Recently I wrote a book on the Lord’s Supper, called “Holy Communion: Celebrating God with Us” (Abingdon Press, December 2014). Part of the Belief Matters Series edited by Will Willimon, this book provides insights and practical suggestions for giving the Lord’s Supper a more prominent role, not just in church life but also in the Christian formation of individuals. You can read more about it and order a copy by visiting this website.
The italicized excerpt below, followed by some additional thoughts and commentary, comes from chapter two, “Remembering Christ’s Presence with Us,” and it explores the significance of memory for us as God’s people and how remembering is a crucial part of the celebration of Holy Communion.
During my first semester of seminary, the Introduction to Old Testament class was held in the chapel. As students anxiously walked into class on the first day, copies of the course syllabus—dozens of thick pages, detailing assignment after assignment—were stacked on the altar, directly above the words inscribed on the altar’s wood, “Do this in remembrance of me.” It was an odd juxtaposition. With all the work before us to do, my classmates and I wondered what exactly we had gotten ourselves into, in the name of Jesus.
When it comes to our life with the God who made heaven and earth, the God revealed in Jesus Christ, remembering is not a mere passive activity. God calls us to an active remembrance, to remember by doing, in the name of Jesus.
Communion occupies a central place in the Christian faith, which is all about our communion or fellowship with God through Jesus Christ and with one another in Christ. But often Holy Communion, which offers the most tangible experience of that fellowship in this world, is something that we may take for granted. We may not think much about the true meaning of Communion for our life today. I am speaking from experience; when I was growing up, I used to think that Communion was by far the most boring thing of all the boring things that we did at church. I would have much rather looked at my baseball cards—and sometimes did, even in church (to the dismay of my Sunday School teachers).
The previous chapter focused on how Holy Communion is itself a prayer. It is a prayer of thanksgiving for who God is and for all that God has done for us in Jesus Christ. For that reason, Communion is also a remembrance of the Last Supper. Jesus commands his disciples to do this in remembrance of him (Luke 22:19, 1 Corinthians 11:24-25). The memorial nature of the sacrament makes it an active recalling of Christ’s final meal with the disciples. For most people in our churches today, this is probably the default mode of thinking about Communion. However, what happens in the Eucharist is much more than an empty memorialism. We remember what Christ has said and done for us not simply as past events that are forever behind us, but instead as completed actions with ongoing significance and impact.
William Faulkner once wrote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Think about your deepest and most powerful memories. How have those experiences stayed with you over the years? How is memory significant for us as God’s people? Why is it important for us to remember, and what specifically should we remember most?
In Holy Communion, we remember by doing what Christ commands us. What we find, unfailingly, is that the Risen Lord himself meets us in this holy mystery. By God’s grace, that is chiefly how we remember the presence of Jesus Christ with us today.
This post includes material quoted from “Holy Communion: Celebrating God with Us,” published by Abingdon Press.