Dear Friends in Christ,
“In Remembrance of me” Part 2
Confusion often arises because the usual understanding of “remembrance” is too thin. Normally we “remember” what lies in the past what by definition no longer present. The German critic, Gotthold Lessing (1729-1781), spoke of history as an “ugly broad ditch” that separates us from the events of the New Testament and renders them out of reach. In the same way, the typical notion of remembrance presupposes a gulf between the immediacy of the present and our memories of the past.
By contrast, from ancient times, the Christians have embraced a “thick” understanding of remembrance in the Eucharist as an act that does far more than just call to mind something that took place many years ago. In a very significant sense, it brings it into the present.
Christians did not invent this “thick” understanding of remembrance. We learned it from the Jews.
The Power of Remembrance in the Passover
Each year the Jews celebrate the Jewish Passover Seder, a ritual meal that uses various symbols to tell the story of God’s deliverance of His people during the Exodus. Toward the end of the meal, the person who is presiding at the table makes the following statement:
“In every generation one must look upon himself as if he personally had come out from Egypt, as the Bible says, ‘And you shall tell your son on that day, saying, it is because of that which the Eternal did to me when I went forth from Egypt.’ For it was not alone our forefathers whom the Holy One, blessed be He, Redeemed; He redeemed us too, with them, as it is said: ‘He brought us out from there that He might lead us to and give us the land which He pledged to our forefathers?”
For a Jew during the Seder, the Exodus is not just back then; it is now! God has not just redeemed our ancestors; he has redeemed us! It is not just they who are freed from slavery; God is present in power now, redeeming us from slavery!
Three thousand years ago, the world was populated by Amalakites, and Jebusites, and Assyrians, and Hittites, and Moabites, to name just a few. Where are they now? They are gone. But the Jews are still with us. Why? Because each year they gather at the Passover meal to renew their identity as the people whom God redeems – in the present. Such is the power and immediacy of “remembrance,” in which the saving events of the past are made present once again. This is what Jesus had in mind when he said, “do this in remembrance of me.”