Do this in memory of Me…
Do This In Remembrance of Me: Saint John’s Bible – Luke 22
Written by Paul Anderson
In this painting by Donald Jackson, the sacrificial lamb motif, heralded by John the Baptist’s testimony in John 1:29, 36, and featured in his painting, “Call of the Disciples,” the Lord’s Supper is here connected with the work of Christ on the cross. Interestingly, the Gospel of John makes no reference to a meal of remembrance; rather, the emphasis is upon serving one another, embodied by Jesus, as he washes the feet of his followers (13:1-17).
And yet, Jesus is remembered as sharing table fellowship in all four Gospels as an enactment of celebrating God’s reconciling and healing presence with his disciples—but also with sinners, tax gatherers, Pharisees, and even Samaritans. This practice also continues in the Acts of the Apostles (2:43-47; 4:32-37), as Jesus-adherents gathered together for meals—sharing what they had in common and worshiping together in sacramental fellowship. Indeed, the promise of Psalm 23:5 has come true within the ministry of Jesus:
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Table fellowship continues within the Jesus movement, as the presence of the resurrected Lord was experienced in the breaking of bread together—on the Emmaus Road and on the Galilean shore (Luke 24:36-49; John 21:1-15). Over two decades later, the Apostle Paul emphasizes the importance of breaking bread together as believers rather than eating food offered to idols (1 Cor 10:14-22), but sometimes full meals had also become a problem.
In 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, Paul addresses abuses that also had come to accompany some Christian fellowship meals. Some were eating or drinking too much, so Paul advises them to eat at home, changing the fellowship meal into a symbolic meal of remembrance—celebrating the Last Supper. Here we see the evolution from a fellowship real meal to commemorative symbolic practice. The shift is also apparent in the movement from Mark’s emphasis upon the blood of the new covenant to the cup of the new covenant in Luke, who follows Paul on that matter (Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20; I Cor 11:25).
Rather than setting up a new “Christian” rite at the last supper, replacing Jewish ones, Jesus was most likely adding the significance of his own sacrificial death to the Jewish Passover Meal as a transformative act. Thus, whenever the Passover is celebrated, it is neither the lamb slain during the days of Moses nor the one killed on the Jewish Day of Preparation to be commemorated; it is the sacrifice of Christ for the life of the world that is to be remembered from year to year, and every day in between, as often as people eat and drink.
The title of this beautiful painting by Donald Jackson (Saint John’s Bible, Vol. 6), “Eucharist,” actually means “thanksgiving” in Greek. Note the featuring here of both Jewish and Christian vessels used to celebrate the Jewish Passover and Christian Communion, with Christ the Sacrificial Lamb, occupying center stage. As Matthew 18:18-20 promises that Christ is present where two or three are gathered in his name, indeed every meal occasion among believers bears with it sacramental potency.
And yet, it is not only the life and death of Jesus that believers call to present memory within the corporate experience of communion; it is also that to which Christ calls us that brings things full circle. As Jesus queried James and John in Mark 10:38-39, as to whether they were willing to drink his cup and participate in his baptism, such was not an invitation to outward rites; it was a calling to martyrological faithfulness. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer puts it, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die. Either we die to self, or we put Christ to Death” (Cost of Discipleship, SCM, 1959, 89).
This meaning comes forth all the more clearly in John 6, where Jesus declares that he is the true Bread of Life. While the crowd requests more bread for their stomachs, Jesus offers the food for their souls, which nourishes unto eternity (v. 27). Indeed, the “bread” he offers is his flesh given for the life of the world, and his followers must ingest his flesh-and-blood sacrifice if they expect to dwell with him in the afterlife (vv. 51-54). Thus, when the life-producing bread of Christ is offered his followers, it is served up on a platter hewn into the shape of a cross. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer again reminds us, “There are two ways possible of encountering Jesus: man must die or he must put Jesus to death.” (Christ the Center, Harper & Row, 1978, 35)
Written by Paul Anderson