What the Memorial Means to Me
This do in remembrance of me.—1 Corinthians 11:24
By Joseph Knapp
A Personal Testimony
The Memorial means considerably more to me than in meant in the early years immediately following my consecration. In those days participation in the Memorial meant mostly a feeling of not feeling ready, not feeling properly prepared. Other brethren seemed so perfectly attuned to the moment and perfectly involved and uplifted by all that transpired at that special evening ceremony. I, on the other hand, while reading the accounts of the last week of Jesus’ life, was trying to concentrate on receiving an adequate impression from this to be brought to a proper attitude of repentance. Appreciating the emotion of the events through which Jesus passed, I could partake of the Memorial symbols with proper humility, reverence, and conviction. Even with this high ideal in mind, I was distracted by noises around me and by the overwhelming feeling that other brethren were in a more elevated and appreciatively respectful spirit than I.
Above all else, I felt at fault for having to work so hard to get to a proper appreciation of the event. It seemed that I should have been able to stay in the proper frame of mind all year round and not have to exert so much effort to attain that attitude again each year. It seemed that all of this would be easier to do if only we celebrated the Memorial more often as many Christian denominations do. Yet the Scriptures seemed clear that once in a year was adequate.
This inner struggle brought me to consider whether I was looking correctly at what the Memorial meant and if I was really participating properly in it. Over time the Lord has brought me to a more correct understanding of the Memorial; this has brought a more continuous appreciation of it and a more natural and more proper participation in it.
Two Reasons for the Memorial
The Lord showed be the key in 1 Corinthians 11:24 and 25, where Jesus, referring to their participation in both symbols of the Memorial, tells his disciples, “This do in remembrance of me. And in verse 26 Paul clarifies for us that As often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew forth the Lord’s death till he come.”
These are really two separate statements, or reasons, for participation in the Memorial. The first, remembering Jesus, is a personal remembrance for my benefit. This surely should be daily, not just once a year. The second, showing forth his death, must be outward to others—the world and the brethren. Yet if showing forth the Lord’s death is meant to be to the world, how can that be accomplished closeted in this hidden ceremony when only brethren are around? The answers to these questions bring out the deeper primary meaning of the Memorial—both remembering him and showing forth his death.
If Jesus had meant only eating of the symbol he might have said, “Take, eat of this bread once a year to remember how I broke my body for you.” Similarly, he might have said with the cup, “Take, drink of this cup once a year to remember how I (will) shed my blood for a new testament (and for the remission of sins) (Matt. 26:28).
In the same vein, if Paul’s comment in verse 26 meant that I show the Lord’s death only once a year, when I partake of the symbols, I might assent and say, “Yes, I will accept that if you say so.” But I am not sure what impact it was meant to have beyond my agreement, since the brethren would have the same understanding and no one outside of the room could be aware of what I was doing. This left me very uninspired. There must be a deeper meaning to these words.
It was clear that Jesus primarily meant that every time I eat of his body and every time I drink of his cup I am to remember him. And this eating of his body and drinking of his blood is to be a continuous act on my part, a constant obedience to the full commitment made in being baptized, into being dead with him.
A Continuous Commitment
The primary meaning of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 11:26 is not as often as I partake of the symbols, but every time I eat of Jesus’ body and drink of his blood I do show forth his death. This, again, is a continuous commitment. Paul confirms this in 1 Corinthians 10:16, 17, where the communion is clearly continuous and not just once a year. In this primary sense these same sense took on a larger impact.
Paraphrased, in their primary meaning, Jesus’ words might read, “This bread represents my body broken for you, and for the remission of sin. Take and eat of it as your commitment to follow in my footsteps, offering your body also to be broken in filling up that which is behind of the sufferings of Christ (Col. 1:21). Every time your body is broken, remember how I first broke mine for you, and be strong.” “This cup represents my blood to be shed for you, poured out fully in death for the forgiveness of sins, and for a testament of a new covenant to be made for the world. Take and drink of it as your commitment to follow me even unto death. Every time someone reminds you that the way you take will lead to certain death, remember how I first shed my blood for you and be strong.”
What encouragement, comfort, and strength was in the Lord’s words when so understood. What compassion for the trials to be faced; and what strength against temptations to draw back from full commitment, to avoid breaking the body in his service and name, to avoid any appearance of being so crazy as to direct oneself toward death. In every moment in my walk with the Lord, and especially in extreme times, it is good to be able to be comforted in trial and strengthened on the way by remembering the Lord’s words, how he precedes me in every trial I will ever face and assures me that he will never leave me nor forsake me. At the same time Jesus asked me to deny myself, take up my cross daily, and follow him. He also explained that if I were ashamed of him and his words he would also be ashamed of me when he comes in his glory (Mat. 9:3-26). While I did not want to admit it, every temptation to not serve in his name and to pull back from the discomfort of shame or flame was because I would appear too abnormal to those around me. I would appear to be a bit crazy to them. As much as I wanted to serve Jesus, I did not want to appear crazy. At times I felt that I had rationalized that the more normal I appeared the more accepted would be my message to those in the world around me.
Obedience Is the Message
The clear and continuous message from Jesus is to obey. Obedience is greater than (my idea of) sacrifice, and greater than controlling a city. It is the sweetest offering I can make to the Lord; an offering made by fire, a sacrifice of a sweet savor to God. It is the acceptability of the burnt offering: offered voluntarily, put on the fire and never pulled off no matter how hot the flame; faithful to its covenant; continuous in its service; committed from the first, through all the burning, to the complete consumption of self with the sole desire to be effective in the Lord’s service, and found pleasing to him. The burnt offering is not acceptable just by definition but by what it is: voluntary; fully committed; never slacked; completely consumed; and joyfully, in the Lord’s service, for his pleasure and glory!
