"Memory and Meaning"
MEMORY AND MEANING
14When the hour came, Jesus took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. 15He said to them, ‘I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; 16for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.’ 17Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, ‘Take this and divide it among yourselves; 18for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ 19Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ 20And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. (Luke 22:14-20, NRSV)
Noticing that I’ve been forgetting more as the years go by, I decided to do some air-tight scientific research comparing my 55-year-old brain with Alina’s 18-year-old brain. The research commenced. I asked if she is ever in the middle of a sentence when she suddenly forgets what she’s talking about. Yes, she answered. I felt a little better. I asked if she ever sees people she knows and blanks on their names. She answered yes to this too. I felt even better. Then she asked me, “Have you ever walked into a room to get something and completely forgotten what you wanted?” “Yes,” I told her. I felt better still thinking that my memory lapses had nothing to do with me being 55. I only felt better for a minute though. My research twisted in my brain because it occurred to me that maybe Alina is equally forgetful because she has the mind of a 55-year-old. She’s always been mature for her age! So now I’ll start worrying about her memory instead of mine. That thought only bothered me temporarily because a moment later I forgot all about it.
Jesus knew the importance of memory. The night before he died Christ spent an intimate and intense meal with his disciples in the Upper Room. As he reinterpreted the Passover meal with himself as the sacrificial lamb, Jesus gave new meaning to the bread and the wine. He then implored his disciples to remember, remember that fateful night, remember his life of love, remember his teachings on grace, remember that the bread and the wine, symbolizing his body and blood, was in some mysterious way for their benefit. And so he said, “Do this in remembrance of me.”
Unlike many denominations who take Communion every week, our branch of Protestantism only takes Communion four or five times a year. However, we too seek to remember Christ in our church’s worship services and other activities. Sometimes though, we get so busy that it’s easy to forget why we do what we do. Then World Communion Sunday comes along with its challenge to examine our lives and priorities, not just against prevailing American culture, but in light of people with little food and inadequate shelter throughout the world. This challenge pertains not only to each of us as individuals, but also to wealthy churches, including our own. How do our decisions and actions stack up against the one who willingly suffered for the sake of others? The one who said, “Do this in remembrance of me.”
In life we sometimes do the right thing for all the wrong reasons. Conversely, we sometimes do the wrong thing for all the right reasons. Instead of losing our way in a maze of second-guessing, a better option would be making our choices while remembering the life and teachings of Jesus. When our North Star is Christ’s mandate to love God, others, and ourselves, we are headed in the right direction.
World Communion Sunday gives us the opportunity to take stock of what we’re doing and where we’re heading in life. World Communion Sunday offers us the opportunity to change course as needed. Whenever we share Communion we remember Christ in the Upper Room, his face tender yet tense. The handwriting is on the wall for him. What could he possibly say? In the earliest accounts from the synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus says little in the Upper Room. He has no inspirational sermon to offer on the eve of his death. Instead, according to those in the room with him that night, their primary memory involved the bread and wine.
The disciples walked into the room expecting a traditional Passover feast. They walked out several hours later, having heard Jesus proclaim his imminent death and having shared what we now call Holy Communion. Jesus took them all by surprise when he took a loaf of bread, gave thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body, which is broken for you. Do this and remember me” (v. 19b). He took them by surprise a second time when, after the meal, he did the same thing with the cup saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood” (v. 20b). No doubt the reality of these words crashed down upon them in the next few hours when Jesus was arrested, tortured, and killed quite legally by the Romans at the behest of the self-serving religious hierarchy. What a nightmare it must have been for his friends and family seeing their beloved Jesus taken from them and killed. The violence, the inhumanity, the fear.
But thanks be to God the story doesn’t end there. The Easter miracle soon transcended the horrors of Good Friday. And ever since, for 2,000 years, the followers of Jesus, Christians throughout the ages, have never forgotten the conversation that took place in the Upper Room during the Last Supper that Jesus shared with his disciples. Whether hiding in the dark catacombs under Rome or worshipping above ground in the majesty of St. Peter’s Basilica, whether courageous members of Bonheoffer’s Confessing Church in Nazi Germany or determined members of Desmond Tutu’s anti-Apartheid church in South Africa, whether Separatist Pilgrims in a Plymouth meetinghouse or Civil Rights workers in Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, Christians in every time and place have recalled the broken bread and the broken body, the cup of wine and the death of Jesus. People like us have been gathering to share Communion since the first century. Some have used unleavened bread while others have used rice cakes; some have used Welch’s while others have used Ernest and Julio Gallo. Differences abound.
Despite our differences, we all gather around God’s table to remember. When we take Communion we remember that Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” We eat the broken bread and drink the crimson cup remembering Christ’s death on the cross, remembering all of those areas in our own lives that are broken and battered, remembering all those in our world whose lives have been smashed and shattered. In addition to remembering the past, we think of the present: our worries and fears, our joys and blessings and God’s sustaining presence in the middle of it all. Around this table, as we share the bread and cup, we also look to the future—a future that promises life everlasting where God will gather us beyond the confines of this earthly life around the heavenly banquet table where we will dwell in peace at last. Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me,” and so we will today, tomorrow, and forever. AMEN.
Written by Rev. Jimmy Only
World Communion Sunday
October 6, 2019
The Congregational Church of Manhasset, New York (UCC)
Most merciful God, we thank you for our sisters and brothers all around the world with whom we share Communion this day. For those in humble country churches and those in gothic cathedrals, those in busy cities and those in remote villages, we ask your blessing. Draw us together that we might more effectively help our hurting world. As we share Communion today, infuse our minds and hearts with the desire to follow Christ more closely. Help us to remember the many ways you have sustained us in the past; continue to help us in the present; and promise to hold us close for all eternity.
Through Jesus Christ our loving Lord we pray. AMEN.