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Remembrance: Escaping the Restrictions of Time

September 28, 2010

This past weekend, fellow SoS blogger, Adam Embry, taught on baptism and the Lord’s supper at our local church.  During the discussion on Jesus’ command to celebrate the Supper “in remembrance of me,” Embry asked the class, “How does one remember something when you weren’t there?”

Lots of church members gave lots of answers, many of which were pretty insightful.  At the end of the day, however, I believe this is one of those mysteries we simply cannot fully explain.

We need to realize that what we mean by “remember” is probably not what Jesus meant.  We think of mental recall.  In the case of the Supper, we usually turn it into a funeral service, as if we were somberly remembering a good friend who had recently passed away.

I think this is short-changing the biblical text.  As Robert Wilken’s points out in his must-read work, The Spirit of Early Christian Thought (Yale, 2003), the command of remembrance “is more than mental recall, and in the Eucharist the life-giving events of Christ’s death and Resurrection escape the restrictions of time and become what the early church called mysteries, ritual actions by which Christ’s saving work is represented under the veil of the consecrated bread and wine” (34).  Confused?  You’re not alone.  He goes on, “This relation between past event and present reality was as mysterious to the ancients as it is to moderns” (35).

As one Reformer classically describes the communion of Christ and believers in the Supper, “Now if anyone should ask me how this takes place, I shall not be ashamed to confess that it is a secret too lofty for either my mind to comprehend or my words to declare.”

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