I have been reflecting on remembering and reconciliation, with the help of one of my favourite theologians Miroslav Volf. These reflections have led me to write a liturgy for an informal/experimental act of sharing bread and wine together – an act which (sometimes we forget) is all about remembering and reconciliation.
There are two types of memory. The first is passive memory. This is when an external trigger causes something stored in our memory to come to mind. It can be a good memory or a bad memory – hearing a song on the radio takes us back to the time we first heard it; smelling freshly-brewed filter coffee takes us back to a friend’s house; seeing an ambulance race by takes us back to a time our child was in hospital – and we have absolutely no control over it happening.
The second type of memory is active memory. This is what we choose to recall about the event, to dwell on, to bring into the present from the past, to carry with us. When the ambulance races by, we might recall the pain of seeing our child suffering, or we might recall the skill of the medics and the joy of their recovery – and we have a choice as to what we will focus on.
How we remember can make us more broken, or more healed.
We have a choice.
God wants us to remember in such a way that brings healing, wholeness, reconciliation. The word ‘eucharist’ means giving thanks. And at the giving thanks expressed through sharing bread and wine, three acts of remembering intertwine to work reconciliation:
In the eucharist, we remember what Jesus did.
To remember means to bring an event in the past into the present in such a way that it lives in the present. Jesus introduced the practice of sharing bread and wine in remembrance of him in the context of a Passover meal, a meal at which Jews speak of the ancient exodus from slavery in Egypt in the present tense: it was ‘us’ whom God delivered.
So, what did Jesus do? On the cross, Jesus died in solidarity with sufferers of wrongdoing, and substitution for wrongdoers. He reconciled both in himself – and so the cross anticipates a community of reconciled enemies. (This includes reconciliation of the divided self, for we are all both one who has suffered wrongdoing and one who has inflicted wrongdoing on others.)
In the eucharist, Jesus is re-membering his body.
To remember is also to re-member, to put together: to put fragments of a story together in such a way that makes a coherent narrative; to put broken bones together in such a way as to allow them to knit together again.
As we remember Jesus’ work of reconciliation, he re-members, or makes manifest in the present what he won for us in the past.
In the eucharist, we participate in re-membering Jesus’ body.
True, it is something that Jesus works; but he does not do it to us, he does it through us. At the table together, the question is asked of us, what do we choose to remember about one another?
‘Such community is exactly what we commemorate in Holy Communion. Central to the rite is the solidarity of God with each human being and the reconciliation of each human being to God. Inseparable, however, from reconciliation to God is reconciliation to fellow human beings. As Alexander Schememann puts it in The Eucharist, in this holy ritual “we create the memory of each other, we identify each other as living in Christ and being united with each other in him.” In the Eucharistic feast we remember each other as those who are reconciled to God and to each other. Our past, marked by enmity, has given way to a future marked by love. By remembering Christ’s Passion, we remember ourselves as what we shall be – members of one communion of love, comprised of wrongdoers and the wronged. The Passion memory is a hopeful memory since it anticipates deliverance from wrong suffered, freedom from the power of evil, and reconciliation between the wronged and the wrongdoers – for the most part, a reconciliation between people who have both suffered wrong and inflicted it. The midday darkness of Good Friday that is our sins, suffering, and enmity will be overcome by the new light of Easter morning that is our rejoicing in each other in the presence of God.’
(Miroslav Volf, The End of Memory, pp. 119, 120)
...we create a memory of each other...we remember ourselves as what we shall be...
This, surely, is why Paul writes to the church in Corinth that to participate in this moment without recognising the other, and without intention to be reconciled to them, is to eat and drink judgement on ourselves.