This is my personal blog. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the congregations I serve.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

How Often Do We Want to Remember Jesus?


            The Lord Jesus, on the night before he was crucified, gave his disciples one, particular, specific way to remember him.  He took some of the bread left over from the Passover meal.  He blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body.  Do this in remembrance of me.”  Then he took one of the cups of wine also left over from the meal.  He blessed it and shared it with them as well, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.  Do this in remembrance of me.”
            Jesus did a lot of things.  We who follow him try to remember them all.  We try to remember and keep all his teachings.  We want to remember Jesus all the time.  But there is only one thing that he did which he himself identified as the way to remember him.  And that is the sharing of bread and cup which we call by many names including the Eucharist, the Divine Liturgy, Holy Communion, and the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.
            In this Sacrament, we find summed up the various ways in which Jesus is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” 
·      -- We are reminded of the bread and wine brought to Abraham by the priest-king Melchizedek, who prefigures Christ (Genesis 14:18; Psalm 110:4; Hebrews 5, 6, 7). 
·      -- We are reminded most obviously of Passover, and the lamb whose blood saved the people from death (Exodus 12). 
·      -- We are reminded of how God fed the people in the wilderness with the “bread” of manna (Exodus 16:4).
·      -- We are also reminded of how Jesus fulfills the Day of Atonement ritual in which sacrificial blood is used to purify the Temple and reestablish the relationship of the people with God, and a goat bears the people’s sin away (Leviticus 16). 
·      -- We are reminded of the way the Suffering Servant also bears the sin of others (Isaiah 53). 
·      -- We are reminded of the bread that was offered to God daily in the tabernacle and temple (Exodus 25:30; Leviticus 8:26, etc.). 
·      -- We are reminded of how Jesus fed the people, multiplying the loaves on the hillside (Mark 6:30-44//; John 6). 
·      -- We are reminded of all the meals Jesus celebrated with people, especially the way he was known after his resurrection by his disciples who saw him blessing and breaking bread (Luke 24:13-35).
            In other words, the whole story of God’s saving activity with people is reflected and expressed in this Sacrament.
            Therefore, the early church, wanting to remember him frequently and regularly, celebrated this simple meal at least every Lord’s Day when gathering for worship.  (Some Christians developed the discipline of celebrating the Sacrament as often as daily.)
            In the corruption of the Medieval Roman church, the people got out of the habit of celebrating the Sacrament regularly.  Its frequency was reduced to once-a-year as a bare minimum; and the people were excluded from receiving the cup.  It became a mysterious thing priests did and people watched.
            The Protestant Reformers reinstituted the Sacrament at the center of church life, and John Calvin in particular advocated celebrating it at least every Lord’s Day, as in the early church.  The Roman Catholic church reformed its own practice as well.  Unfortunately, in some branches of Protestantism the baggage from the corrupt Medieval church was too weighty, and they failed to institute weekly celebration of the Sacrament.  (Sometimes there was also a problem in some places of a lack of qualified ministers.)  By the turn of the 20th century, some Christian churches had degenerated to the point where they were remembering Jesus according to the way he wanted and instructed his followers to remember him only two or four times a year. 
            What?  What was their problem?  Were they somehow getting enough of Jesus?  Were they worried they might get too much of Jesus?  Did they just have better memories than most humans, and only needed to remember Jesus occasionally?  Did they only dole out Jesus in infrequent bits to artificially make the Sacrament seem more important and meaningful?  Hello?  When did Jesus say, “Remember me, but not too often”?   When did receiving the body and blood of the Lord become something people imagined could lose meaning for them if they did it too often?  The meaning comes from Jesus Christ, by his word and command.  If individual Christians, with their brief attention spans, were bored by this, that was certainly not the fault of the Sacrament instituted by the Lord; it was that of his wayward people.
            By far the worst reason for infrequently celebrating the Sacrament is religious bigotry.  It’s “too Catholic,” I have been told.  Which is ironic, since the Reformers argued that the Roman church was wrong to decrease the frequency of participation.  Anyway, does this mean we’re not supposed to follow Jesus’ explicit instructions just because some other Christians do?  Seriously?   
            In the second half of the 20th century some of these churches, including the Presbyterians, finally began to change, not without resistance, until now it is the norm to celebrate the Sacrament monthly.  (Even though there is no New Testament warrant for doing much of anything according to a monthly calendar.)  That was always (I hope) a stop-gap, provisional, temporary, transitional measure intended to lead eventually to the weekly celebration practiced in the early church and advocated by the Reformers.  Well, okay, it’s been 50 years already.  Maybe it’s time for phase two?
            The question is, how often do we want to remember Jesus?  And if we want to remember Jesus often, as we should if we claim to be his disciples, how would we do this except by the way he told us to remember him?           

No comments: