Faith: The Triduum and Anamnesis: Keys to Easter
In our common way of thinking, when we say we "remember" something, it generally means we remember simple facts, events or people from the past. I "remember" my address growing up, my third grade teacher and making pyramids out of sugar cubes in fourth grade.
Some people are really good at remembering things from the past and talking about them in the present - we call them "storytellers." And a good storyteller knows exactly which details to include to "put us there" as an invisible observer.
But even about the best storyteller we do not believe that they make the past events present in such a way that we the listeners are also present to the event as an actor in the story. But in the Jewish (and Christian) mind frame, there is this stronger type of remembering, a liturgical remembering, that puts us in touch with a past event as if we were actually part of that event.
The word for this is "anamnesis," which in Greek means "remembrance." At the annual Jewish Passover meal at the time of Jesus, at a certain point, the youngest in the family would ask the eldest, "What is the meaning of tonight?" The eldest would then begin to tell the story of salvation history, all the way through the great exodus event from Egypt to Mount Sinai and the giving of the covenant with the 10 commandments.
Each household had to offer a lamb, and everyone had to eat the lamb. And here's the amazing thing: Each person at those Passover meals considered themselves as having been there and done that. Through this scripted meal, they renewed the covenant with God and became part of his people.
Now enter the person of Jesus Christ, a Jewish rabbi who knew the Passover ritual and had celebrated it with his family probably at least a couple dozen times. On the night before he died, he celebrated the Passover again - this time with his disciples.
But if we read the gospels of his life closely: He never finished the meal! Rather, he interrupts the script, begins a new covenant and makes himself the new lamb offered on the Cross the next day.
And he tells us to "eat" this new lamb and "drink" its blood. Then, on the Cross, he tastes the wine that had become vinegar, and declares, "It is finished." The "it" is not only our redemption purchased at the price of his blood, but also the finishing of the new Passover ritual that he instructs us to do "in remembrance" of him.
He can do this re-writing - or better, fulfilling - because he is God. However, Jesus does not do away with the "anamnesis" type of remembering - and early Christians knew that! They begin to celebrate this new Passover every Sunday - and it included the reality of the Cross and then the Resurrection.
All these three major history-altering events - The Last Supper, Jesus' death on the Cross, and His Resurrection - packed into one celebration of the "Lord's Day" in a way in which each of them could be present to receive the graces of those events and become part of God's covenant family.
As Christians, in addition to remembering these events every Sunday in fulfillment of what Jesus commanded, once a year we celebrate these events in beautiful liturgies over the course of "three days" called the "Triduum," which literally means "three days."
For us as Christians, these are the most important days of our existence! One could argue that no week has changed history more than this week.
Wherever you celebrate Easter this year, may you truly "remember" the Resurrection of Jesus and receive the graces He wants to bestow upon you!
Father Timothy Lange is pastor at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Hackensack and St. Agnes Catholic Church in Walker.