I often wonder when reading the stories of Maundy Thursday and the last supper, whether despite what Jesus was saying to them the disciples actually understood what was going on. In Matthew’s account of things Jesus tells the 12 that his “Hour has come”. But in spite of that, Jesus spelling it out for them, did Jesus’ closest friends really believe that this was going to be the last time they ate together before he died.
I don’t think they did, I think that although Jesus was telling them that this was the end they still thought there was hope, that Jesus wasn’t going to have to die. You see the thing is that death is always a shock, it might come at the end of a long illness, it might be expected; but no one can tell the exact time or day when someone is going to die, and so there is always going to be an element of shock. Like I said in my Palm Sunday blog, someone is alive until they are not, and because nobody can tell the moment at which that switch will take place, we hope until the very end and when the end does come, we are shocked.
So what does the story of Maundy Thursday have to say to us about the journey of grief that Jesus and his disciples are yet to go on and the journeys of grief that we find ourselves on? Well, quite simply and as the title of today’s blog suggests I think it teaches about the importance of memories.
Memories, whether small or large, mundane or extraordinary, become things of such comfort when we start a journey of grief. “When someone you love becomes a memory, the memory becomes a treasure” as an unknown author puts it. Memories can be a shared thing and keep us connected to other people as we journey the road of grief together, defying geography and time. And memories protect us from a world where our departed relatives and friends are completely absent. Memories are essential to us first expressing our grief and then finding the strength to hope and live again.
In sharing Passover with his disciples, in having this last meal and telling his friends to remember him in a specific way, Jesus gives them a memory point to share together and connect their grief to. I would love to know what the Passover meal was like the year after Jesus died, were they together? Did they remember? Did discussion turn to their dear departed friend? I like to think that wherever the 12 were, they all remembered and were connected in their grief somehow.
Now obviously Jesus gave his friends a very particular way to remember him by, a way that we still share in today, but doing something in memory of someone who has died doesn’t necessarily need to be a particularly poignant thing. It could be a seemingly insignificant and small thing like a smile that looks like the person who has died, or a shared favourite song or a particular family event; it could be the simplest thing in the world but the point is that any of these things (and a whole host of others) could be things that we do in memory of someone. Before my mum died there weren’t any poignant conversations where we discussed what life would be like without her, and so there isn’t strictly something that I do “in memory” of her. But there are so many memories every day that act a points to connect us, that in essence I live every day in memory of her. Memories are incredibly powerful things.
In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban Harry first learns how to conjure a Patronus. In this scene, having met both a dementor and a boggart previously in the film, Harry is having extra lessons from Professor Lupin to help him fight both. In this scene the boggart (a shape shifter that takes on that which you fear most) has assumed the guise of a dementor (a creature that feeds off happiness leaving their victim with a sense of hopelessness and, if able to perform the dreaded kiss, no soul) and time after time Harry is attempting to fight off this monster by using the only spell that will work, a patronus (a spell made up of powerful happy feelings which takes the form of an animal). This is a scene that basically teaches us the lesson that memories, and specifically happy memories, are incredibly powerful and can be used to all sorts of ends. In the magical world Harry is taught that to beat fear and hopelessness he must focus on his happy memories and use them to his benefit. When he does this those happy memories fill him and become something that is strong enough to protect him and others.
So this Maundy Thursday as we remember Jesus, possibly by sharing in bread and wine and doing so in memory of him, this could be an opportunity for you to think about communion in a new way. Yes it is something we do to remember Jesus sacrifice on the cross, but we are also connecting ourselves to the grief that Jesus’ friends first felt. But today I also encourage you to think of what you could do in memory of someone you miss. It may be painful to remember these things at first, but if we allow them to fill us up they could become something that protects us and helps us smile again.