“This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast. (Exodus 12:14)
“For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” – 1 Corinthians 11:26
“Do this in remembrance of me.”
In the Name of Jesus.
Karen and I were doing a morning walk up in Ventura, as we like to do, with cup of warm coffee in hand, looking out at the ocean for the surfers and perhaps a whale or dolphin sighting. We like to walk a foot and bike path that leads behind the fair grounds. There is a nice wetlands area where you can see egrets, cormorants, and herons. The path crosses a railroad track at some point, where we usually turn around. Off to one side of the track, there is a little patch, much like a tiny garden patch, with a cross on it. The day we were there, there were some birthday balloons tied to the cross and some flowers. There was a name of the cross. There were dates. He was a little over eighteen years old when he died.
I was curious, so I went online and googled the name. Apparently, the young man had been shot multiple times after getting into some kind of altercation at the fair with two other young men the same age. His body had been found there. His friends and family set up a a memorial to him at that place. It’s there to this day, next to the railroad tracks.
We set up memorials when people die, especially tragically or suddenly. Cemeteries are called “memorial parks” for that reason. We want to remember the person. For a while we had a makeshift memorial at the corner of Hacienda and Halliburton where a young skateboarder was killed after being hit by a car. There were flowers and candles and balloons and various notes. A cross at the side of the road usually means someone died there. It doesn’t necessarily mean they were Christian. The cross just symbolizes an innocent or untimely death of some sort. We memorialize death, lest we forget.
The life of faith is a life of remembrance. Remembrance is how faith looks back on the things that came before. Faith lives in the present “now,” hopes for the future, and remembers the past, God’s faithfulness and mercy, His steadfast love and promise. That’s what the Passover was all about. It was, as it says in Exodus, a “memorial to be kept as a statue forever,” to remind the Israelites of who they were and where they came from. Every year, on the fourteenth day of their first month, they remember the Exodus, the night the sons and daughters of Abraham walked through the blood of the Lamb from slavery to freedom. The night God kept His covenant promise to Abraham, the from him there would come a great nation and a promised Seed. That was the night.
And so every year, the Israelites at the bitter herbs, the unleavened bread, the roasted lamb. They painted lamb’s blood on the doorways, they told the story of the exodus and the night death passed over their houses. In later years, they toasted the goodness of the Lord with four cups of wine that gladdened their hearts. And they remembered God’s covenant to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all of Israel.
The Israelite of the OT looked back on the Exodus and looked forward to coming messianic age. And each year the meal of the Passover brought that night to faith’s remembrance, lest they forget they were a blood-bought people who lived by grace.
On the night Jesus was betrayed and arrested, He sat at table with His twelve, His Israel, and they remembered. But that night was not like any other night that came before. Jesus, at the head of the table, took the unleavened bread, gave thanks for it, broke it into pieces, and said, “This is my body, which is being given for you.” Something new. Something more. He gives His disciples something the Passover could not give. His body which would be given into death that day.
And again, after the supper, there was a cup. The blessing cup. Jesus took that cup, gave thanks for it, and gave His cup to each of His disciples and said, “This is my blood of the new covenant, which is being poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Something. Something more. Something the Passover never gave. In the Passover of Moses, the blood was painted on the doorposts. In the Passover of Jesus, the blood is given as wine to drink.
“Do this for my remembrance,” Jesus says. It is His memorial, lest we forget and fall into unbelief. As Lutherans we are unaccustomed to speaking of the Lord’s Supper as a memorial, primarily because for many Christians, that’s all it is. A memorial meal. A remember Jesus moment, like that memorial by the railroad tracks. But when the Lord establishes a memorial, it’s much more than a mnemonic aid. It is the living Word, stimulating, stirring up the imagination of faith, offering and giving the very thing that it says. His body given into death, His blood which is His life, bread and wine from heaven, for your life, forgiveness, salvation.
This is how Jesus wishes to be remembered. He wants His disciples to eat His body and drink His blood, hearing His words, and so proclaim His death until He comes. It’s so we don’t forget who we are or where we came from. Like the Israelites in the wilderness, we’re prone to wandering, to complaining, to grumbling, to longing for slavery over freedom. We forget the blood, the mercy, the grace. And forgetting the past, we stumble aimlessly into the future, chasing after any golden calf that promises to meet our religious needs.
That’s why Jesus establishes His Supper. He prepares a table for us, where we may eat and drink the gifts of His sacrifice and in so doing remember in faith the Death that conquered our death and the Life laid down for our life. Here the Servant among servants meets us in divine service to serve us, to be our host and food, to fill our hunger and thirst for righteousness with His righteousness.
This is where we come as sinners to be refreshed by forgiveness. It is a meal prepared for sinners, a medicine for those who feel the pangs of death, a balm to heal the sickness of our soul. At this table we are taught to be given to, to be fed, to be on the receiving end of Jesus’ giving. Here the past becomes our present, the night Jesus sat with His disciples is our night too. This is His timeless table, a table that has been welcoming hungry and thirsty sinners for 2000 years with the same menu, the same Body and Blood, the same forgiveness, life, and salvation.
Remembering and proclaiming Jesus death, there is hope for tomorrow, and the next day, all the days to the last day. The future is bright and full of promise, covenant promise, promise anchored in God’s saving acts of the past, their proclamation in the present, the fulfillment of them on the day yet to come. “54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” He will never forsake you for He cannot forsake His own body and blood. The past made present propels us to a future of hope and forgiveness and life and peace. He will raise you on the last day. The pledge and seal of it are His own body and blood.
Do this for my remembrance. Take this bread and eat it. It is the body of your Savior given into death for your death. Take this cup and drink it. It is the blood of your Savior, His life for your life. Eating and drinking His Supper, we remember Jesus, His incarnation, His suffering, His cross, His burial, His resurrection.
And even more, He remembers us.
In the name of Jesus,