The Word Among Us

Easter 2016 Issue

In Memory of Me

Jesus can open our eyes.

In Memory of Me: Jesus can open our eyes.

Judging from the story of Ezra that we looked at in the previous article, we can see how keeping God’s mighty deeds and his unconditional love in the forefront of our minds can help us develop our spiritual instincts.

But there is another kind of remembering that is just as important, if not more so. It’s the remembering that we do at Mass. It’s the way we follow Jesus’ command at the Last Supper to “do this in memory of me” (Luke 22:19).

Remembering the Passover. Just what does it mean to “do this” in memory of Jesus? Does it mean recalling his passion and death? Yes, of course. But there is something special about the Eucharist that takes our human act of remembering and raises it up to something powerful and spiritual. To help explain this, we have to look back to Jesus’ heritage as a Jew and see how the Israelites remembered their own history—especially how they remembered it at their own Passover meals. They understood this kind of remembering as an active participation in a past event.

Every year, even to this day, when Jewish people celebrate Passover, they recall their ancestors’ escape from slavery in Egypt. They tell the story of the plagues, of the animal’s blood on their doorposts, and of the parting of the Red Sea. They celebrate the fact that God liberated Moses and his people through many miracles and brought them into the Promised Land.

But something special happens when they tell this story at the Passover meal: it becomes something much greater than a history lesson. It’s as if by telling the story together over a meal, they themselves become a part of it. Even though it happened centuries ago, they feel as if they themselves are being set free. The entire story comes alive for them, and they relive it themselves.

“In Memory of Me.” Contrast this kind of remembering with the typical way we think about memory. Typical remembering thinks about people and events in the past—who they were or what happened. In this way, remembering Jesus is focused on the facts of his life and teaching. It could involve an analysis of the Gospels or other historical writings, facts about the political climate of Jerusalem in his time, and research into the religious leaders who clashed with him. While this kind of remembering can be very valuable in helping us understand Jesus, it is limited. It doesn’t necessarily bring us in touch with him.

At Mass, when we “do this” in memory of Jesus, we are brought to Calvary where he died. We are given the chance to witness what he did for us on the cross. We get to join him and his disciples in the upper room. This spiritual remembering helps us feel Jesus’ sadness over our sins, his deep love for us, and the joy of knowing that he has set us free.

So don’t let your time at Mass become just a “religious thing” that you do. Let it become a journey that leads you to the cross. Let it bring you to your knees in worship, not out of formality, but out of reverence and honor. Let it move your heart to say, “Jesus, everything I hold dear I count as loss when compared to you.”

Their Eyes Were Opened. Every time we celebrate Mass, we remember that Jesus died for our sins, that he rose from the dead, and that he will come again in glory. As we remember what happened two thousand years ago, we give Jesus the opportunity to fill our hearts and open our eyes.

The Gospel story about the disciples on the road to Emmaus illustrates just how much Jesus wants to open our eyes and our hearts (Luke 24:18-35). While hiding his identity, the risen Jesus met two disciples who were walking home to Emmaus from Jerusalem. They were discouraged because Jesus had just been crucified. They thought that everything he said and promised had come to a painful end. In response, Jesus challenged their faith. He asked them if they remembered what was said in the Scriptures. He reminded them about everything he had said and done while he was with them. And as he spoke, their hearts began to burn with hope and expectation.

When the three of them arrived, the disciples pressed Jesus to join them for dinner. And that’s when it happened. Jesus said the blessing over the meal, but he did it in a special way: “He took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them.” Immediately, “Their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight” (Luke 24:30, 31). Filled with joy, they turned around and hurried back to Jerusalem to tell the others that they had seen Jesus “in the breaking of the bread” (24:35).

Forgetting and Remembering. Now, these disciples’ inner eyes had been opened before. Surely they believed in Jesus and loved him while he walked the earth. Why else would they have been so heartbroken at his death? But the shock of Jesus’ crucifixion overshadowed all of this, and they forgot some very important parts of their time with him. They forgot about his miracles. They forgot that he had told them numerous times that he would be arrested and crucified but that he would also rise from the dead. They forgot what it meant to believe in him. At that special meal in Emmaus, however, all their memories came flooding back. What’s more, their eyes were opened in a whole new way, and their faith was taken to a whole new level.

Like the Emmaus disciples, we, too, can forget. The demands of the day and the challenges of life can cloud our minds. Even when we are doing well, we can still lose some of our clarity. But that’s one of the most valuable blessings of Mass: every time Jesus breaks bread for us, our memories can be sparked. Every time his word is proclaimed, our hearts can burn a little more brightly. There is no end to the love and grace he wants to give us. There is no end to his ability to teach us and remind us of his presence.

In one sense, it’s no surprise that Jesus revealed himself to these two disciples during a meal—just as it’s no surprise that he instituted the greatest of all sacraments during the Last Supper. We know that a special meal is the perfect way that loved ones can gather and share their lives with each other. Think of all the celebrations that occur around a dinner table: birthdays, holidays, weddings, or reunions. It’s almost natural to commemorate an important event in our history with a shared meal. And there’s no more important meal than the Mass, just as there is no more important event worth celebrating than Jesus’ death and resurrection.

The Greatest of Gifts. At the Last Supper, Jesus shared with the disciples his deepest desires and dreams for the Church. He told them about his Father’s love. He promised them the Holy Spirit. He told them to love each other as much as he loved them. He even washed their feet as a sign of his intention to serve and care for them. He said and did so many important things!

But then, after all of this, Jesus surprised the disciples by adding a whole new teaching. Taking bread and wine and changing them into his Body and Blood, he gave new meaning to the Passover meal that his people had been celebrating for centuries. He told them that he was giving himself for them. He spoke of a “new covenant” that would open heaven for them (Luke 22:20). And then he told them to repeat this meal in memory of him.

In essence, Jesus was saying that his whole life, especially his death on the cross, would always be available to them. Every time they celebrated this meal in memory of him, he would come and be with them. He would fill them with his life and love. He would teach them. He would comfort them and encourage them. He would work miracles among them. Here, in this sacred meal, they could receive both the source and the summit of all that God had ever wanted to give them—all if they would remember and believe.

Can it be any different for us? Jesus wants to give us so much at every Mass. So let’s try our best to come ready to receive. Let’s come and remember our risen Lord and Savior. Let’s listen closely and ask him to open our eyes and our hearts even more.