In 1 Corinthians 11:24-25, Paul recounts the instructions Jesus gave the disciples when inaugurating a new ordinance for the early church to observe. Jesus says, as we grind the broken bread (picturing His body) in our teeth and as the fruit of the vine (picturing His blood) lingers on our throats, we remember Christ’s death.
So what does it mean to remember? Does it simply suggest we shouldn’t let thoughts slip out of our mind? Does it mean we reminisce on the sufferings of Jesus so we feel really thankful or really awful? For many Christians, to remember is an ambiguous mental activity. But in the Bible, a call to remember—especially when tied to a ceremony—is a vibrant, powerful, and participatory concept where we recalibrate our lives according to what’s being remembered. The Lord’s Supper is not merely a subjective recalling to mind, but an active manifestation of the continuing and actual significance of the death of Christ.
For example, the preeminent picture of redemption in the Old Testament is the exodus of Israel from Egypt, memorialized in the Passover meal. Every year the Israelites would again participate in this meal to remember who—or whose—they were. It’s not dry history to be learned, but dynamic history to be lived. They participate in the meal because they are partakers in the reality of this redemption as Israelites. “And this day shall be unto you for a memorial; and ye shall keep it a feast to the LORD throughout your generations; ye shall keep it a feast by an ordinance for ever.” (Exodus 12:14).
The Puritan John Flavel distinguished between two types of remembering. The first is speculative and short-lived, and the second is affectionate and permanent. “A speculative remembrance is only to call to mind the history of such a person and his sufferings: that Christ was once put to death in the flesh. An affectionate remembrance is when we so call Christ and his death to our minds as to feel the powerful impressions thereof upon our hearts.”
When the Lord’s Supper is served believers experience an affectionate remembrance because the gospel is recalled and reapplied. We remember the grace purchased at Christ’s death is the same grace we need when we come to the table.
Every time we take communion the gospel is proclaimed, and we believe and embrace it again—in other words, we remember.
My hope is that each of us come to the Lord’s Table in a couple weeks with eagerness and expectancy, believing this is not a dull religious ceremony but a spiritual gospel experience.