I am an Anglican to remember.
I don’t mean this statement in the sense that one might say, ‘it was a Christmas to remember’; that I, personally, am an Anglican of any ‘memorable’ quality. I mean it in the sense that I am an Anglican in order to remember. For me, ‘remembering’ is the beating heart of what we are, what we do, and what we are called to be for the sake of the world. I will offer here a sketch of three ways in which remembering constitutes our identity and our vocation as Anglicans.
- Remembering Christ
There is nowhere else to start. Christians remember Christ. We remember Christ in our preaching, in our rhythms of prayer, in the seasons of the Church, in our reading of Scripture, and in our liturgy and sacraments. We seek to encounter Him, to know Him; we strive to incline the orientation of our individual and communal lives toward Him. But we do not remember Christ in the deferential or nostalgic way we remember a monarch or affectionately remember a loved one. Neither is He remembered merely as the general ordering principle of our religious and spiritual life. Our remembering of Christ goes deeper.
This is clear in the eucharist, which for Anglicans and the ancient tradition of the church is the heart and height of our worship: ‘Do this in remembrance of me.’ This sacrament is the vantage point from which (and within which) we can discern the richness of Christian remembrance. The eucharistic liturgy is an anamnesis, a Greek word meaning remembrance, and what I mean to discuss here is how the whole liturgy is anamnetic, is remembrance in a particular sense that relates to the deepest meaning of creation and the deepest longing of the human heart.
Anamnesis is difficult to translate well into English. And for modern theologians (with our rationalism and late-modern subjectivism) it’s easy to imagine that it refers to a mental activity. We can be tempted to think that the eucharistic anamnesis is nothing more than a verbal and ritual recollection of Jesus’ acts or a ceremonialization of what we understand salvation to be. In a sense it is those things; but that overlooks the historical heart of the concept. Anamnesis, from Platonism through to early Christian thought, is about presence rather than absence. The ancient understanding of anamnesis was not a question of conjuring a memory of something altogether absent, but of communing truly with the thing we remember. So our liturgical ‘remembrance’ is not a leap of the mind to a distant reality. Christian ‘remembrance’ names the occasion of communion between the remember-ers and the remembered.
Communion with Christ is the end, or telos, of the liturgy; and this affects how Anglicans understand the end, or telos, of the human person. The eucharistic nature of the liturgy illuminates the Christological nature of our humanity. We are made for worship and praise, and we are made for union with God in Christ. The liturgy ‘remembers’, or recognizes, Christ as the homeland of all desire, and in the anamnesis of the sacraments we consummate the deepest longing of our nature: to know our Lord.
John Chrysostom, writing in the fourth century, expresses this sense of the eucharist as the place where the truest desires of our human nature – in its unity of matter, mind and spirit – encounter their fulfilment in Christ:
In order then that we may become [members of His flesh and His blood] not by love only, but in very deed, let us become commingled with that body. This takes place by means of the food which he has given us as a gift… It is for this reason that he has mixed up himself with us and has kneaded up his body with ours, namely, that we might be one with him as the body is joined with the head… And to show the love he has for us he has made it possible for those who desire, not merely to look upon him, but even to touch him and to consume him and to fix their teeth in his flesh and to be commingled with him; in short, to fulfil all their love.
Christ offers Himself not only to be acknowledged in the mind, but also embraced and consumed in the eucharist so that we become ‘members of His body’ (Eph. 5:30), ‘partakers of Christ’ (Heb. 3:14): ‘Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.’ (Jn. 6:56). Not wanting to raise the question of how Anglicans understand Real Presence, I will simply say that to remember Christ in the sacrament is to encounter Him truly. It is to be, as Chrysostom said, ‘commingled’ with Him in the ‘profound mystery’ (Eph. 5:32) of union. The mysterious union of the sacrament also causes us to ‘remember’ ourselves truly, to recognize that we begin and end in divine Love. This is the first and foundational sense in which ‘I am an Anglican to remember’: I remember Christ in the sacraments to truly unite with Him in the union that is our nature’s end.
- Remembering the Cosmos
The anamnetic quality of the liturgy is not only Christological; it’s also ontological. Our communion with Christ in the liturgy overflows its ritual bounds and shines an anamnetic light upon all of reality. Now, this sounds rather abstract, but stay with me.
The whole liturgy remembers the cosmos: it recalls and rehearses the logic (or little ‘L’ logos) of creation. Christianity understands creation as cosmos (as opposed to chaos) – as a beautiful order with an inner logic and end. Creation’s logic and end derive of and participate in Christ the Logos ‘through whom all things were made’ (Jn 1:3). Thus, the Greek fathers of the church spoke of the logoi of creation that reflect Christ the Logos. The order of the universe, as with the order of our human nature, though marred by sin, retains the iconographic character that sits at the heart of what it means to be a creature.
