And [Jesus] took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”
—Luke 22:19-20, NIV
When we “remember” special occasions, we don’t just sit in an armchair and sigh. We gather together at a significant site, we have a ceremony—we reenact the event. This is part of the human psyche. For that reason, if teenagers die in a tragic automobile accident, their friends they put flowers, banners, and messages at the place where it happened. And when you visit the Wall, the Viet Nam War memorial in Washington where the names of all the people who died in that war are inscribed in the order in which they died, you find flowers dedicated to a person whose name is nearby. And when we have Memorial Day to remember the soldiers who died in wars to defend us, we don’t just sit inside the house and sigh. Dignitaries put flowers on graves. And the rest of us go shopping…
Once I got an email from a woman in Canada who described Remembrance Day (the same thing as Memorial Day in the US) as a day on which all the stores were closed and people went to parks. I said I remember things like that from Germany, but in the US, we don’t have holidays, we have sales. But I digress. We can’t remember things without reenacting them. I don’t mean we have to reenact them, I mean we find ourselves doing it; it is a sort of compulsion. We reenact them as if the event were present.
Jesus did not say “think about this in remembrance of me” to those who want to be saved by their sentiments, or “understand this in remembrance of me,” to the 16th-century debaters who were preoccupied about the nature of the Bread and Wine, He told us to do something that is intrinsically human: “do this in remembrance of me.”
Communion is thus a progressive dinner party. Have you ever been to a progressive dinner party? Appetizers are at the Smith house, the salad at the Clark house, the main course at the Johnson house, and the dessert at the Jones’s. So if because of your schedules, you only go to the Clarks’ for salad, and a friend only goes to the Johnsons’ for the main course, you were at the same meal even though you were there at different times and in different places.
When we take Communion, it is just another installment of a progressive dinner party that began in the Upper Room and ends in the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. We have different schedules than the apostles, so they were at the course in the Upper Room, and we are at the course right here, but we are at the same meal as the apostles. We are rubbing shoulders with them. We do not have many Communions, we return to the same Communion many times. Communion is an event that transcends all time; it is past in the Upper Room, it is present in our service today, it is future at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb; it is timeless, it is no less than the moment when we enter and experience the timelessness of eternity. And we will all be there for the grand finale in Paradise; the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.
On Memorial Day, the past and present come together and become one; at Communion, the past and present and future come together and become a door into eternity. We rub shoulders with the apostles, saints, martyrs, and reformers of all ages; we are in the company of the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, and we worship with all our loved ones who have gone before us, for this is the place where the Church Militant, which is on earth, and the Church Triumphant, which is in glory, worship together in the presence of God and the adoration of the angels.
We take Communion as much in anticipation of Jesus’ coming as we do in remembrance of His dying.
Just as we reenact Memorial Day to remember it, we reenact the Lord’s Supper to be in Communion with Him. But it is more than reenactment, it is re-enact-ment; it is acting the same all over again. It is more than remembering, it is re-member-ing; being a member of it all over again.
In Communion, we not only remember, we re-member, we re-enact—as in Memorial Day—but more than that; we actually attend the Passover Supper in the Upper Room and we partake of the appetizer course of the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.
We take Communion as much in anticipation of His coming as we do in remembrance of His dying.
Jesus said, “This is my Body” and “This is my Blood,” and whatever He meant by that, He didn’t say. Let us leave it to theologians to puzzle over what the meaning of “is” is. It is the Body and Blood because Jesus said so, in some way we don’t need to understand. We only need to do it as He commanded.
I have read that people who receive organ transplants suddenly find themselves with an attribute of the donor. For example, a person receives a new liver and suddenly finds they have an allergy to peanuts, just like the donor did. If that is so, and if Jesus is right that the bread and wine are His Body and Blood, despite what any theologian may say, you have just received an organ transplant and a blood transfusion. In Communion, you begin your transformation, from the innermost parts of your soul to the outermost tips of your fingers, into the glory and likeness of Jesus Christ.