Remembering to Remember

Standing in the liminal space between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of man, the true believer often finds himself wrought by two seemingly conflicting realities.  On the one hand he knows he is the creation of the one true God, redeemed by the God-man Jesus who is the Christ, and sanctified by the Holy Spirit through the sacraments of the Church.  On the other hand he knows far too well that he is made to die, is ruined by his own feet of clay, and far too frequently prefers the company of demons over that of the angels.

Precisely because we know we have both the capacity for sin and the promise of a share in the life of the All-Holy Trinity, we live life standing on a sacramental rampart between the world of the seen and the world of the unseen.  In that space where we experience the inaugurated kingdom that is not yet consummated, we see good battling evil.  We see that the world is not merely collections of things that are observable, and we believe that heaven is not merely some distant utopia.  We know by sacramental faith that this world — which is sustained and sanctified by the Holy Spirit — is both teeming with angels and saints as well as littered with demons and sinners. 

Unfortunately, there are far too many of us in this post-Lenten, post-Pascha time period that seem to forget how much and how often heaven really does reach out and touch our life on earth.  As the long hours of sacrifice and prayer during the 40 days of Lent are finished off with an Octave of celebration and restfulness, our hearts tend to drift back toward those things which we think are “familiar” or “important” at some technocratic level.  The problem with this mindset is that it tends to feed the growing cultural belief that Christians, especially sacramental Christians, are not very serious about their faith, which, in turn, makes it easier for the world to reject the existence of God, the fact that Jesus rose from the dead, and the reality that the Holy Spirit is far more than an expression of the combined “feelings” of those who adhere to some ancient spiritualistic archaeology.

So as we move beyond Lent and Easter toward Pentecost, it is important to remind ourselves to remember that God became incarnate, that He lived — and lives — among us, and that a sacramental life in the Church is our means of reaching out toward heaven as much it reaches in toward us.  More specifically, this is the perfect time in the liturgical calendar to remember that the Eucharist is the apex of the sacramental life, acting as the ongoing reminder that this pure gift of God’s love is our very real access to a very personal God.

Participation in the Eucharist, therefore, provides both the path and the very material along that path that we need to keep remembering who created us, what is our purpose, when we discern His will for us, where do we find Him, why we seek Him and how do we remain with Him.  Keep in mind, however, that this kind of remembering is not the same as reminding ourselves to complete a task at work or home.  And it is not the kind of sentimental remembering we do when looking at photos, listening to music, smelling a fragrance, savoring a meal or dusting off a forgotten treasure from a trip long ago. 

This kind of remembering is different.  It is drenched with the divine since we know that “God became man so that man might become a God” (cf. St. Athanasius, De Incarnatione or On the Incarnation 54:3, PG 25:192B).  It is the kind of remembering that gives us the balance between being caught up in otherworldliness or from being dragged down by human self-centeredness.

Since this divine remembering forms the foundation of that so-called sacramental rampart, and therefore a path by which the human transverses the divine, the Church has made sure to include it as a portion of the Eucharistic prayers called the anamnesis (a transliterated Greek word that basically means “to put in mind again”).  These prayers are the stepping stones in the process where the human transverses the divine (which is, perhaps, our own personal glimpse into the hypostatic union). 

As it written in the 1962 Roman Missal:

Who, the day before He suffered, took bread into His Holy and venerable hands, and having lifted up His eyes to heaven, to Thee, God, His Almighty Father, giving thanks to Thee, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to His disciples, saying: Take and eat ye all of this: For this is My Body.  In like manner, after He had supped, taking also into His holy and venerable hands this goodly chalice, again giving thanks to Thee, He blessed it, and gave it to His disciples, saying: Take and drink ye all of this: For this is the Chalice of My Blood, of the new and eternal testament: which shall be shed for you and for many unto the remission of sins. As often as ye shall do these things, ye shall do them in remembrance of me.

As it is written in the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom:

On the night when He was delivered up, or rather when He gave Himself up for the life of the world, He took bread in His holy, pure, and blameless hands, gave thanks, blessed, sanctified, broke and gave it to His holy disciples and apostles, saying: Take, eat, this is my Body which is broken for you for the forgiveness of sins.  Amen.  Likewise, after supper, He took the cup, saying: Drink of it all of you; this is my Blood of the new Covenant which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.  Amen.

By recalling what happened on that night Jesus was betrayed, by contemplating that His sacrifice was historically grounded, by accepting that His sacrifice is being re-presented in the now, and by faithfully reasserting that a future return to fullness with Him is possible, we are, in fact, putting in our minds again that we are both human and heavenly creatures.  This divine remembering is a mystical reality that joins the past, the present and the future into one special view that gives us the strength to face one more desolate day on top of that sacramental rampart in the liminal space between God and the world.

Thomas Colyandro is a professor for Catholic Distance University and the author of two books, including: The Judas Syndrome: Seven Ancient Heresies Return to Betray Christ Anew. He is completing a certificate from the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies at Cambridge University, and already holds masters’ degrees in divinity and theology from the University of St. Thomas School of Theology at St. Mary’s Seminary in Houston, Texas, a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin, and a certificate from the Harvard-MIT Public Disputes Program.

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