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Remembering Tragedy … Eucharistically

I was on my way to breakfast with Jared Anderson when he called. “A plane has been hijacked…”

When he pulled into the parking lot, we both walked briskly into the restaurant and stood transfixed, with a dozen others, on the TV screen in the waiting area. We joined the collective shock and horror of the civilized world.

Most of us will never forget September 11. The question for followers of Jesus is, “How will we remember?”

“Eucharistic remembrance” is what theologians call the practice of recalling tragedy through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It has several implications for the work of remembering well. Here are five:

Eucharistic Remembrance means that in remembering tragedy we also remember that…

1. We have a suffering God.

The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is not a God who is distant from our pain. In the Old Testament, the psalmist declared that God is near the brokenhearted. In Jesus, we see that God became the brokenhearted. Jesus became a man, walked as we walk, suffered pain and rejection and loss. His cry on the cross is the cry of every human in pain: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Christ took on Himself the suffering of our world; He drank the cup to its bitter end. Why? Not so that we would not have to suffer, but so that our suffering now becomes a way of knowing Christ. He shared our suffering so that in our suffering we can know that God is with us.

2. We were enemies of God.

It is easy to forget that we belong in the company of sinners. We are not excluded from the rebel race that insisted on life apart from God. We treated God like our enemy.

When pain is inflicted on us by someone else, we quickly find ways to show how we are not like them. And while the degree of wickedness is certainly not the same, the scope of sin’s reach affects us all. We are not, as Miroslav Volf has said, excluded from the company of sinners. Hatred, violence, lust, selfishness, pride and more are found in our hearts, too. 

3. Christ died for sinners.

But the Gospel doesn’t stop there.  

“While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us…” Even though we insisted on treating God like our enemy, God kept pursuing us to make us His children. All of us.

This means that the worst of sinners is not excluded from the grace of God. The most vile criminal, the most wicked human, is not outside the bounds of God’s love. It was for them– the group you have separated yourself from, the company you think you are different from, the “enemy” that you have names and shamed– that Christ died.

4. Forgiveness is the most explosive force in the universe.

Lots of people talk about forgiveness. But Christians hold it at the center of our Gospel proclamation. Forgiveness means that our sin is no longer the end of us. Forgiveness means our worst moments don’t define us. Forgiveness is the most explosive force in the universe because it turns dead ends into new beginnings; it takes the horror of Good Friday and leads it to the joy of Easter Sunday.

Because of the forgiveness we experience in Christ, we are able to extend this same scandalous forgiveness to others. Think of the Amish community who went to the family of the gunman who killed their daughters and gave gifts and pledged to care for them. This kind of forgiveness makes no sense if Jesus Christ has not risen from the dead.

5. Death is not the end.

Finally, to remember “eucharistically” is to know that for those in Christ, death is not the end. Death will not have the last word. The confession we say at the Lord’s Table is, “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.” Death begins the story; resurrection continues it; the Lord’s return is destination the narrative is moving toward– a day of restoration and renewal of creation and life.  

So, when we remember, we sit in the moment of grief. We enter it and let is wash over us. We confess that this day was not a good day. But we remember that it will not be the last day. All is not well, but it will not always be this way.

This is what it means to remember, as followers of the crucified and risen Christ, to remember eucharistically.