The Lutheran Difference: Remembering Jesus

There’s an important concept tucked away in the Words of Institution. It’s so important that Jesus says it twice. See if you can spot it:

For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Did you see what it is? Both when Jesus gives His disciples the bread and then the wine, He told them to “do this in remembrance of Me.” So what does that mean, exactly? What does it mean to remember Jesus?

To our modern ears, remembering Jesus would seem to mean that we just call to mind who Jesus is and what He did for us. As one of my friends put it (and as I shared last week), we raise our little glasses to the memory of a departed friend. That’s what it means to remember, isn’t it?

Except the thing we need to remember is that Jesus didn’t say that in a modern context. He said it to first century Jews. But more importantly, He also said it within the context of the Passover. And that right there should give us a better understanding of what He intended when He told His followers to do this in remembrance of Him.

We catch a flavor of this kind of remembering in Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy 26 talks of a first fruits ceremony the Israelites were to participate in. As a part of that ritual, they were to make the following confession:

A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.

Did you notice the pronoun shift in this confession? At first, the worshiper talks about his ancestor, how he moved to Egypt and grew in size and power. But then notice, suddenly the worshiper starts talking about how the Egyptians mistreated him. He’s not talking about something that happened to great-great-great-great-grandpa Simon anymore. Instead, he’s speaking as though he was the one enslaved in Egypt, as if he was the one who needed rescuing, as if he was the one that God rescued from slavery and brought out in the events of the Exodus.

We also see this concept in the modern Passover seder. There’s a section of the seder called the b’chol, which says this (at least, according to this version):

In every generation each individual is bound to regard himself as if he personally had gone forth from Egypt, as it is said: “And thou shalt relate to thy son that day, saying, this is on account of what the Eternal did for me, when I went forth from Egypt.” It was not our ancestors alone whom the Most Holy, blessed be He, redeemed from Egypt, but us also did He redeem with them, as it is said, “And He brought us from thence, in order to bring us in, that He might give us the land which He sware unto our Fathers.”

The Passover itself is laced through with this idea of remembering. The seder is not to just remember what happened to ancestors. It’s to remember what God did for us. By participating in this meal, it’s a participation in the events of the Exodus.

I don’t think it’s a mistake that Jesus uses the word “remembrance” when instituting communion. He says “do this in remembrance of Me.” He’s not just asking us to call Him to mind from time to time. No, I read this as Jesus calling us to participate in Him. Through communion, we participate in His death and resurrection. What He went through, we go through.

For Lutherans, communion is more than just a memorial meal. It’s a way to experience the grace that is ours in Christ anew.

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