This day shall be a memorial feast for you, which all your generations shall celebrate with pilgrimage to the Lord, as a perpetual institution.
Exodus 12: 14
“This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
1 Cor. 11: 24-5
Today we begin that time of celebration that calls us to summon up the core memories of our shared identity. The memory to which Exodus and Jesus call us is far more than mere historical recall. “This is how you are to eat it: with your loins girt, sandals on your feet and your staff in hand, you shall eat like those who are in flight. It is the Passover of the Lord.” (Exodus 12: 11) “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” (John 13: 15) To remember the Passover of the Lord is to conform one’s habits of being and one’s basic stance in the world in accord with those who were prepared to flee the slavery of Egypt and to follow Moses and the Lord into the wilderness. To remember the love and service of the Lord (“He loved his own in the world and beloved them to the end.” [John 13: 1]) is to be transformed into the continuation of that love and service “to the end” of our lives.
Human memory is a complex and mysterious reality. What we forget and what we remember is often quite mysterious to us. For the most part, we are much better at remembering the pain, the hurts, the grievances of life than the gifts, the graces and the blessings. Thus, the character that we build is largely built as a defense against further hurts. To have lost someone close to us when we were at a very vulnerable age can make it very difficult for us to become close to and vulnerable with others. The experience of the past loss remains so intense and painful that we dare not chance its being repeated. The anger and resentment we can feel toward one who has maligned or disparaged us likewise makes real forgiveness an enormous challenge. In large part these painful and angry memories become hardened in us and can often dominate our life with others and our dispositions in the world. So dominant is this mode of defensiveness that it often has us remembering the details of every past hurt while being unable to remember those most important experiences of life in which we knew what it means to be loved, cared for, and accompanied.
As spirit, however, we also have a capacity for transcendent memory. This is an enduring and also living memory of being liberated, cared for, and loved by God. The Passover and the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus are historical facts, but they are far more than that. They are enduring and ever-present experiences. To eat the Passover meal with true devotion is to realize being called and chosen for freedom by the Lord, in whatever present situation we find ourselves. Likewise, to remember in our core that love of Jesus which loves us “to the end,” is to realize our identification with the Risen One who lives, and loves, and serves in us, even though we might feel unloved and useless in the present. To remember him is not a mere exercise in recall and imagination; it is rather to be re-membered in him. It is to be drawn back into that home in us from where we have been scattered and to know, if we’ve forgotten it, a love that loves us to the end and impels us to give away all we have, however small and weak it seems to us, in the same kind of loving service. As we attend to the word and the symbol that is offered us these days, may we allow them to enter our minds and our hearts, to heal and reform our memories, to impel our wills to put all we are and all we have at the service of others through the living out of our own deepest calling, our unique participation in the life of the Risen Jesus.
In this gift Christ gives himself to us in three ways: First he gives us his body, his blood, and his corporeal life, glorified in the fullness of joy and sweetness; he also gives us his spirit with its higher powers full of glory and gifts, of truth and righteousness; and he gives us his person, divinely resplendent, which raises his spirit and all enlightened spirits up to a state of sublime and blissful unity.
Now Christ wishes us to remember him as often as we consecrate, offer, and receive his body. Note carefully how we are to remember him. First we should see and behold how Christ bends down to us with loving affection, great desire, and corporeal delight. With heartfelt warmth he pours himself into our corporeal nature, for he gives us what he received from our humanity, namely, flesh and blood and his corporeal nature. We should also see and behold his precious body, martyred, pierced, and wounded out of love and fidelity toward us. In this way we are adorned and nourished with Christ’s glorious humanity.
In the sublime gift of this Sacrament, Christ also gives us his spirit, which is full of glory and rich gifts, of virtues and ineffable marvels of charity and nobility. Through this indwelling of Christ with all of his richness, we are nourished, adorned, and enlightened in the unit of our own spirit and in our higher powers.
In addition, he gives us in the Sacrament of the Altar his sublime and incomprehensibly respondent person, whereby we are led up to and united with the Father. The Father receives his adopted sons together with his natural Son, and in this way we enter into our inheritance of the Godhead in eternal bliss.
Jan van Ruusbroec, The Spiritual Espousals, II, B