It was written on the table at the front of the church I grew up in and chances are it was the same for you. I always thought the wording was strange — Why “this do” rather than “do this”? — but it is a part of my tradition.
But one thing we often forget is that communion or the Lord’s Supper is a complete construction. Originally a part of the Jewish tradition of the Passover meal, the bread and cup had specific roles to play in the meal. The Lord’s Supper that many evangelicals today practice is a far cry from that: It’s not a meal, the bread is as small a piece as you can get — sometimes it’s a wafer, the cup is also as small as you can get. There is no hope of eating too much or getting drunk — practices we are warned against in 1 Corinthians 11:20-22 but are in no danger of doing today. We commonly practice it once a month but the original passover was a once-a-year occurrence. So when Jesus commands us to do “this” until his return what is the “this” that he is referring to?
It got me thinking of how we shape memories and recollections in our lives. The Lord’s Supper was derived from the Jewish Passover. I wonder what other corporate memories other cultures have that are equivalent to Passover?
I guess what I am really asking is this: Is it possible that other cultures have ways of remembering Christ’s death until he comes in as powerful a way as communion? If so, what elements would be needed?
There would need to be some sense of inclusion in the collective memory of the people group in question. The passover was one of the big events in the history of the children of Israel. It was when God physically saved his people from slavery and oppression by preserving (or passing over) their houses and eliminating those of their oppressors. This lead to their Exodus from the land of Egypt back to the Promised Land. To be of Israel meant that one had experienced the Passover.
There would also need to be some symbol of salvation. This is closely connected with my previous point in that the experience of the Passover was an experience of salvation. Jesus use of the symbols of the Passover connects the Exodus event near the beginning of the Bible withthe salvation Jesus would enact later on.
It would also need to be include some hope for the future — “until he returns.” The Passover was more than just a historical event. It also pointed ahead to the Passover that would occur in the end when God returned to judge the living and the dead. What God had done in the past would be repeated for his people in the future. Once again, Jesus’ use of these symbols connects his salvation into the future salvation of the world.
It would also have to be as powerful symbolically as “bread” and “cup.” Both of these are powerful words in the Bible. Of course, they often simply refer to food or a drinking vessel. But they also have symbolic meanings. Bread is used so symbolise the abundant life in God’s Kingdom (Luke 14:15; John 6:31). Cup tends to refer to wrath and suffering in the Bible. Drinking of the cup means to accept the suffering associated with Jesus (Mark 10:38-39).
But some cultures value other things higher than bread or the cup. The various Philippine languages, for example, have hundreds of words normally translated as “rice” in English [palay, bigas, kanin, kakanin, tutong, etc.]. The opposite is true for the Tagalog word tinapay — there are probably hundreds of English equivalents [bread, cookies, cake, crackers, pizza, etc.].
Apart from foods, smells and sounds make me remember. They can be so powerful that when I smell or hear them I have no choice but to remember. When I was in university I only had to smell diesel smoke to be transported back to where I finished High School. When I broke up with my girlfriend (now my wife) for a couple of weeks the sound of the telephone was the most horrible thing I could hear. Too many memories that (I thought) I would never have again.
What kinds of things elicit memories for you? How can you utilise them to help you remember Jesus death until he returns?
Feedback is always welcome.
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Image by Geda Žyvatkauskaitė on Unsplash.