This is what happened to me last Saturday. We had a Eucharist for the Oecumenical Group in Switzerland, which has a ‘day out’ each year. As host, I was invited to preach. As I was getting ready and moving through the church I greeted one of my priest friends from the Old Catholic Church. Although of German origin, she is now working with the ‘Old Catholics’ in Switzerland. As I greeted her, she smiled with a kind of ‘pained’ smile. It seemed to me to be one of those smiles you give when you have to smile, but don’t really feel like it. Coming back down the aisle, I said ‘hello’ again, to receive a similarly restrained response.
So now I was worried. My mind went back to the last time that we had met. It was at the Archdeaconry Conference in May. We were talking about a big fire that had recently happened in a shop our area and what had caused it. I said something like “This is not in the best of taste, but I have a friend who says that when a fire is lit by the owners for the purpose of claiming the insurance, he calls it a ‘Jewish Renovation’”
My friend was shocked. Coming from Germany with the history of the Holocaust behind them, she said ‘You can’t say that! It’s terrible. We wouldn’t even think in such ways now!’ Immediately the cultural difference struck me. Of course, living in Australia where there is not much contact with holocaust survivors, it is possible to see a mild kind of humour in the comment, but not to take it much further. In Australia the quip would be taken as being in mild ‘bad taste’.
But in Europe, the significance of what I had done wrong was brought home to me by my friends strong reaction. After all, I was speaking to a person whose country has spent the last 70 years trying to make amends for what it had done, and for which anti-Semitism is such a significant cultural factor in their lives. Everyone of good will tries to avoid it or giving the impression of being anti-Semitic. This is such a serious matter that the mild humour of a bad taste joke cannot be brought into the public sphere.
I was well and truly brought into the realities of European life, and well and truly chastened.
When my friend offered a restrained greeting, I thought ‘Maybe she is still reserved toward me because of my comment’. During the preaching, I was still aware of this event when my friend stood up and left the Church! “Oh no!’ I thought. “This is serious!” So I just had to keep going, but all through the Eucharist I wondered what had happened and what I should do about it.
As the congregation was filing out of Church, I took my friend aside. I said “You know, I remember the last conversation we had at the conference about anti-Semitism. When you did not smile much at me in the beginning, and when you went out, I thought it might have something to do with that! I’m sorry if it did!’ She replied “No! I was just feeling sick. I had forgotten about the conversation. I am German, you know, I speak my mind, and when a matter is successfully resolved, I forget about it. We are friends after all. “
In thinking about this event the first word that came to me was ‘anamnesis!’ Now for the explanation. When a person had committed a crime in Ancient Israel (and in modern policing today) the suspect was taken to the ‘scene of the crime’ and the story of the crime was told to them. Because they already had a ‘memory’ of what they had done, the revisiting the scene of the crime and the retelling of the story make them ‘remember’ the crime in such a vivid way as to make the events which happened in the past become ‘real’ again in the present. The word that is used for this in the New Testament is ‘anannesis’ (an=not amnesis=forgetting) which translates the Hebrew zikkārôn (memorial). So in Church last Saturday, I certainly had a moment of ‘anamnesis’ in the classical and powerful sense of the word: making present again events that had happened in the past.
In the Eucharist, what I experienced was the judgement of God in the ‘anamnesis’. This is a factor in every Eucharist. At the beginning we say ‘Lord have mercy’ as we approach God, and ask for the thoughts of our hearts to be cleansed. Before there can be ‘peace with God’ we are aware of our sin, and confess what it is that we have done and not done.
But the Eucharist is much more than that. The anamnesis is also a bringing into the present the never ending love of God for us. In the Eucharist, we do the repeatable part of our baptisms by becoming aware of our sin and dying to it, and then showing forth the new life of Peace with god and one another. So in each of our lives outside the Eucharist, and as we were being formed as Christians, we learned what it meant to be forgiven, what the acceptance of everyone at the ‘welcome table’ means. These events ate part of the anamnesis too. It is not all sin and gloom. But if we have not had any experiences that we can ‘remember’ if Christian life has just been one long act of unconscious repetition of going to church, without any genuine anamnesis of judgement or forgiveness then the significance of the act of Baptism, or of Eucharist will be lost on us, and these sacraments will be robbed of their power.
That is the unity that God has made, which we ought not to put asunder. Catholic minded people tend to emphasise the power of god, and the objectivity of the sacrament (that despite what we do, God is faithful and covenants to be present with us when we do them). Protestants tend to emphasise the human ‘assent’ side of the sacraments and say that unless there is human participation in the Sacraments, they are robbed of their power. To fall on one side or other of these two sides of the ‘one sacramental coin’ splits the unity between liturgical life and extensive life in the world. We need the liturgical life to tell us what is going on in our lives in the world. We need our living of the baptismal life (dying-entombment-rising) in the world to bring to the liturgy so that our anamnesis of judgement and forgiveness will be real.
That is what happened after the Eucharist with my friend. A ‘confession’ on my part and ‘assurance of forgiveness’ on hers restored my inner ‘peace’ and outer right ordering of relationships ‘shalom’. Within the liturgy, and around it I experience sacramentally, and in ‘extensive life’ what it means to be a Christian, focused around the central act of the Eucharist, anamnesis.