Thursday

28 June 2012

"Do this in remembrance of me." (v. 19)

Background

This is one of the most familiar passages in the New Testament, which means we need to be especially careful not to assume that we know what it means in advance. Not only is it part of the build-up to the crucifixion of Jesus, but for Christians it is the origin of the service that is called the Lord's Supper, Holy Communion or the Eucharist. With slight variations, the same story also appears in Matthew (36:26-29), Mark (14:18-21) and 1 Corinthians (11:23-25), but only Luke tells us of the two cups of wine that are blessed during the meal (verses 17, 20).

Jesus must have shared many meals with his disciples: indeed, several of the great scenes in the Gospels are centred on meals of one kind or another and Jesus' willingness to share a table with outcasts scandalised his opponents. But this is different. Here, Jesus seems aware of what is going to happen in the coming hours and this invests the Passover meal with even more solemnity than usual. Just as the first Passover was a last supper before the Exodus (Exodus 12) when the Israelites fled from slavery in Egypt, so this is a last supper before the traumatic, but victorious events of Jesus' passion. And just as the first Passover marked the beginning of a covenant between God and Israel, so this Passover is a sign of the new covenant that will come about through Jesus' self-sacrifice.

When Jesus says "do this in remembrance of me", the word used is 'anamnesis'. This means more than a simple calling to mind of something that has happened in the past; in some sense the past event becomes a present reality. Those who today share a Jewish Passover meal have a sense that they, too, are escaping from slavery in Egypt and heading for the promised land. In the same way, Christians who obey Jesus by breaking the bread and sharing the wine will find Jesus' sacrificial death and his risen presence is a reality in the here and now, not just a distant memory. To the question, 'Were you there when they crucified my Lord?' they can say a definite 'yes'.

To Ponder

Meditate on the scene of Jesus breaking and sharing the bread, pouring out and sharing the wine. What are your thoughts, feelings or reflections?

How does thanksgiving and sharing feature in your own meals?

How does the awareness of the Jewish Passover celebration add to a Christian understanding of Holy Communion?

Bible notes author: The Revd Dr Richard Clutterbuck

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