On the anniversary of Jesus’ death, many Christians will be ‘observing’ the one religious ceremony or ritual that Jesus specifically requested. Some refer to the event as The Last Supper and The Lord’s Evening Meal. In instituting this ritual, Jesus asked of his followers:
“He took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ After supper he took another cup of wine and said, ‘This cup is the new covenant between God and his people-an agreement confirmed."
– Luke 22:19-20
Accordingly, much of Christianity observes this event by remembering and recounting Jesus’ horrible death. But is that what he was asking? Was he asking that when they eat the loaf and drink the cup, they should recount the events associated with his death? Did Jesus want us to annually, or more frequently, relive that horrific night? We do not think so.
When humans normally observe a memorial of someone’s death, they do not discuss the illness, the accident, or the weapon that took the life of their dear friend. Instead, they use the occasion to remember the life of the individual. They recount their friend’s personality, his wise sayings, his memorable antics, and his successes. They don’t display pictures of the dying body. They display the most beautiful photograph they can find. A memorial of one’s death is really a celebration of that one’s life. Why should it be any different for Jesus, the most wonderful and incredible person to have ever walked the earth!
The event as recorded in Matthew, Mark and Luke give little information about the evening. After reading those accounts, one might conclude that the remembrance supper was of short duration. But the event as recording in John gives a more comprehensive look at that night. We find that some of the most memorable of Jesus’ teachings were recounted on that night.
It was at the remembrance supper that Jesus washed the feet of his apostles to teach them a lesson in humility. (John 13:4-17) It was that night when he gave the new commandment to love each other as he loved them. (John 13:31-35). It was that night that he told them that he was preparing places for them in heaven (John 14:1-4), that he was ‘the way, the truth and the life,’ (John 14:6), and that he would be sending the Spirit of Truth to help, comfort and guide them. (John 14:16-17; 15:26-27; 16:12-15) These are the things we should remember when commemorating the remembrance supper.
We should also remember what Jesus taught about his body and his blood. He left no question about what we are to do:
“So Jesus said again, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you cannot have eternal life within you. But anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise that person at the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. I live because of the living Father who sent me; in the same way, anyone who feeds on me will live because of me. I am the true bread that came down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will not die as your ancestors did (even though they ate the manna) but will live forever.”
– John 6:53-58
Of all the things Jesus taught, feeding on him symbolically by not only living lives that honor him, but also participating in the remembrance supper, is one of the most important.
So on this night, as we gather together ‘in remembrance of Jesus,’ let us not look upon the emblems – the loaf and the cup – as representing what was lost. Let us look upon them as representative of what we gained, namely, a brilliant example of faithful and courageous living, an exact representation of the personality of our Heavenly Father, incomparable lessons of wisdom, humility and love, the helper, the Spirit of Truth, who would always be with us, and, of course, the gift of resurrection to everlasting life and the honor of being in union with Christ Jesus.
Jesus also brought freedom and spiritual liberty. He brought us out of darkness into his glorious light. He revealed the sacred secret of our sonship with God with a heavenly inheritance, and he gave us a ministry of reconciliation so that mankind can come to know they, too, are the children of God.
So on this special night, let us remember the life of Jesus, not merely his death because, as the Apostle Paul wrote, Jesus’ death reconciles to God, but it is his life that saves us:
“For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.”
– Romans 5:10-11
May the Father bless each and every one of us as we remember the life and ministry of our Universe Sovereign on this most holy night. (Philippians 2:9-11)