Maundy Thursday Reflection for April 2020
by Andrea Hutnak
May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer. Amen. (Psalm 19:14)
We are living memories of Jesus Christ.
We may think of memories as things of the past, staying in the past permanently or entering our thoughts at certain times – memories that disturb us or bring up old feelings we'd rather have kept in the past, or welcomed memories, such as the memory of a loved one or of a happy event from our past, that bring us joy or comfort in the remembering. We might think of memories as a snapshot of life preserved in photo albums, forever frozen in a specific place and time. Those are certainly a few ways to explain the complex nature of memory.
Lately I’ve been reading books by Henri Nouwen. He was born in the Netherlands in 1932 and was a psychologist, Roman Catholic priest, and a professor at the University of Notre Dame, Yale Divinity School, and Harvard Divinity School. He eventually left academia and moved to Toronto to serve as pastor to the L’Arche Daybreak community for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. He was also an author of numerous books, and though he died in 1996, there was a previously unpublished book of his that was published last year titled Following Jesus: Finding Our Way Home in an Age of Anxiety. (Which is next on my reading list and sounds like exactly what we need right now! Perhaps that will be the start of a future reflection.)
A friend who knew I’ve been reading Nouwen gave me a CD made from a cassette recording of a talk Nouwen gave at a religious education conference in Anaheim, CA in 1975 titled The Christ-Memory In Our Lives. Henri Nouwen has a unique perspective and understanding of memories. He explains that the memory of Jesus is not just a memory of his time on Earth but also a healing memory, a memory that sustains us in the present, and a memory that guides us into the future.
Nouwen explains that the memory of Jesus is sustaining because his spirit is alive in us. Sealed by the Holy Spirit as Christ's own forever, his memory is our hope and guide for each day as we live into being followers of Jesus. It speaks out in expectation, calling us back to the source and into deeper love. This same spirit of the presence of God makes us aware that Jesus is the one who was and is and is to come. In this Great Mystery we are fed and hungry at the same time, longing for God who has come and who is still to come. The Spirit makes us alert, watchful and awake so we can start seeing with new eyes and hearing with new ears the beginning of something new - the beginning of joy amidst sorrow and the hope for humanity to come to greater fulfillment.
It was a delight to listen to Henri Nouwen’s voice after reading his words in print, and hearing him speak with an endearingly self-deprecating sense of humor. At one point he laughed and noted that we can’t do this work without God. We live this memory through the grace of God and through the Holy Spirit our advocate. We live this memory in prayer. “In all the prayers we pray, [he says] we are witnessing to the call to be a Christian who is a living memory of Jesus Christ.” This prayer is as new as Nouwen’s new book and as old as St. Paul writing to the Christians in Ephesus, (Ephesians 3:16-18) saying “I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.”
As Christians, we are living memories of Christ therefore we carry that healing memory, that sustaining memory, and that guiding memory with us in the living of each new day. We have a choice to live that memory with each present moment and hold it as a guiding memory with a vision for today and for the future. We then are participating in a memory, in and out of time, that always has been and will be in motion - seeking us and inviting us to seek God, encouraging us to keep on keeping on, rest in God, and be renewed to continue engaging with God’s beloved creation in the work of building the Kingdom of God.
The Christ-Memory asks us to be a healer, a sustainer, and a guide. To be a living memory of the Servant Christ who washed the feet of his disciples, taught and fed them, and gave up his life for love of them. Bringing atonement, literally an at-one-ment, which as Richard Rohr so aptly states “It is and always has been about love from the very beginning.”
We are living in interesting times to say the least. Amid suffering, and worry, and grieving losses big and small we try to keep hope, in expectation for this pandemic to end and for us to return to work, school, church, visiting friends and family, and other activities interacting in the community as we had been doing only recently. It is hard to be patient, we worry about our health and the health of loved ones, and we are all indeed suffering.
Henri Nouwen had great respect for the French author Simone Weil who wrote in her notebooks “Waiting patiently in expectation is the foundation of the spiritual life.” Without patience our expectation degenerates into wishful thinking. Patience comes from the word patior, which means “to suffer.” The first thing that Jesus promises is suffering: 'I tell you . . . you will be weeping and wailing .. . and you will be sorrowful.' But he calls these birth pains. And so, what seems a hindrance becomes a way; what seems an obstacle becomes a door; what seems a misfit becomes a cornerstone. Jesus changes our history from a random series of sad incidents and accidents into a constant opportunity for a change of heart. To wait patiently, therefore, means to allow our weeping and wailing to become the purifying preparation by which we are made ready to receive the joy that is promised to us."
We have daily reminders especially at this time that there are many reasons for weeping and sleepless nights, anger and deep sadness, and grief. What we also have is that seed of hope in Christ, the love of God, and the Spirit’s promise that “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:7).
There’s a meme that’s been going around on social media that says “The church is not empty, the church has been deployed.” It may feel like “well, we haven’t been deployed very far past the driveway the past few weeks!” but we are deployed to practice a more patient and forgiving love within our own families. We’re deployed every time we go out to the store and interact with other drivers, shoppers, and workers, and we’re deployed to a deeper love as a living memory of the healing, sustaining, guiding Christ Memory by denying ourselves what we want: gathering as a faith family in our church to celebrate Holy Week and Easter and the celebration of Eucharist and flowers and color and music, visiting with family and friends at the table and by the firepit, and the opportunity to get out of the house and interact with God’s beloveds, (I am really missing water aerobics at the Y) but instead staying home, washing our hands for the 1,000th time, and “waiting patiently in expectation.” And by choosing, daily, to let our lives be prayers to God: living memories of the Servant Christ, deployed to love our neighbors as ourselves and protect the least of these. We’re all in this together, and the church has been deployed.
It will soon be Easter Sunday and this year, perhaps more than we’ve felt in past years, there will be loss mingled with the joy of the Resurrection. Though we’ll celebrate apart physically we are together spiritually, bittersweet yet perhaps more deeply connected to each other than ever -- and the Alleluia is coming.
I’ll close with this poem, A Coming Alleluia, written by the Rev. Erika Takacs.
They say there will be no Easter this year. No hats.
No lilies to fill a bright room with a fanfare of pollen.
No garden, no angel, no victory.
They say that our journey born in sackcloth and ashes will lead us at last
And so we sit worried that the tomb, this year, will be found, for once, still full.
That Mary and the others will leave with their spices
and come back home with nothing.
That this year the women will finally end their work – anoint and then
Ssh. Be still.
Do you not hear her?
Clucking close by like an old mother hen, brooding and sighing and
stretching her wings?
Fear not, she says, for I did it before – in the silence
in the dark
in a closed and locked room in a world that had known only death.
Did I not once prove once for all
that there is nothing you can do, no decision you can make
(for good or for ill)
that can stop me from rising? Amen.
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