Exodus 12:14-20 | Luke 22:7-23

Different Christian groups, you’ve probably noticed, can be quite different. Within Australia, we have a wide variety of Christian churches, worshipping God in their different way, with different music, and styles of prayer, different understandings of the Bible, different buildings… even different types of tea after the service. Even here in Roseville Uniting Church, our 9:30 and 5:30 services look pretty different.

Look around the world there are a myriad of denominations. Highly liturgical catholic cathedrals. Orthodox churches closely entwined with their communities. Pentecostal enthusiasm. Worship services that run most of the day. Casual gatherings. So many different ways of being together as God’s people.

And if you turn to history, the variety gets greater still. A visitor from another world would surely struggle to see how it is that we all name ourselves as part of the same faith.

And of course, the thing that connects us, in the deepest sense, is that we are all seeking to understand and follow Jesus, and to worship the God whose reign he proclaimed. We differ in how we understand him, and an how we respond, but we seek to follow in a way that makes sense to us, in our time and place and culture and subculture.

And there are a few practices that we share, more or less, across the whole spectrum of Christian practice. Baptism is one – though of course we don’t all agree on how it should be done. The Lord’s Prayer.

And the meal that we celebrate today. Communion.

Or “The Lord’s Supper”, or “Mass”. Different names. Different styles. But somehow it is still something that we share.

So I wanted today to look at it. To read the story of the last supper, as recorded by Luke, that we remember when we share this meal.

And to read back, to the story of passover, with which it is so intimately connected.

And whenever I read the story of the last supper, that we remember in this meal, I find myself wondering why it is that we have made this such a fundamental part of Christian practice.

And it seems that it is simply that Jesus says “do this in remembrance of me”.

Strange words to say, at what must have been a strange meal. “Eat this to remember me,” he tells them. Why does he ask them to remember, when he is still amongst them?

Sureka, as you know, travels a lot for her work. And she will quite often ask me “do you miss me yet”. The thing is, she asks that question before she leaves. Often even a couple of days before she leaves. And I’m afraid I may be a little to literal – I normally reply “you’re still here”.

Can you hear the disciples, when Jesus says “do this in remembrance of me”, whispering to each other “he’s still here”?

But Jesus knew that they would need to remember. And in a way, remembering starts before the loss. It starts in the taking in, paying attention to, every detail.

And I guess we all know that remembering works best when there is something to connect the memories to. We all know the way that a sight, or a sound, or a smell, can bring a past event clearly to mind. An old song reminds us of where we were – or what we were studying when we listened to that album on loop.

So Jesus’ gift was the power of a symbol, a meal that carries with it memory, and with memory, meaning beyond words. It recalls the poetry of sacrificial love, of a meal shared even with the one who would betray him, the one who would deny him, the many who would scatter.

And for those first friends, this meal was already one of remembering. It was, the gospel tells us, the passover meal. Passover was a whole week – eight days, in fact, beginning and ending on the Sabbath, and we aren’t exactly sure what the meal was that they were sharing. But the whole of passover was an act of remembering.

But perhaps you, like me, find the story this meal remembered, the story of the passover, a little hard to make sense of.

For the story, as told in the Hebrew scriptures, in our Old Testament, is one of violence. And it is a story in which the greatest act of violence is one done by God.

The people have been enslaved in Egypt, and they cry out to God to be set free. And so God strikes Eygpt with disaster upon disaster, until this final act, in which we read that God decides to kill the first born child of every household in Egypt.

Every household, except those of God’s people.

Even though all power lay in the hands of the Pharoah – as the musical “Joseph” puts it, “no one had rights or a vote but the king” – every family would lose a child.

It’s an image that jars with our understanding of God. At least, I hope it does. It should.

Perhaps it helps to know that, though we have many contemporary records from Egypt – they did write a lot of things down – there is no record outside the Bible of this tragedy. It’s hard to argue from absence, but few scholars see this as a historical event, except those who hold a literal reading of the Bible.

In which case perhaps it is right that we pay attention to the thing that the story points us towards. For the story of the passover is not really about those who died, but about those who didn’t.

It isn’t remembered for the death and suffering, but for the fact that God held back. It’s there in the name, it is the passover; death and suffering passed over.

And it is remembered for the freedom that it led to. This is, if you like, the foundational myth of the people of Israel. And like all such myths, like the stories of the first fleet, or of the Anzacs, or of the dreamtime, it layers meaning upon history so deeply that the history becomes blurred, or even lost.

At passover, God’s people remembered, and gave thanks, for God’s works of salvation, for God calling them to be the people of God, to be a light to the nations, blessed to bless all the people of the earth. They remembered God bringing them out of slavery, and into the freedom of living lives in the Shalom of God, as the people of God, as a living witness to the grace and power of God.

And surely that too is the memory that Jesus wanted his friends to hold.

That they would remember, through the blur of an act of violence, that the God’s hand is held back. That Jesus does not call on legions of the heavenly host to slay those who oppose him. That God does not strike down those who stand against God’s reign.

That God’s reign does not, after all, depend upon the death of the other. Safety and security do not come by genocide of your enemy. A peaceful home does not come through violence or coercion.

So today we share this meal, and we share it with so many who are so different from us.

And we remember.

So lets try to remember the right things.