2. Remembering and Proclaiming Christ's Death (Luke 22:19b; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26)

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson

http://www.jesuswalk.com/lords-supper/2_remembrance.htm
Audio (15:38)
http://www.jesuswalk.com/mp3files/lords-supper/2_remembrance.mp3

Fra Angelico, The Lord's Supper (1450)
Fra Angelico (Italian painter, c.1395-1455), Detail of the "Last Supper" (1450), Tempera on wood, Museo di San Marco, Florence, Armadio degli Argenti paintings. Larger image.
"This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me." (Luke 22:19b)
"23For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, 'This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.' 25In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.' 26For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes." (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)

In chapter 1 we considered Jesus' interpretation of the bread as his body and the wine as his blood. In this lesson we consider his command to continue this observance into the future. The first two synoptic Gospels, Matthew and Mark, relate the historical event of the Lord's Supper: This is my body, this is my blood. But the account in Luke, carefully recorded from eyewitness testimony, relates an additional element of the Last Supper that night -- a command to repeat this act perpetually, "until he comes."

The Command to "Do This" Continually (Luke 22:19b)

Let's look at this command carefully:

"This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me." (Luke 22:19b)

Jesus' commands in Mark and Matthew, "take, eat, etc." and in Luke "take, divide among yourselves" (22:17) are Aorist Imperative verbs in Greek. But the command, "do this," is a Present Imperative. Let me explain the difference:

Aorist is a Greek tense which emphasizes the occurrence of an action, with no regard to its progress or duration. Often it expresses a singular, punctiliar point in time.1

Aorist Imperative: "Do this."

Present tense can carry the idea of continuous action in the present. The present imperative has a "durative force."2

Present Imperative: "Do this and keep on doing it."

By the present imperative in both Luke and 1 Corinthians, we understand that Jesus intends that his disciples should continue to "do this."

Do what? This verb poieō is more than thinking. It denotes an action, "to undertake or do something that brings about an event, state, or condition, do, cause, bring about, accomplish, prepare, etc."3 The context in Luke would be breaking and distributing bread that had a relationship to Christ's body. The context in 1 Corinthians would mean eating bread and drinking wine in a way that is related to Christ's body and blood, that is Jesus' death. In other words, Jesus' command to "do this" means that we disciples are to continue this action. The Scripture indicates that it was the early church's practice to celebrate the Lord's Supper "on the first day of the week" (Acts 20:7).

The Last Supper is the single, unrepeatable historical event that took place the night before Jesus' crucifixion. The Lord's Supper is that ordinance which is celebrated again and again when Christians gather in memory of Jesus' death.

Q1. When repeated often, doesn't the Lord's Supper run the risk of becoming mundane and lose its meaning? Why did Jesus command its repetition?
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Passover as a Memorial Feast

Of course, the Lord's Supper was born in the midst of a Passover feast or Seder. And Passover itself is designed as a feast of remembrance. The Lord instructed Moses:

"This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD -- a lasting ordinance. For seven days you are to eat bread made without yeast.... Obey these instructions as a lasting ordinance for you and your descendants. When you enter the land that the LORD will give you as he promised, observe this ceremony. And when your children ask you, 'What does this ceremony mean to you?' then tell them, 'It is the Passover sacrifice to the LORD, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.'" (Exodus 12:14-15, 24-27)

At Passover there are a number of points of remembrance. In a contemporary Seder the table is set with:

  • Unleavened bread or Matzoh remind them that there wasn't time for bread to rise; they left Egypt in a hurry.
  • Haroseth represents the mortar used to build buildings for Pharaoh.
  • Bitter herbs are reminiscent of the bitter affliction of slavery.
  • Parsley dipped in salt water reminds them of the tears of the Jewish slaves.
  • Roasted egg is a symbol of Spring.
  • Lamb's meat  was part of the meal (before sacrifices were ended in 70 AD). These days a shank bone reminds participants of the passover lamb.
  • Four cups of wine, each with a different meaning are part of the meal -- representing freedom, deliverance, redemption, and release.
  • A fifth cup of wine in the contemporary Jewish seder, the Cup of Elijah, looks forward to the coming of the Messiah.

During the meal the youngest member of the family is coached to ask and answer questions, such as, "Why is this day different from all other days?" This prompts a retelling of the story of how God delivered the people of Israel from Egypt during the Exodus.

So the idea of a memorial meal was readily understood by Jesus' disciples.

Q2. What was the purpose of the Passover meal for future generations? Why was it to be repeated? What was to be remembered? What would have happened if the Jews had stopped remembering the Exodus?
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In Remembrance of Me

In both Luke and 1 Corinthians, Jesus adds a prepositional phrase that explains how and why the disciples are to undertake this action -- "in remembrance of me." Though it might seem pedantic, let me look at each of these words one by one.

