The intricacies of language always interest me, especially when you get down to the root of an idea behind a word. Much of the verbiage we toss around today has a different meaning altogether from its original one because of cultural shaping, sustained generational ignorance, or everyday misuse. This affects day-to-day life in several areas, whether it be someone misunderstanding what you said because you knew the word better than they did or vis-a-versa—that’s probably the most typical occurrence. Inevitably, though, it bleeds over into the spiritual realm. Now, I realize what I’m about to delve into is an English translation of a Greek passage of the Bible, and no (I’ll go ahead and admit), I have no idea if the verbal acuity in the English text is synonymously found in the Greek. I also don’t really believe it matters. Whether it’s really there in the Greek text or not doesn’t change the fact it is locatable in the English.
I say this in reference to the concept of remembrance brought up by Christ the night before his crucifixion. He asks the disciples (and vicariously, us) to do this (that is, the Lord’s Supper—the taking of the elements, the bread and the wine) in remembrance of him. It’s so commonplace in religious dialogue and action that the root meaning behind this has gone missing.
Why remember? Why focus on memory? Well, that’s the initial part of the problem in terms of our outlook and understanding. Sure, remembrance touches on and has a lot to do with memory. That’s still a legitimate definition of the word. But it’s not where it begins. In a literal sense, to re-member means to reattach. To re-member implies I have become separated and wandered off. It implies that a recovery and restoration must take place for things to be put right. It nudges forth the notion that something maladaptive transpired first.
And memory still very much plays into this because often that is the primary way in which we become detached. We become dismembered, if you will. And this does not affect just me. Sure, when I forget, I am dismembered in a personal way in that my relationship with Christ becomes less; there is a distance. But there’s a corporate detriment to that, as well, because I am also part of a community following Christ, the likes of which Paul describes as a “body.” So when I forget—when I become dismembered—I also hurt the body around me. I bring something to that table, and when I withdraw because of the disease of forgetfulness, it hurts that community.
So when we sit in church and partake of the elements, it’s not some creepy Kool-Aid parade. It’s a time to pause and reattach oneself. This is the entire idea behind religion. A lot of followers of Christ are wary of and hesitant towards the word “religion,” enough to where one worship song has the words, “There’s a place where religion finally dies,” and every time we sing it at my church people clap and cheer more than usual. And I know what they’re saying, and I agree with them: we want to see the death of legalism, tradition, sectarianism, etc. But I’m told by people who have studied biblical languages that “religion” literally means “to tie back to.” People say Christ didn’t come to bring religion, and he didn’t in the stuck-up, coldhearted sense. But in terms of re-membering us and reattaching us to his glory, he absolutely came to bring religion. He did it out of love, grace, and mercy. And then we’re asked to do the same. That’s what we can’t lose sight of. That’s what we have to remember and return to.
There’s power in Jesus breaking the bread and then immediately telling everyone how it is a symbol for his body. I don’t know if the disciples around that table connected the dots, but Jesus, in effect, just broke his own body, a foreshadowing of the coming day’s actions and how it would be he who would give up his own life without anyone taking it from him. It would be he who would give up his own spirit.
The body of Christ was broken metaphorically at the supper table and literally the next day. Two days later, though, Christ’s body was restored and has been ever since. And now his physical body is gone, but the remaining physical Body is that of the Church. Perhaps that doesn’t tie up everything, so let me put it this way.
Jesus broke his body (bread) metaphorically and then immediately went to a garden and prayed for concord amongst the following generations of believers, which would later be unified (or hopefully unified) in a Church built upon one of Christ’s own beloved disciples, a Church now known as Christ’s bride for whom he died. Christ’s body was broken once, by himself of his own accord. Now the body of Christ is us, the Church. May we never break it again.
But we do. Because we forget. Perhaps solely because we forget. Forgetfulness is the first domino in a long line of destruction. It is the Jenga block you never should have touched but did anyway.
And there’s so much mercy and foresight in this moment at the Lord’s Supper because Christ knows we will forget. Is it any wonder, then, how this was one of the last things he told his disciples to do? And it’s important to note how there is no ring of conditional language to it. It’s a command, voiced as an imperative. There’s an urgency to this. And we would be horribly remiss to not grasp the colossal necessity of remembering what was done for all of us in Jerusalem.
We will forget. It is unavoidable. It is human nature. But we hold in our hands the opportunity and ability to always stop and remember—an opportunity that, if we were to turn it down, will only bring about havoc and nothing of redemption.