Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.”
We typically use the word remember in a rather abstract way. Do you remember your first car? Your first boyfriend or girlfriend? Your first job? The birth of your first child? We recall an event and the warm emotions attached to it.
Or perhaps we were forced to remember information for school. Remember the list of presidents? Remember those algebraic equations? Remember participles, passives, and prepositions? That kind of recall can raise our blood pressure and stress all over again. Let’s not dredge up those memories!
But remember Jesus and the cross? That feels quite different. We weren’t there. At best, we remember the stories about Jesus and the cross—perhaps paintings or statues we’ve seen.
When Jesus asked his disciples to “remember me,” he intended far more than to test their memory. The purpose of such memories was to evoke a response.
“Eat this bread. Drink this cup. Remember what happened, what I did, what I asked you to do. And do something about it!” Memory, in the biblical sense, helps us live differently. We remember so we can take action; so we can mimic; so we can respond.
On the night Jesus was betrayed, the bread and the cup formed the centerpiece to a whole drama. That drama included the extraordinary sight of Jesus humbly washing the feet of the disciples. He served them, doing the lowliest of tasks. In the decades that would follow, the bread and the cup surely triggered memories for the disciples of that profound act of service. As they remembered him, they likely remembered his hands washing their feet, and they felt called again to serve the world.
“Remember me” became another way of saying “Do what I did.”
As we take the bread and the cup, Christ also invites us to a deeper response than recalling the facts. These elements provoke us, like smelling salts to a fainted soul, to get in the game and to give of ourselves as Christ gave himself.
Just as Jesus came to serve us, so the bread and the cup challenge us to serve him and each other. How can we eat and drink—remember—and not devote ourselves to service? We eat and we drink . . . and we say, “Yes, Lord, count me in!” Communion calls us to lives of service. Eat. Drink. Serve.
David Timms serves as professor of New Testament and theology at Hope International University in Fullerton, California.