 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

[2] Pope Urban IV first instituted the Feast of Corpus Christi as a Latin Rite solemnity in 1264 in his papal bull Transiturus de hoc mundo. For the Roman Catholic Church, this observance is presently known as “The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ” and, in places where it is a holy day of obligation, is observed on the Thursday immediately following Trinity Sunday or, in places where it is not a holy day of obligation, on the Sunday that follows Trinity Sunday. Within the Anglican tradition, the Feast of Corpus Christi is included in the calendar of the Church of England as “The Day of Thanksgiving for the Institution of Holy Communion,” as well as in those of a few other Anglican Communion provinces, but not in that of The Episcopal Church. Even though it is not an official observance within The Episcopal Church, many Anglo-Catholic Episcopal parishes still observe Corpus Christi as a major holy day.

[3] Psalm 34.8 (Coverdale Psalter)

[4] “Plant the Seed,” The Living Church (http://www.livingchurch.org/plant-seed; accessed on June 13, 2015).

[5] John 18.38

[6] I Corinthians 15.23

[7] I Corinthians 1.18

[8] I Corinthians 13.12

[9] Matthew 6.10