Video of the Divine Service here.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Do this in remembrance of Me.” We’ve heard the words, seen the words, so many times. But what can it mean, the “remembrance” of Jesus? It certainly does not mean to remember in the way we normally use that word. We normally use “remember” to talk about recalling to mind things that we have seen or experienced, but since none of us was there in the upper room on the night in which He was betrayed, we can’t remember Him in that way. We don’t remember Jesus taking the bread and blessing the cup. We don’t remember Him giving that bread and that cup to the disciples who were there, transforming the Passover into the eating and drinking of His own flesh and blood.
So if we are not recalling Him to mind from memories of events we have seen and experienced, what does Jesus mean when He speaks of His remembrance? This remembering is a reminder, a reminder that is given to us, and by which we remind others: “as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” This Jesus, who was crucified for you, has been raised from the dead and glorified. Now He gives to you that divine body and blood as the forgiving fruit of the cross. It is because He actually gives us the crucified body and shed blood that we can proclaim His death while we are eating and drinking. We proclaim this Jesus, and no other, as a reminder to the whole world that God chose what is low and despised and foolish in the world to put the high and praised and wise to shame. This is also why churches who believe that they receive the same body and blood that was crucified have crucifixes on or above their altars. Truly, from that cross to this altar—a blessed and direct means by which we receive the benefits of His death and resurrection.
But there is more. (There’s always more!) Paul says that the members of Christ’s Body are many. But there is only one Christ. So how can the many be one? It is here, before the altar from which we eat and drink, that we are re-membered. All those who have been baptized into Christ, who have put on Christ—the many, many thousands, tens of thousands, millions—all those members are re-membered as the one body of the one Christ. And the only way that can happen is because we all share in the actual, real, born-of-Mary, crucified, resurrected, ascended Body and Blood of the true and only Jesus. Because there is one bread, we, the many, are one Body, because we all share from the one bread (1 Corinthians 10:17).
That is why we pray in Luther’s hymn, “Lord, may Thy body and Thy blood be for my soul the highest good!” (LSB 618-619, refrain). The highest good, eternal life in and from Christ. Here and nowhere else is this picture so clearly drawn of our unity with Christ and with all those who are in Christ. “With angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.” With those who have lived and died in the Faith; with those who live now in the Faith; and with those yet to come who will share this Faith and this Meal. With them, because we share the same Christ.
If we do not share the same Christ, we cannot share the same meal. Any Christ who cannot do what His own word says, which is beyond the philosophies and rationalizations of human beings; any Christ whose work is not once and for all completed in His death and resurrection; any Christ who is not, eternally, both Man and God—these are different Christs from the one revealed in the Scriptures and confessed by us. So we will not eat the suppers where those Christs are confessed. The Word may be present; the Gospel may be present; true faith may be present. But we will not give up our confession of the Jesus who has been delivered over to us by the Apostles and the Church that has devoted herself to their doctrine.
All of this shows that the Body of Christ is still not an object of sight, any more than the body and blood are seen in the bread and wine. We believe that one, holy, Christian, and apostolic Church; we do not see it. But we do long for the day when we will see what we have been promised. What we do not see, we hope for. And hope does not put us to shame. Though the Church in this world appears to be by schisms rent asunder and by heresies distressed, we know that Christ remains Lord of His Church and Lord of all creation. He is risen from the dead, and it is only because of the resurrection and ascension that we can eat and drink the crucified Christ. It is only because of the resurrection and ascension that we continue to proclaim His death every time we eat His Holy Supper. It is only because of the resurrection and ascension that we will continue to eat this Meal in remembrance of Him, as a concrete and physical reminder that He does not leave or forsake His Church. “The remembrance of Christ is not the vain celebration of a show or a celebration for the sake of example, the way plays celebrate the memory of Hercules or Ulysses. It is rather the remembrance of Christ’s blessings and the acceptance of them by faith, so that they make us alive. So the Psalm says (Ps. 111:4, 5), ‘He has caused his wonderful works to be remembered; the Lord is gracious and merciful. He provides food for those who fear him.’”1And because Jesus is resurrected and ascended and lives and reigns to all eternity, those who eat this Body and Blood in faith cannot stay dead any more than He stayed dead. The Life that death could not overcome lives in you and in me. We eat and we drink, and we live. He re-members us as one body and He will remember us when He brings His Kingdom in all its fullness.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 3/21/18
1 Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 262). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.