This Do in Remembrance of Me
Remembrance is not a word we use much. Tonight it's in our readings 3 times. Each Sunday we use it twice when our Lord bids us in the Words of Institution, "This do in remembrance of Me." The 19th century Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard said, "Life must be lived forward, but it can only be understood backward." The remembrance the Lord invites us to in this Supper is the way to do that.
Remembering is not the way. If you think "This do in remembrance of Me," means, "I'm to remember when," you're wrong. Think of Alan Jackson's song, "Remember When." He goes back down memory lane in his relationship with his wife. There's nothing wrong with that, but in going back you are removed from where you are to another place and time.
Remember when we went camping at McKinney Falls State Park and it got down to 29 degrees? Remember when we had a 12 foot Christmas tree? Remember when we had First Century VBS? Remember when you were confirmed, married, or buried your first loved one? Bitter or sweet, happy or sad remembering takes you back somewhere else away from where you are. Pejoratively you know what people call that? "Living in La-La land," "Not being in the present," "Resting on your laurels," "Living in the past."
Not all "remembering when" is that. I like to flip through pictures of when our kids were young. I like finding bulletins from my former parishes in my sermon files. Most of the time there is more sweetness than bitterness to remembering when. However, as I return from back then, as I return to the here and now, there's always a pang, a pain, always a realization that what I was remembering will never be again. It has passed never to return.
Remembering when can be painful. That is certainly true tonight. If all we're doing in the Lord's Supper is remembering when, to when do we jump back? We identify the time and place every time we proclaim the Words of Institution. They begin with, "Our Lord Jesus Christ, the same night in which He was betrayed."
You have memories like this of your own, don't you? Memories of painful times that you actually try not to remember, because if you do, watch out! Here comes tumbling one after another in kaleidoscopic fashion not just one pain, one horror, one hurt but an avalanche of them till you're buried in regret and sorrow.
We say, "On the night He was betrayed," and that takes us back to the upper room with the apostles gathered around Jesus only hours before He suffers. It takes us back to this and Jesus knows it. He says to the gathered apostles, "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer." Here comes the kaleidoscope of terrible pictures: bloody sweat in the Garden, betrayal, trails, beating, mocking, denying, crucifying. We're back there seeing our face on the sniveling Judas, our face on the blasphemous Peter, our mouth doing the spitting, our arms doing the slapping, our lips doing the sneering. Mel Gibson did this effectively in his movie The Passion. He played the soldier who held the nail as another pounded it in and through Jesus' tender, holy body.
This remembering is good because as we sing, "This I do merit." It was our sins that caused this. We're the necessity of all this. We're the must. When Jesus predicts, "The Son of Man must suffer many things," you should remember Him as saying, "The Son of Man must suffer many things because you fear, trust, and love people more than God." "The Son of Man must suffer many things because you lust after all things." "The Son of Man must suffer many things because God is mad at you for everything."
If remembering just takes us back this far, it's not far enough. The night Jesus was betrayed wasn't just the night our sins made the sinless Son of God suffer, it was the Passover. Remember when the Lord past over the homes of those who had painted their door frames with the blood of a lamb? Remember how they sat around dining on the body of that lamb secure that the Angel of Death wouldn't strike the first born in their homes even though they were every bit as sinful as the Egyptians?
We're taken back to this each time we say "on the night He was betrayed" because as Paul says, "Christ our Passover has been slain." The Blood of the true Passover Lamb hasn't been painted over our doors; it has been sprinkled on our bodies in Baptism; it has been painted on our foreheads in the sign of the cross in Absolution; it has been given for us to drink for the forgiveness of our sins in Communion. As we drink His Blood and eat His Body we remember that the Angel of Death passes over us too.
That sort of remembering is pure Gospel, pure promise, pure relief but it's still not "remembrance." This special Greek word is used only 4 times in the N.T. 3 of them by Jesus as He gives us His Supper. The fourth is in Hebrews and we'll come back to that. This Greek word is transliterated into English as an-am-ne-ses. It is to remember back one. The French translation of the Words of Institution captures it best. It's me rappeler avous (muh-rappelay-ahh-voo). Literally translated Jesus commands us, "This do to bring Me back to you."