"In" is the common Greek preposition eis. In some contexts it might be translated "in, into, unto." But the word carries the idea of motion into a thing or towards a goal. Here it is used to denote a purpose, "in order to," or for the purpose of remembrance.4

"Remembrance," anamnēsis, means "remembrance, reminder, recollection." This isn't just a passive memory, but an active "reliving of vanished impressions by a definite act of will."5.

"Of me" is the personal pronoun that modifies the word "remembrance."

The phrase could be rendered "for the purpose of remembering me" or "for the purpose of my remembrance." Either way, the meaning is pretty much the same. Jesus clearly commanded his disciples that they should continue to celebrate the Lord's Supper in order to remember him.

What should they be remembering about Jesus? His atoning death for them, of course, since in chapter 1 we determined that this is the primary meaning of "body given for you" and "blood poured out for the forgiveness of sins."

Jesus' words, "Keep on doing this (present imperative) in my memory," or "in remembrance of me," is a purpose statement, a command that we are continually to remember his atoning death for our sins.

Q3. Why is our remembrance of Christ's death so important? What happens to Christianity if we neglect remembering in this way? What happens to us personally when we forget Christ's death?
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The Words of Institution in 1 Corinthians 11:23-25

Let's consider Paul's recitation of the Words of Institution:

"23For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, 'This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.' 25In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.' 26For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes." (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)

The words "received" (paralambanō6) and "passed on" (paradidōmi,7 NIV), "handed on" (NRSV), or "delivered" (KJV) are not just ordinary conversation but technical terms describing the accurate conveying of the exact words of Jesus.8 Just as Paul received the Words of Institution (either directly from Jesus by revelation [Galatians 1:12] or by reliable tradition), so he passed them on accurately to the Corinthian believers and to the other churches he planted.

Notice that Paul passes on a rather structured and parallel form of the Words of Institution, repeating "in remembrance of me" twice.

Proclaiming the Lord's Death (1 Corinthians 11:26)

Verse 26, however, is not part of the Words of Institution, but a comment upon them. Let's look at this sentence in detail:

"For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes." (1 Corinthians 11:26)

"For" (gar) is a conjunction, "a marker of cause or reason, for" or "marker of clarification."9 It explains the reason or purpose for the remembrance, that is, to proclaim Christ's death.

"Whenever" (NIV) or "as often as" (KJV, NRSV) translate a pair of words, hosakis, "as often as," with ean, "as."10 Every time you partake of the Lord's Supper is an occasion at which a statement is made, a proclamation is heard, that Jesus Christ gave his life as a sacrifice for the forgiveness of your sins! What a message!

"Proclaim" (NIV, NRSV) or "shew" (KJV) is katangellō, "to make known in public, with implication of broad dissemination." The word is frequently used in literature of public decrees.11 The word is often used in the Acts and Paul for preaching the message of Jesus, for declaring the Christian gospel. Paul told the Corinthian church:

"When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified." (1 Corinthians 2:1-2)

The message of the cross is not only a reassuring word for believers, but also for unbelievers. The Lord's Supper is an enacted sermon about Jesus' sacrifice for sins.

Q4. (1 Corinthians 11:26) In what way is the Lord's Supper a proclamation? To whom is the proclamation made? Why is this important? What happens to the church when its proclamation shifts to a different central theme?
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Lord's Supper: Meditations for Disciples on the Eucharist or Communion
Available as e-book and paperback.

I think it is ironic that some churches relegate the Lord's Supper to an only occasional observance, when the sacrament contains the church's central message.


The Lord's Supper is intended to be both a memorial feast and an enacted proclamation of Jesus' death for our sins. In your remembering you also proclaim the gospel of the crucified Christ to all mankind.


Prayer

Father, help us to remember Jesus' death for our sins rightly in the Lord's Supper. Help us to proclaim boldly in this sacrament Jesus' atoning death for the sins of all mankind. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.


References

Common abbreviations and references. www.jesuswalk.com/lords-supper/refs.htm

  1. H.E. Dana and Julius R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament (Macmillan, 1927), §179. F. Blass, A. Debrunner, and Robert W. Funk, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (University of Chicago Press, 1961), §318.
  2. Blass, Debrunner, and Funk, Grammar, §336.
  3. "Do," poieō, BDAG 839-842, 2.
  4. BDAG 288-291, 4.f.
  5. Johannes Behm, anamnēsis, upomnēsis, TDNT 1:348-349. BDAG 68.
  6. Paralambanō, 2." to gain control of or receive jurisdiction, take over, receive," b.γ. (BDAG 767-768).
  7. Paradidōmi, 3. "to pass on to another what one knows, of oral or written tradition, hand down, pass on, transmit, relate, teach." (BDAG 761-763).
  8. Fee, 1 Corinthians, p. 548.
  9. Gar, BDAG 189-190, 1.
  10. Hosakis, BDAG 728. This is also used in Revelation 11:6.
  11. Katangellō, BDAG 515.

Copyright © 1985-2017, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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