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Two empires go to war. One is incredibly powerful, one of the most successful Europe and western Asia has ever seen. Its soldiers are well-drilled and well-disciplined. Its kingdom stretches from the forests of ancient Britain to the sands of Egypt. Its capital is a marvel to behold. The other is small, even pathetic to look at: a wandering preacher with a rag-tag group of fishermen and farmers as his followers, hardly the stuff of legends. Yet, the worldviews of these two empires will clash and only one will emerge victorious.

What is it about the message of Jesus, out of all the competing philosophies of life, including that of the dominant Empire of the Day, the Roman, that his message emerged as the most influential one on that part of the world and then spread?

There are many factors, but one of them, is the power of memory.

In the time of Jesus, particularly in the Jewish tradition, which was his tradition of course, the power of memory was significant. When the people of Israel told the stories of their faith, when they celebrated the Passover and told the story of the escape from slavery in Egypt, it was as if they were there. The lamb of the Passover reminded them of the lamb sacrificed at the first Passover in Egypt. They remembered God’s promise to deliver them from slavery. They remembered their commitment to follow Moses through the wilderness on their journey to the promised land. They remembered, as Jewish people still do.

In the middle of the Passover Meal with his disciples, as the disciples are remembering the stories of their ancestors and reciting them again, Jesus does something new. “This is my body. This is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many,” meaning, “I am the sacrifice now. My sacrifice will break the power of sin and death, my non-violence will break the cycle of violence; and every time you share in this meal, you will remember me.”

However, it’s not a static memory. The Jewish understanding of memory is that it is living. The past is present to them, as they remember.
“Do this in remembrance of me” are the words that every priest says as part of the Great Thanksgiving Prayer when blessing the bread and the wine of the Eucharist (Holy Communion). The challenge, though, is what you do with that remembering.

See the world differently. See other people as part of your community, as your brother or your sister. That is the challenge of remembering Jesus, his teaching, his life, and his sacrifice.

That’s why the message of Jesus triumphed over the violence of the ancient world including the dominant world-view of the Roman: his disciples remembered and the saw the world differently.

The Reverend Dr Theo McCall
School Chaplain