I see then that in this request of the Lord relative to the Memorial, he is asking for my daily participation in the eating of his body, and the drinking of his blood, and that I will be more comforted and strengthened in this if I will think on him continuously. For me, this is the primary meaning of our Lord’s words, and I readily see that this is a grand purpose. What a wonderful Lord I have! What a wonderful God, whose wisdom and love laid out this opportunity for me and gave me more strength than I deserve; and yet every bit as much as I need to be found faithful in my participation in the real Memorial, and in overcoming all the temptations to withdraw even a little bit from the commitment I have made to be fully consumed in this covenant. Truly, my God is an awesome God! Looking now at Paul’s words I see that his primary meaning would also refer to my daily participation in the eating of the Lord’s body and the drinking of his blood. In this sense it is easy to see how I show the Lord’s death in this participation. The broken body represents the dying of our Lord, and the shed blood represents his death. Dying and death! Dying until death! In dying, I die! Not involuntarily, due to sin, as Adam, but voluntarily, due to obedience and love, as Jesus. By what other possible means could I better represent the Lord’s death to all the world around me, including my brethren, than by living a life in which they can recognize that I am dying daily for his name and fully committed to death in his service. In this I see that being faithful to show the Lord’s death requires that I cannot be ashamed of him or his word.
Paul brings this clearly to my attention in Romans 1:16, 16; 4:5, 8, 9; 10:9-11. In these he connects not being ashamed of the Gospel of Christ or of Jesus or of anything to salvation, to faith, to love, showing that none of these is possible unless I am not ashamed; and therefore I must joyfully and gladly commit myself daily to participation in the body and blood of Jesus. This is the higher meaning in Paul’s words. In this I can again praise God for his grace in bringing this appreciation to me and for permitting me the opportunity to participate in this wonderful offering. May he ever bring more understanding so I may more completely praise him, and may he ever keep me in remembrance of the blessings of appreciation he has already given me.
Dying Daily With Christ
If in any way I have a problem remembering this, I review the Scriptures relative to my commitment (Rom. 6:3-8; 1 Cor. 15:29-31). In this sense I am to be remembering my participation in the meaning of the Memorial every day. I should be looking at that I permit to enter my life to see that it is a part of this dying daily, and not part of resuscitating the old man and making him more comfortable and honored. Watching daily to see that I continue to die, remembering Jesus daily for strength, living so as not to be ashamed to be a light to all men, and looking forward daily to my death, is keeping the Memorial daily. Remembering Christ daily and showing his death to all around me daily is also to keep the Memorial.
If this is my path, then at the once-a-year Memorial service I am already in awareness of the Memorial since I have been living it all year. I can review my past year of dying to see how well it conformed to what I committed, and to the example of the Lord. I can also look at how the Lord has brought me thus far along the way; and I can thank and praise him for his marvelous grace and bountiful blessings and for his great love for me. And I can count him faithful to finish that which he has begun in me, looking forward to another year under his sure direction, asking for more grace to strengthen me to be more faithful to his leading alone, and to not detour to my own understanding, or other temptations, nor to be found slack in immediate obedience to him, knowing that his leading of me in the dark is more accurate than I could do for myself in the brightest light. In all of this I recognize his majesty and power and grace; and reaffirm my faith in his leading, in his workmanship, and in his love for me to keep me faithful even unto death.
Now when I am in that closeted assembly and look to see how my participation in the symbols of the Memorial on that one evening a year are also to being me to remember Christ, and to show his death, I find that the task is much easier, having first appreciated the primary meanings. Just being at this ceremony causes me to specially remember Christ, not only in how he has led me but also in a specific review of the last week of his life, and especially in the Memorial type.
Receiving the Symbols From Christ
When the symbols are passed I take them as if I were personally at the original ceremony with Jesus. I can imagine receiving the symbols from him, and the impact that being there would have upon me. I feel closer to him and more firm in the strength of my commitment to follow on in his footsteps to the final commitment he met in setting the type. Thus, in participating in the symbols I do remember Christ.
I also show forth his death, even in the closed assembly. I show it first to my brethren, representing to them by my participation that I have continued in my commitment through the past year and that I commit myself to continuing on during the upcoming year. I also show it to myself in that I make this public statement specifically to the point of this commitment. This serves to strengthen my commitment. Thus, in participating in the symbols do I show Christ’s death.
At the same time I am privileged to be aware of the brethren around me and of how their participation in this ceremony shows me that Christ’s dying and death is bring lived in them. This is also an encouragement to me.
These are the lessons, more importantly, the appreciation, to which the Lord has brought me and by which I am strengthened to continue in my covenant with the Lord. There is no greater joy than to serve him, no greater anticipation than to be in his presence; and all of this is another grace and blessing he provides in this ceremony and in my covenant opportunity. How could I not continue? Beside him, what else and who else is there?
The Memorial is Moment by Moment
I now see that participation in the Memorial itself is a once-a-year participation in the symbols used by Jesus as a reconfirmation of my ongoing commitment to, and involvement in, what the symbols represent. While my baptismal immersion showed to the brethren that I had made a commitment and that I expected to fulfill it, the Memorial ceremony reconfirms to them, to myself, and to God and Christ that I have been actively involved in this commitment and that I am going to continue firm in it.
This perspective of the Memorial has helped me to be aware and appreciate the privilege that I have in participating in the Memorial every day, all year round, and in participating in the Memorial ceremony once a year. These help me to remain humble about what the Lord has accomplished in me and to be strengthened in the spirit to go forward with greater zeal and commitment to what lies ahead. I cease not to praise God for the riches of the blessing he has given me in being able to participate in the Memorial and in being enlightened to appreciate the participation.
This is what the Memorial means to me.