Every week, my ministry assistant combs the church database and sends me the names of people from the congregation who are celebrating birthdays and wedding anniversaries. I contact them during the week, often on the very day, usually by email or text, sometimes with a phone call, and wish them well. Most people receive these blessings with gratitude, sometimes surprise.
Others never respond. It makes me wonder if it was a bittersweet anniversary. Maybe they are hurt that they heard from me and not from their parents or children. Maybe their wedding day was, in fact, the happiest day of their marriage.
Anamnesis is the Greek word for the liturgical rehearsal of Jesus’ ministry in the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving, or Eucharistic Prayer. This is the prayer in which we consecrate the bread and wine to be for us the Body and Blood of Christ. In the Sacrament, we remember God’s faithful presence to Jesus — how God did not allow death to be the final judgment upon him but instead raised him from the dead and vindicated his ministry of grace, acceptance, forgiveness, love, and justice.
By virtue of our baptism into Christ, at the Lord’s Supper we also remember God’s faithful presence to us — how God will not allow sin, failure, dying, and even death to be the final word on our lives either.
But these promises, based on God’s faithfulness in the past, are only experienced and received once again in the present through anamnesis — that is, if they are remembered. Forget to remember, forget the past faithfulness, and soon we forget the promises of the future which are the basis of our hope in the present.
There are some things we don’t want to remember — things we would rather forget, perhaps because we’re ashamed, or perhaps because some things evoke too much pain. Maybe to remember them calls us to an obligation we don’t want to fulfill. But whatever we refuse to remember can’t be transformed by God’s grace. It remains shameful and painful, we avoid responsibility and can’t grow spiritually, and our past does not experience God’s redemption.
This week marked the one-year anniversary of a disclosure in my family of origin that fundamentally shifted my ground of identity. It has passed without any commemoration, no anamnesis by anyone except for me. My relatives whose ground also shifted a year ago seemed surprised when I reminded them of this anniversary. Far from remembering, they appear to have forgotten.
I have not forgotten. I don’t imagine my experience is more painful than theirs. It might appear that way since they have chosen not to commemorate the disclosure. I appear to be the only one dealing with the grief of loss and questioning the meaning of my past. I don’t do this because I am more courageous than they are, or because my pain is greater than theirs.
I do it because I believe in redemption.
If weekly celebrations of the Lord’s Supper have done anything for me, they have deposited — with each piece of bread and gulp of wine, within my very being — the conviction that pain remembered will be transformed into joy.
But that transformation requires anamnesis.
What I’ve learned this past year about loss, confusion, grief, and pain, is that it can be a very lonely journey. Few people are willing to take it, though everyone has occasion.
The famous words of the Psalms — “Though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil for you are with me, O LORD” — have become personal on this anniversary, for more often than not, God was the only one with me. And who better to accompany me than someone familiar with suffering alone? Someone misunderstood by his mother? Someone betrayed by a friend? Someone deserted by the family he adopted? Someone who cried out to know why his father had abandoned him?
But also, who better than someone who is present to accompany me because his life was redeemed, and whose testimony is the guarantee that all who would follow in his way will experience the same redemption?
This, then, is my hope — not that anyone in my family will remember a year from now how our childhood memories have become soiled like a photograph surviving a fire; but rather, that in a year’s time I may see and experience the redemption that follows honestly grappling with the pain of loss, the redemption that follows anamnesis.