A couple about to walk in to a party to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary catch a glimpse at each other before opening the doors. The husband smiles sheepishly as he turns red, and says, “Do you remember that time when I was so nervous about meeting your parents, that I couldn’t speak, and do nothing but nod and shake my head?” His wife grinned at him mischievously, “How could I forget? I knew you were brave when you looked my dad square in the eye and squeaked so loud, that he asked you if you if he could get you a glass of water!” They laughed as they remembered fondly, kissed each other, and locked arms before opening the doors to meet their children, grandchildren, family, and friends in honor of their big celebration.
Memories. In many ways they define our lives. Our recollection of them can bring us joy or pain. They can inspire us to achieve new goals or debilitate us from overcoming obstacles. Every step of our lives leaves a mark which cannot be erased, and these memories change us as people. We may be more cautious in signing a contract after a bad experience, or more willing to forgive after being forgiven by someone dear to us. Whether in positive or negative sense, memories shape us as human beings.
Jesus Christ also employs memory at the Last Supper. He tells his disciples, “This do in remembrance of me” as he offers bread and wine as his own Body and Blood in the inauguration of the New Covenant. Jesus gives His Church a new commandment to “remember” him as they eat this meal. St. Paul tells us that when we eat this bread and drink this cup for the memorial of the Lord, we “do shew the Lord’s death till he come.” (1 Cor. 11:26). The Church has called this “remembrance” theologically by its Greek name ἀνάμνησις (anamnesis). This not “remembrance” in the bare sense of “mental recollection”, but something more.
When the Lord Jesus instituted the Sacrament of His Body and Blood at the Last Supper, he did not do so for his disciples to merely mentally recollect the events at the Cross. Rather, he instituted it in order that the disciples had a way of receiving the grace of the Cross into their very souls. In other words, the events of Christ’s death and resurrection nearly 2,000 years ago are true historical events, but they are of no use to the me, unless they can be applied to my soul. Belief in the fact that Christ died and rose again is only the first step. What good can my belief do unless I receive the benefits thereof? Even the demons believe and tremble. (St. James 2:19). Similarly, I can believe in the fact that washing my hands kills germs and prevents sickness, but I could still live in such a way where I do not reap the benefits of that belief! This is where the sacrament of the Eucharist becomes vital to the Christian life. When the priest says the Words of Institution (“this is My Body”), God brings forward into time those inestimable benefits of the events of the Cross like the forgiveness of sins, the renewal of the soul, and union with Jesus Christ into our moment where remembrance becomes more than a memory recalled, but a reality in which Christians partake.
Jesus Christ ascended into heaven as our great High Priest, offering to God that “oblation of himself once offered” (1928 Book of Common Prayer page 80). In the presence of God the Father, our Lord Jesus continually offers up, on our behalf, the merits of the Cross from so long ago. Christians partake of these merits through the Sacrament of bread and wine where we participate in His Body and Blood. Far from being a warm memory that merely cultivates love, warmth, or joy, the Sacrament is a memorial in which we grasp hold of the realities of true religion. We grasp hold of Jesus Himself, and thereby the Triune God. May the Church’s continual anamnesis bring many to the graces of God Almighty that all may persevere in this Faith unto the end.