In our worship we explicitly acknowledge God as Creator – ‘blessed are you, Lord, God of the universe’ – and we implicitly affirm that the rhythms and realities of creation sing the song of adoration with us. We can see this as the seasons of the church move with the seasons of the earth, and in the way that creation is gathered in the anamnesis of the liturgy in bread and wine, water and oil, darkness and light. In the ways that our worship gathers and collaborates with the rhythms of nature, we affirm creation’s capacity to communicate theological truth in signs and symbols. This is grounded in creation’s ontological connection to Christ the Logos. And the fundamental connection between Christ and all of creation is fulfilled when the creatures of bread and wine are made capable by the Holy Spirit of bearing the presence of Christ Himself.
When we encounter our fellow creatures through the liturgy, we also encounter the truth of the created order in a uniquely heightened sense. In the liturgy we encounter the earthly symbols truly, at their deepest ontological orientation. The eucharist does not impose a pretend reality on the elements, but reveals creation’s deepest reason for being. Chrysostom’s friend and fellow bishop, Theodore of Mopsuestia, says that ‘(Our Lord) chose, therefore, very fittingly bread as food’.
We encounter bread, or oil, or the light in the eastern sky, most truly when we embrace these liturgically. This is what I mean by ‘remembering the cosmos’. We discover the truest meaning of creation when we remember – by body, intellect and spirit – the symbolic or ‘sacramental’ heart of all that is, seen and unseen; when we remember that creation, in its own way, bears Christ. This remembering of the cosmos goes deeper than mere mental recognition. If it is true that anamnesis means an encounter of presence, then we can say that in the liturgy that unites us to Christ – in Whom all things were made – we simultaneously commune with and enter most deeply into the truth and logic of the created order. Thus, I am an Anglican to remember, to recall and be recalled to, creation’s truest logic.
This affirms what theologians like to call a ‘sacramental ontology’. That is to say: a vision of the cosmos as fundamentally symbolic or iconographic; and not merely in a referential sense, but in a participatory sense. The symbol participates in what it symbolizes. This vision of reality takes seriously the Logos-Christology of John’s prologue along with the so-called proto-creed of Colossians which says that ‘all things’ are created in, through, and for Christ; that He is ‘before all things’, and ‘in Him all things hold together’ (Col. 1:15-20). This vision held sway in Christian thought through the apostolic, patristic, and medieval periods, and I am an Anglican for the sake of remembering this theological inheritance.
- Remembering for the sake of the world
The final point to make is that remembering is part of our missional vocation as Anglicans.
The Greek word anamnesis literally means ‘un-forgetting’. In one way, we could speak of the wound of sin as a disease of forgetting – a chronic amnesia that besets our minds, our bodies, and our wills. We do not remember our Lord, we do not remember how to hear creation speaking of Christ, we do not remember our own nature aright. This amnesia afflicts the fallen world we live in and everyone around us, and we constantly need God’s grace to wake us from its narcotic lullaby. The gospel of salvation that Christians have preached since the beginning is a great remembering; and in the sacraments God awakens and illuminates the sleeper. The anamnetic cure of the gospel is found not only in the (propositional) content of the faith, but also in its form: in the practices handed down from the earliest ages of the church. We are conformed to the truth we remember in our theologizing and in our liturgizing, our thinking and our worship.
We carry remembrance as our tradition: the un-forgetting of Christ, the un-forgetting of our true nature, the un-forgetting of creation’s doxology. And we inherit from this tradition the vocation of calling the world back to itself, its true self, and back to Christ. The vocation of remembering is thus related to the call of repentance; anamnesis calls forth metanoia. Remembering, or re-discerning, the call of the divine Word echoing in the deepest parts, the Church invites the world to join her vow: ‘I turn to Christ’.
Our liturgical and sacramental worship recalls us to Christ our origin and end, and it recalls us to a particularly Christian way of understanding reality; one that sees creation, including our own human nature, as a reality that speaks of and yearns for Him. Our practices, doctrines, rites, and the Christological worldview that sits beneath them, comprise the tradition of remembering that we have to offer. We remember on behalf of our forgetful race, and we have the mission of conspiring with the Holy Spirit to reignite the world’s longing for Christ the fount and fruition of all things.
Dr. Hanna Lucas is a teaching fellow at Durham University and at College of the Resurrection in Mirfield UK. If you’d like to know more about John Chrysostom and remembering, check out this conversation between her and Fr Thomas Sharp, one of our project coordinators:
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