Communion isn't us going back to where Jesus was, but it's an-am-ne-ses, a remembrance, a bringing Jesus back to us. It's like in Scarborough Fair. Simon and Garfunkel sing "Are you going to Scarborough Fair remember me to one who lives there. She once was a true love of mine." The person going to the fair brings back to the one living there her lover. But there's more. Jesus doesn't say, "This is in remembrance of Me," but "Do this in remembrance of me." I told you this Greek word is rare. One of the places it's found is in a description of the rites of a pagan goddess. Basileia is a goddess who has disappeared from among her people. When they worship her they beat kettledrums and cymbals in remembrance of the noise, the majesty, the awe she displayed when among them.
In remembrance of Jesus we do what He did when He was among us, but who would dare do what He did unless He had explicitly commanded us to? We take bread just like He did saying, "This is My Body given for you." We take wine just like Jesus did and say what He did, "This is My Blood shed for you." In doing what Jesus did we me rappeler avous, we bring Jesus back to us. The very same Body we will see groaning on the tree tomorrow comes back to us tonight; the very same Blood we see dripping from His nail wounds tomorrow comes back to us tonight, to this time and place. What a wonder, what an awe, what a miracle? Who can fathom it? None. All we can do is receive it, adore it, look forward to it.
The looking forward might be hard for some of you, and I'll tell you why. Jesus commands, "Do this in remembrance of Me." See Me' bolded thick and black. Jesus says, "Do this to bring Me back to you, Me and no one else, Me and Me alone back to you." The question is who is the Me? The Me you hurt, made suffer? No, the Me you are to remember is the Me for you: the One who gave His body for you, the One who shed His Blood for you.
Albrecht Durer was a wood engraver who lived at the time of Luther. He produced many woodcuts reflecting Reformation theology. His woodcut representing the Real Presence of Christ in Communion is stunning. He depicts the angels and archangels around the Holy Communion. He has the communion elements of Bread and Wine there. Upon the altar is Jesus crowned with thorns, down from the cross, lovingly showing His wounds to the kneeling priests.
Is this the Jesus brought to back to you when you do this? A Jesus who gladly, willingly went to the cross to suffer for you? A Jesus who is back here to give you the forgiveness, life, and salvation His Body and Blood once given on the cross won for you? Or is this Meal a remembrance, a bringing back to you of all that you are not, all that you are, and all that you'll never be? Is the Jesus brought back to you your judge? Is He here to rub your face in you sins?
Think about it. Does a loving parent write a will to rub his child's face in all his failings? Communion is the last will and testament of Jesus. It's what He wills to leave His children. He says specifically, "This is My Body which is given for you. This is My Blood which is shed for you." He left us Holy Communion not to bring back our sins to us but our forgiveness. The 4th time remembrance is used in the Bible, the only time apart from Holy Communion, can help us in a backhanded way see this. Hebrews 4:13 says, "Sacrifices are an annual remembrance of sins." One of the things sacrifices on the Day of Atonement did was bring back the Old Testament church's sins to them. That's not at all what Holy Communion is for. Quite the opposite; it's to bring back the forgiveness of your sins in the Person of Jesus who paid for them. But the Hebrews passage can be useful.
You know how easily a past sin can come back to you? The taint, the shame, the pain of a long ago, long forgiven sin can rise like a shrieking ghost before you. The Devil, an accuser, or your own conscience can bring that sin back to you in all it's ugliness so that you can see, touch, smell, and taste it all over again.
Jesus says, "Do Communion to bring Me the One who paid for your sins back to you." See the Person of Jesus rise before you on this altar holding in His nail-pierced hands not your sins but His forgiveness, not your Death but His life, not the judgment you deserve but His salvation. As painfully clear as your sins can be brought back to you by the Law, Jesus would have this meal bring Him back to you see, touch, smell, and taste His forgiveness. This is the looking back that gives the proper understanding for a life lived forward. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Maundy Thursday (20080320); I Cor. 11: 17-32