Maundy Thursday ~ Eat, Pray, Love, Remember
A film came out quite recently, starring the ever vivacious Julia Roberts. Entitled Eat, Pray, Love, it is a classic Romantic Comedy, described in various blurbs thus:
“A married woman realizes how unhappy her marriage really is, and that her life needs to go in a different direction. After a painful divorce, she takes off on a round-the-world journey to “find herself”. In her travels, she discovers the true pleasure of nourishment by eating in Italy; the power of prayer in India, and, finally and unexpectedly, the inner peace and balance of true love in Bali.”
Don’t worry – I’m not going to bore you with details of the film, because it is the title of the film that I am most interested in this evening.
‘Eat, pray, love’.
It might remind you, as it did me, of a line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, in which disturbed Ophelia says to Laertes:
“There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance; pray, love, remember: and there is pansies. that’s for thoughts.”
“Pray, love, remember”.
One wonders if the writers of the film had Shakespeare in mind when they came up with “Eat, Pray, Love”.
But it occurred to me that the meaning and purpose of this evening, if not of all life, can be summed up by those four words put together:
“Eat, pray, love, remember”.
For we are here this evening to eat, to pray, to love, and to remember.
We are here to eat the meal of Christ – Christ the Passover lamb, who on this night took the Passover tradition in which the slaughtered lambs of the Exodus were remembered, and made the ritual his own and our own. And in doing so he made us, God’s, again. Christ took bread and wine and said “this is me”. Eat and drink of me, now, and forever. Thus while we do not eat much – a mere morsel of sacrifice - the eucharist is a meal – ‘mass’ means meal, and eat it we should, and eat it will shall. And when we do, it is as though we are the ones consumed – consumed into the body of Christ himself. For we, in the heritage of those twelve gathered around him in his ministry and at the Last Supper – we are partakers of the very same body of Christ as he offered them, and we are here and now part of the body of Christ that stretches across time and space, encompassing all who have responded to the call of discipleship.
So we come to eat – to consume and to be consumed.
And we also come to pray. We don’t have to pray here and now – we can pray anywhere any time. We have the Lord’s Prayer to keep in our soul’s pocket – memorized, readily available, useable in any time or place. Or we can pray as we like, unuttered, inarticulate mumblings as we walk the streets or encounter a sudden fear or delight.All this is possible, made so through the death and resurrection, and intercession of Christ, through whom we have direct access to the father – formally and informally.
I was at a very formal service this morning – the Royal Maundy Service. Perhaps you saw it on the telly. Perhaps you saw Jessica and I on the telly - we were sitting only a few feet away from the Queen, who happens to be 85 today. The music was stunning, the prayers very formal, but the whole event very moving indeed. It was a very formal expression of regal humility, the giving of alms in response to our Lord’s Last Supper commandment to love one another. Assistants, handing out the Maundy money wear towels around themselves, symbolic of the towel taken up by Christ to wash Peter’s feet.
And tonight we are here somewhat formally. And we are here on this night, and we have come here. And we have come here to pray. To pray with and for each other – to bring before God on a night when we recall the beginnings of Christ’s sufferings – to bring before him the sufferings of the world, and to give thanks, especially this evening, for the gift of Holy Communion as a remembrance of all that Christ has done for us. And we might note that tomorrow – Good Friday – is the day when we focus on and recoil from the physical suffering of Christ, the Scourging, the Via Dolorosa, Golgotha. Yet today is not so much about physical suffering, but about emotional suffering. And you don’t need me to tell you that that is very real today. For Jesus, emotional suffering is found in his knowing what is to come – the anticipation of the physical suffering. It is also found in betrayal and denial, both of which are very painful indeed. When Jesus finally hauled himself up the Via Dolorosa he was not only physically wrecked, he was emotionally exhausted: exhausted by what his friends were willing and able to do when the going got tough.
We can’t imagine what it must be like to be betrayed unto death – although others have known this in various war times and zones. And we cannot imagine what it must be like to be disowned in the way Peter disowned Christ – although many have known this, in various extreme situations. So as we confront the emotional and physical suffering of Jesus, and as we confront our own physical or emotional suffering – or that of our friends or loved ones – and that of the world - we can do no less, and no more, than turn to prayer. And we have come here tonight to do just that. Thus our eating and our praying become one and the same.
And we have come to show love – love for Christ, whose sacrifice and offering we revere and honour. We come to take part and we come to express gratitude and we come to share in fellowship with him and with each other. There is something special about our Agape meal fellowship of last night – it’s special for various reasons, one of which is perhaps that we do it so rarely – an annual event. But in it we share authentic fellowship, authentic in that it carries us right back to those early love-meals at which the first, persecuted, frightened Christians, remembered what Jesus did and enacted his words and deeds in the context of an evening meal among friends, behind closed doors. There is something slightly historical – a frissance of antiquity in it. But there is a greater authenticity, which is found in the meaning of agape – it is a somewhat informal love feast, at which our communion with each other is fresh and real in ways that no matter how loving, or reverential we are at the altar, it is not quite the same. Yet it is possible, here and now, for our eating, our praying, and our loving to become one and the same in the formality of this hour.
And then there is the remembering, which is particularly important tonight. For just as we might remember our wedding day, or the day on which a loved one died, on any and every day – such events remain with us forever - there are also the anniversaries, of birth, marriage and death, which mark out our own personal liturgical cycles of praying, loving and remembering. For while it is true we can celebrate communion any or every day, tonight is the anniversary, and so it is cause of special remembrance and celebration. Tonight’s eucharist is just the same as - identical even - to others – yet it is different. Just as there is paradox in bread and wine being body and blood, there is paradox in this evening being the same yet different. The bread and wine of communion are the same as any other bread and wine, yet they are different. Tonight’s eucharist is the same as any other, yet it is different. Jesus Christ is the same as any other man, yet he was and is different. Such are the beautiful, powerful, paradoxes of our faith and life. And we gather here this evening to remember that – to remember all that Christ did, and to bring to remembrance – again – his saving love made new every day for us.
So it is, that our eating, our praying, our loving and our remembering become one and the same. And they are the reason – it is the reason - that we are here, together, this evening.
‘Eat, pray, love, remember’ – the twenty-first, the seventeenth, and the first centuries meet in these words. And they all converge on Jesus Christ, the saviour of the world in this and every age.
The Rev'd Dr Gordon Giles, St Mary Magdalene, Enfield, 21/04/11