Memory, Service and Love
Memory, Service and Love

Memory, Service and Love

Holy Thursday. Fr Euan Marley suggests that a life of loving service is an eternal liturgy.

Some years ago, a brother in our Order sadly developed severe dementia. The first sign of this was when he went on holiday. He left his priory, went to the station, which was nearby, after saying goodbye to some of the community. Ten minutes later, he came back into the priory, announcing that he was back. He had reached the station, forgotten why he came there, and because he had a suitcase, assumed that he was coming back from holiday. He was suffering from memory loss; but that is not the only one way of lacking knowledge. We might not have the knowledge in the first place, but knowledge once acquired has to be retained. Memory is the servant of knowledge. We are beholden to what we know and have to constantly bring that knowledge to the fore. Often enough that means acting on that knowledge.

The last supper is about memory. ‘Do this in memory of me’, says the Lord, but not in today’s Gospel. Today, or tonight, we have an account of Our Lord washing the feet of the disciples, rather than an account of the inauguration of the Eucharist gift of Christ’s presence. The Gospel of John can afford to miss out that narration because in Chapter Six of the Gospel, we have a clear and profound explanation of what the Eucharist is, the true bread from heaven, the bread of God which comes down and gives life to the world (John 6:31-32). Also John knows that he is writing to a people who see the last supper re-enacted every week.

I don’t doubt that the washing of the disciple’s feet happened, but equally I don’t doubt that it is recorded in this Gospel to bring out the meaning of the Eucharist in another way. We preserve the memory of the Eucharist by our lives, in the sacramental liturgy which we are all responsible for, but all life should be a liturgy. We must remember the last supper, but memory needs knowledge to act on. Above all we must remember that it is a new knowledge, something which we could not know for ourselves. This is knowledge of something new for us but it is what Christ knew and has given to us. This is exactly what John says. Christ knew that the hour had come but the knowledge, which we must hold onto is that ‘knowing that the Father had given all things in to his hands and that he had come from God and was going to God’, he gets up and begins to serve his disciples.

Through creation, we too come from God and go to God, but because the Father had given all things in to his hands, we are brought into something more than that. It is not just as a human being, created by God, that Christ comes from God and returns to him. In his divinity as the Son of the Father, it is also true that he comes from God and goes to him. By grace we are caught up into the eternal unchanging flow of the Trinity, a motion so perfect that it seems to us like mere stillness. It is the greatest of all journeys, even though the beginning and the end of it are one. In the Old Testament, the patriarchs are simply described as being gathered to their people when they die. Even Elijah being caught up to heaven in his chariot of fire, is still journeying in the sphere of creation. We are merely told that Elisha his servant ‘saw him no more’. Now something new has begun. We retain the memory of this through service. In the world, the servant serves a master, so that the master can be more fully a master, a Lord. Christ serves so that we can be more fully servants as he is, because with God, lordship and service are one. Christ asks, ‘Do you know what I have done for you?’. If we serve as he does, then we will know. If we understand that when we serve, it is Jesus the Lord serving within us, then we will not forget.

Readings: Exodus 12:1-8,11-14 | 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 | John 13:1-15

Image: detail from ‘Christ Washing the Disciples’ Feet’ by Benvenuto Tisi via Wikimedia Commons

fr. Euan Marley O.P. lives and works at Blackfriars, Cambridge.

Comments (1)

  • Frances Flatman

    Very helpful in a world of immediatism when we tend to pass on to the next thing. I particularly liked Euan’s emphasis on how we carry serving daily in our lives, so important for people to realise the connection with jesus.


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