By Mark Hart
I don’t have the greatest memory. I’m constantly setting reminders on my phone and sending emails to myself so that I remember to do certain tasks, whether it’s a grocery list or a child’s pickup time. It’s possible I’m just getting old, or perhaps the stresses of the day take my attention. Maybe I just have too much on my plate and in my schedule. Regardless of the reason, I am a man in need of reminders if I’m going to get done what needs to get done.
I used to wonder if the Israelites had short-term memory. I mean every time I read the Old Testament it seemed as though God the Father had to say to them, “Remember this and remember that.” They were told to remember the Sabbath (Ex 20:8), to remember the Exodus (Dt 5:15), to remember God’s fidelity at Jericho (Jos 4:7), to remember what Amalek did (Dt 25:17), and so forth.
Long before Siri, God’s children relied on his divinely inspired “to-do” lists. The proverbial string was constantly being tied around the Jews’ fingers to help them to remember. So why did God so constantly warn them not to forget (Dt 4:9)? Why did the Father have to keep telling us to remember, anyway?
Put simply, God warns us to remember because he knows we will forget. We will forget his faithfulness in times of suffering, his love in times of desolation and his promise in times of drought. We will forget he is always with us, that he fights the battle for us and that he has given us everything we need to emerge victorious. When we “remember” God and his promise, his fidelity is no longer a distant memory but a present reality.
One Last Supper
Taken, blessed, broken, and shared. It was a formula the disciples had seen before, when Jesus fed the multitudes. It was the formula again during the Passover meal that Thursday night, but its effects would prove eternal.
As the sun set that fateful night, the Sanhedrin no doubt thought they had hatched the perfect plan. Securing Jesus’ arrest through the paid betrayal of one of the Lord’s closest followers, the Jewish leaders must have thought they’d be rid of this trouble-making Rabbi once and for all. Little did they know that while they plotted Jesus’ demise that just hundreds of yards away in an upper room, God was hatching his own plan to ensure Christ’s presence among us eternally.
This was no ordinary Passover meal. The ritual may have looked similar but Christ’s words would breathe new meaning and usher in the New Covenant. As Christ washed the feet of the Apostle we were given a new vision of what servant leadership necessitates. As the Lord instituted the Eucharist we were given an invitation to intimacy the likes of which the world had never known and could never top. In that Eucharistic institution, too, we were given a new sacramental priesthood through which God’s children could regularly receive his divine mercy and taste salvation.
The elements are the same. The actions and words are the same. Not just in the Gospel episodes, but also in every single Mass—every liturgy from then until now, and from now until the end of time. They signify more than we comprehend, because it’s not only the bread and wine upon the altar that are being taken and blessed, broken and shared, but we ourselves, the mystical body of Christ, that are being changed, as well.
Simple elements: bread and wine—completely humble in form. Wheat ground down into flour. Crushed grapes left to sit in a barrel until they change their composition. It’s these humble things that the God of the universe uses to speak the language of his covenant, to bring his presence in a uniquely profound way into the world. It’s in this action of God’s Spirit, active in the priesthood, that we as Catholics are given our greatest gift—the gift of Holy Eucharist. It takes the Pascal Mystery of Jesus’ Passion, death and resurrection, and makes it continually present to us.
More Than Words
God knows that in the midst of our weeks and years—whether they be joyful or sorrowful—we will need to be reminded of his fidelity, mercy, and great love. Consider our Savior’s words from the upper room, now.
Jesus’ command was “Do this in remembrance of me” (Lk 22:19). The word “remembrance” means more than to “recollect.” Jesus wasn’t saying, “Hey, guys, after I’m gone, why don’t you all get together and reminisce. Tell some funny stories, sing some songs, check in with one another because accountability is important, and then, you know, ‘remember’ me. Just think about all the good times we had.”
No, this new covenant would fulfill what the prophet Jeremiah had foretold hundreds of years prior (Jer 31:31-34). In this new and everlasting covenant, we would “re-member” Christ—become one (member) with him, again—through the living bread of his living body (Jn 6:35, 48, 51, 53-56). This was no misunderstanding, for even St. Paul, not present in the upper room that night, confessed over twenty years later that the tradition was handed on to him orally (1 Cor 11:23-26).
Through the Eucharist, Christ remembers us as he promised (Mt 28:20), and in doing so renews our relationship with the Father, again and again. It’s in this moment after receiving the God of the universe in his most Blessed Sacrament, more than at any other time in the course of our week, that things are finally on earth as they are in heaven. It’s for this reason, as well, that St. Paul warns us against receiving Christ’s body and blood if we are not in a state of grace (1 Cor11:27-29); our souls ought to be properly disposed and prepared to become walking tabernacles if we walk forward to receive him. Christ sacrificed for us. It is the understatement of a lifetime to say that the least we can do is reconcile any serious sin before he humbles himself to remember us and consume us with his love, as we remember and consume him.
When we receive Christ’s flesh in the Eucharist, we are finally fulfilling his directive to “do this in remembrance” (Lk 22:19). We are no longer members of the body of Christ, figuratively or symbolically, but physically and ethereally. This is how “heaven and earth are filled with his glory,” as we proclaim with joy at every liturgy. This is how we worship God on earth as it is in heaven, by being in communion with him.
This is why the Father invites us to his table weekly if not daily—that we would never forget—that we might remember. Christ knows your suffering. The Cross is the eternal reminder that God understands your pain but with that recollection the one who is timeless also offers us a timely solution in his Eucharist.
Even if you forget everything else in your calendar and on your grocery list. Even if age or stress or busyness leave you wandering about aimlessly like me, remember this: the God of the universe invites you to consume his flesh and blood that you might be consumed by his love. He has invited you to become a walking tabernacle. There is no higher affirmation in creation that the Creator could offer you.
The only question you have to answer is, “Will you accept this invitation to love and to serve?”
God would rather die than risk spending eternity without you. Never forget that fact. “Do this in remembrance of me” is not just a command…it’s an invitation. Choose wisely and you will be reminded what made this particular Thursday so very holy.