Remember the Alamo! Remember the Maine! Remember Pearl Harbor! Do you remember where you were and what you were doing on September 11, 2001? Most people do. I remember where I was when John Kennedy was assassinated. Even though it took longer for news to travel in earlier days, I suspect that events such as the Alamo had a similar impact on people. So why the call to remember what most of us can’t forget?
While it’s easy to remember the shock and dismay we felt at hearing the news, the emotions wear off. And as we struggle with the hard tasks necessary to prevent such things from happening again, we can grow weary and wonder if it’s worth all the sacrifice. At such times, when our energy fails and our resolve falters, it is important to remember why we are involved in the struggle. The longer the duration and the greater the battle, the more important it is that we remember.
The Christian life has often been compared to warfare. In fact, in some ways it’s more difficult than military conflict because “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). And it goes on in every Christian’s life, every day, without end. The Christian life is, as one Christian writer put it, “A battle and a march.”
Since the battle of the Christian life is so difficult and the war so long, it’s crucial that we remember why we’re in this fight. There’s the Cross. Remember Calvary! But what exactly does that mean? What is its significance?
It doesn’t mean to us what it meant to Jesus’ disciples at the time that event occurred.
If we could have asked one of them the meaning of crucifixion before Jesus died, his response would have been unequivocal: beware the power of Rome! He would tell us that the cross was reserved for punishing the worst of crimes, such as treason. Not only did crucifixion torture the victim to death, it displayed the corpse as a cautionary example for those who would challenge the power of Rome. That’s why the Jewish leaders accused Jesus of sedition, and it’s why Pilate had the words “King of the Jews” affixed to the cross in three languages. It meant, in essence, “This is how Rome deals with would-be kings!”
Jesus knew that remembering the Cross would be essential in our battle to live for Him. But we needed to see the Cross in a different way. He made that possible by His gift of the Lord’s Supper.
The Lord’s Supper
It’s easy for us to forget what that last week of Jesus’ life must have been like for the disciples. We read about it with the knowledge of what happened at the end of the week and the start of the next, but they lived it in real time. Think of the back and forth swirling of events during those few days.
At the beginning of the week, they’d been fearful, trembling at the thought of returning to Judea. Then, when Jesus raised Lazarus from the grave, they’d felt renewed courage. Soon, however, news that the authorities were seeking to arrest their Master frightened them again.
Then came Jesus’ royal procession into Jerusalem. The crowds shouting their hosannas so restored their confidence that, as they awaited the Master’s arrival for supper, they began to quarrel over how to divide the spoils of the anticipated victory. Then Jesus shocked them by washing their feet.
During that meal, the disciples didn’t realize that He’d be crucified the very next day or that He’d come back to life two days later—and 40 days after that, He’d ascend to heaven and be gone!
Just think of the information they had to process in the course of those few short weeks—the Last Supper, the betrayal, the trial, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, the Ascension—events that changed literally everything. They must have wondered how they could deal with it all! More importantly, Jesus had commanded them to pass on to the world the momentous significance of what they had experienced. How could they help future generations to understand what had happened?
Of course, Jesus had foreseen this, and He left instructions. As Luke tells it: “He 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’ ” (Luke 22:19). And the apostle Paul adds, “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). The Lord’s Supper encapsulates the mission and purpose of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. It reminds us of all the essential details. The broken bread represents His body, which was torn for us. The wine represents His blood, which He spilled for us.
The reason for it
Why do we eat the bread and drink the wine? When we eat food and drink liquids, they literally become part of us. We take them into our bodies, and our dying cells are replaced by new ones that are made from these nutrients. That’s why we say that “we are what we eat.” As disciples, we want to partake of Jesus’ nature and to have our sinful selves replaced by His nature. We want to be “what we eat”—we want to become like Jesus in our lives.
You’re probably familiar with holograms— three-dimensional pictures taken by exposure to laser light. If you break down a hologram, each bit contains, not just a piece of the image, but the entire image, reduced in size and as seen from the angle of that piece. The Last Supper is like that. It’s a reenactment of the plan of salvation, which, when examined, contains the whole image from the point of view of a shared meal.
Predating the Last Supper is the Passover, the deliverance of Israel from slavery. When Jesus described the wine as His blood “poured out” (as it says in the Greek), He echoed the sacrificial system of the Jews, where the blood of the sacrifice was “poured out” at the base of the altar of burnt offering. The disciples would have recognized this reference. In requesting that they do this to remember Him, Jesus was instructing them to remember that He gave up His life voluntarily as a sacrifice for them, and that every sacrifice in the ancient system pointed toward His sacrifice. So the Lord’s Supper contains all the basic elements of God’s redemptive work.
When we celebrate the Last Supper, we not only reenact the relationship of Jesus and His disciples; we reimage— reimagine, if you will—the Cross. The Last Supper is the lens that transforms the Roman cross, the implement of punishment and shame, into the instrument of salvation.
And there’s more.
The Lord’s Supper doesn’t just point back to the Cross and the Passover; it also points to the future. It speaks not only of our individual salvation but also of the restoration of all creation, for Jesus declared, “I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:29).
As we go through this battle that is the Christian life, the Lord’s Supper calls us to remember. Jesus wants us to remember what He did for us in the past, and He invites us to look forward to the glorious life He’s preparing for us in the future.