Sermon: “Good News for the Forgetful” (April 2, 2015)

Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“Good News for the Forgetful” (1 Corinthians 11:23-25)
Maundy Thursday: April 2, 2015
Dave Johnson

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

As human beings we tend to be forgetful. Each of us can remember times—some of us perhaps more than others—when we have forgotten something.

Have you ever experienced the anxiety of taking an exam and forgotten something that is on it—“I know this… why can’t I remember it right now?”—the anxiety increasing as the time ticks away toward having to turn in your exam. Have you ever forgotten to pay an important bill or forgotten that you were supposed to meet someone for lunch? Have you ever driven to the store and forgotten to buy the main item you intended to buy until you return home, or forgotten an important birthday or anniversary (although forgetting an anniversary is something that usually happens only once)?

The older we get the harder it becomes to remember things—too many bulging files of information for our little brains. Former Poet Laureate of the United States, Billy Collins, describes in his 1999 poem entitled Forgetfulness:

The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read, never even heard of,
as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now, as you memorize the order of the planets
something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue
or even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.

It is one thing to forget about something for an exam or the plot of a novel—it is something else entirely to forget about someone who loves you.

When I was in high school one of my favorite rock bands was a group from Scotland called Simple Minds. Once I was hanging out with friends in the school parking lot cranking a Simple Minds cassette—yes, cassette—on my boom box, and a teacher walked over and asked us whom were we listening to. “Simple Minds,” I replied, to which the teacher responded, “Simple Minds? How appropriate.” Their biggest hit was entitled, Don’t You (Forget About Me), from the 1985 hit movie The Breakfast Club, and in the chorus lead vocalist Jim Kerr sings:

Don’t you forget about me
Don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t
Don’t you forget about me

It is a very catchy song, and powerfully expresses the longing that we have not to be forgotten by those we love.

On Maundy Thursday we remember the Last Supper, when Jesus gave the “new commandment” to love one another, and also demonstrated that love by washing the disciples’ feet and instituting the sacrament of Holy Communion.

In this evening’s lesson from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians we have the earliest account of Jesus’ institution of Holy Communion:

“For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way he took the cup also, 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 Corinthians 11:23-25).

Jesus knows how forgetful we are, that we need to be reminded again and again and again in a tangible way that we are loved, absolutely unconditionally loved by God—and so Jesus twice emphasized, “Do this in remembrance of me.”

And not only does receiving Holy Communion remind us of God’s unconditional love for us, it is also a means by which we receive anew the grace of God.

In Article XXV of the Thirty-nine Articles in the back of The Book of Common Prayer we see that sacraments, referring to Holy Baptism and Holy Communion, are defined as “certain sure witnesses and effectual signs of grace, and God’s good will towards us, by the which he doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm our Faith in him” (872).

Everything in our lives is subject to change—health, relationships, opinions, jobs, on and on. Think about your life for a moment. What are some of the biggest changes you have experienced in your life? How many of those changes completely caught you off guard?

And yet, be that as it may, God’s grace towards us never changes—and in our ever-changing lives Holy Communion is a tangible reminder of God’s unchanging grace toward us.

At the Last Supper Jesus told his disciples, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13), and the next day he demonstrated that love by laying down his life for all of us on the cross, where he shed the precious river of his blood, which is anything but mythological, a river whose name indeed begins with L…Love.

In the Eucharistic Prayer that we will pray in a few minutes we are immediately pointed to the heart of the gospel, God’s immeasurable love for us as seen in Jesus’ death on the cross:

“Holy and gracious Father: In your infinite love you made us for yourself, and, when we had fallen into sin and become subject to evil and death, you, in your mercy, sent Jesus Christ, your only and eternal Son, to share our human nature, to live and die as one of us, to reconcile us to you, the God and Father of all… He stretched out his arms upon the cross, and offered himself, in obedience to your will, a perfect sacrifice for the whole world” (BCP 362).

A few years ago I was taking a long walk through an older section of Charlottesville, Virginia and came across a cemetery. As I scanned various tombstones one in particular caught my eye—it was small and had a little lamb sitting on the top. It was the grave of a young child, who was born in the summer of 1957 and died in the spring of 1960. The epitaph read, “Sleep on sweet baby and rest. We loved you so much but God loved you the best.”

At Holy Communion, we are reminded that God indeed has loved us the best, that Jesus gave his life not only for that little child, not only for his disciples, but also for you and me, for all of us—and we can all rest in that.

Moreover, when we receive Holy Communion we do so with empty hands, and we are reminded again of the unconditional love and unchanging grace God gives us anew in Jesus Christ, who reminds us, “Don’t You Forget about Me.”

So on this Maundy Thursday, be encouraged; for there is good news for the forgetful—the fellowship of the forgetful is also the fellowship of the forgiven.

And even when you have forgotten God, God has never forgotten you.

Amen.