Remembrance: I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means

Text: 1 Corinthians 11:23-26

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

There is much confusion about Communion these days in the church.  When you ask the average churchgoer about Communion, they will agree that it is important.  But when asked ‘why’ it is important, well… we will find many different opinions, showing a substantial amount of confusion. 
Perhaps the most significant amount of confusion about Communion comes over the words,
“Do this in remembrance of me.”
Permit me an opportunity to explain. 
When Jesus was with His disciples before His crucifixion, He broke bread and gave it to the disciples saying,
“This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 
Now, many Christians have understood this last portion to mean that when we gather together for Communion that we do so to remember Jesus, the best that we can. That is to say, according to these individuals, Communion is a time where we come together to remember Jesus and His sacrifice.  And by remembering Jesus, our memories are what keep Jesus alive in our minds. 
And so, this kind of emphasis leads us to see Communion as a kind of memorial day where we never forget the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus in our minds and thoughts.  Communion becomes a day to commemorate Jesus in our minds with a meal.
Now, what I have just described is how many well-intentioned Christians understand Communion. They see Communion as something only to remind us of Christ and his death. But dear friends, if Communion is only a remembrance that is intended to remind us of the Gospel, so that the Gospel can stir our hearts, then Communion becomes an ambiguous mental activity.  Indeed, if Communion is some memorial activity where we try and remember the good ol’ days of Jesus, are we not conducting Communion Services to make sure that Jesus doesn’t slip through our minds?  And if Communion is only about you and me recalling Jesus in our minds, then isn’t Communion just another ritualistic ordinance that we have to do to keep Christianity front and center in our minds. 
Dear friends, the problem with all of this arises with how we understand the word ‘remembrance.’ You see, when we hear the word ‘remembrance,’ we hear it as a verb, as something that we must do in our minds – to recall or remember someone or something. And so according to this way of thinking, Communion becomes about you making sure that you are remembering Jesus and then thinking about Jesus-memories correctly, as you eat and drink bread and wine.  As the theologians would say, this makes Communion function underneath the banner of Law rather than Gospel.  It puts the pressure on you and how well you are remembering Jesus. 
Dear friends, you might be surprised to learn that when Jesus says, “do this in remembrance of me,” that the word ‘remembrance’ really has little to do with only recalling the events of the past in our minds.  The word ‘remembrance’ is far more than a mere mental recollection of the events of the past.  You see, when Jesus uses the word ‘remembrance,’ He is using it as a noun.  Simply stated, according to Jesus and the Jewish way of thinking ‘remembrance’ means to participate in 'a thing' in the present time according to certain events of the past.
If you are confused a bit, let me explain with an example.    
To understand Jesus’ use of the word ‘remembrance,’ think of a wedding anniversary – say a 20th Anniversary.  Now, imagine a wife spending her entire anniversary day thinking about the details and facts of her wedding – the temperature outside, the colors of the tuxedos, and the kind of food served at the reception.  If this is all that the wife did for her 20th Anniversary, it would be fairly lame. It would be sad.  In fact, we would even begin to wonder, is the groom even alive?  Is the wife widowed?” 
You see, recalling the historical facts and details of a wedding is not doing a 20th Anniversary right!  Instead, to make the anniversary profound and right, the wife needs more than merely remembering the details and facts.  She can remember the past but also needs to participate in the wedding anniversary in the present. In other words, the wife needs to accept the flowers that the husband buys her.  She needs to be taken out to dinner. She needs her husband to whisper words of love into her ear, so that she hears his commitment, love, and dedication to her. To do the 20th Anniversary right, the wife not only can recall the past but needs to be swept up in her husband’s present love, pursuit, and commitment.[1] 
Dear friends, to do Communion as a remembrance is not just merely recollecting the past of what Jesus did. But it is a remembrance that we participate in by eating and drinking – receiving.  To do Communion right is for us to be like that wife who is pursued, cherished, and loved by her husband.
Baptized Saints, as the Lord Jesus Christ gives us His body and blood in the here and now, we are a part of the remembrance -– not through our imagination or reflections – but through eating and drinking His very real presence.  In Communion, we are not memorializing a dead man.  In Communion, we are not doing mental exercises.  But rather, it is a Sacrament, where we are pulled into a Holy Meal, to receive Jesus upon our tongues and into our bellies. 
And so, just as Baptism and Absolution are things that come to you, Communion is something that comes to you in the way of gift as well.  Communion is not Law, but Gospel.  Communion is not primarily you remembering – a mental exercise towards God.  But Communion is one of the ways that the Lord comes to you with forgiveness, life, and salvation. 
Baptized Saints, Jesus came to humanity in that manger.  Jesus will come again.  In the meantime, He comes to you in the Word and Sacraments.  He places His name upon you in Baptism.  He pours forgiveness into your ears in the Absolution.  And He lays His body and blood upon your tongue to strengthen and sustain you in this remembrance of Communion. 
Our Lord comes.  He comes for you.  God be praised. 
In the name of Jesus: Amen. 

[1] Illustration taken from: Dustin Crowe, “What Does It Mean to Remember Jesus in the Lord’s Supper?” TGC, (accessed December 19, 2019).

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