13 November 2008

Do This in Remembrance of Me

It was in February of 1998, at a small convocation in St. Louis that essentially kicked off the Lutheran Hymnal Project, that Dr. John Kleinig made a comment on the Institution Narrative and the Verba Domini (the Words of our Lord) that stuck with me and subsequently made a significant impact on my understanding of those most precious Words. It was in the course of discussion and debate on the topic of "eucharistic prayer," when Dr. Kleinig simply offered the suggestion that we should not allow ourselves to be misled by the conflated version of the Verba that we know from the Small Catechism and the Liturgy of the Holy Communion. In his usual manner, he let the observation speak for itself; he just laid it out there for any of us to discover his point on our own. I think it took me a year or two to give it my full and serious attention; not that it was all that difficult to look at the four different accounts of our Lord's institution of His Supper, but it is amazing how powerfully the conflation that we hear all the time and know so well by heart holds our thinking. It was probably another year or two more before the impact of what I found in my comparison really began to shape a new way of thinking in me.

The insight to which Dr. Kleinig's comment led me centers in this phrase of our Lord: "Do this in remembrance of Me." Surely, these are some of the most significant Words of the New Testament (to which, properly speaking, they refer quite directly). Along with the so-called "Great Commission" (the sending of the ministers of Christ to catechize and baptize), these Words, "Do this in remembrance of Me," establish the liturgical foundation of Christ's Church. They are quite as fundamental to the life of the children of God as are the words, "Be fruitful and multiply," to the life of Adam's sons and daughters. Yet, these Words of our Lord's New Testament have been subject to rather diverse interpretations and controversy.

Identifying the referent of "Do this" was a point of contention in the development of, and in responses to, the proposed eucharistic rites of the Lutheran Book of Worship in the 1970s. There are a number of points in those eucharistic rites with which I also take exception, and in many ways I remain sympathetic to the concerns that were expressed by critics of the proposal. On this particular point, however, I think that the proponents of the LBW may have been closer to the truth, even if not in their final conclusions concerning the larger picture of the Sacrament. The argument that "Do this" refers to the eating and drinking is one that was frequently made in opposition to the "Great Thanksgiving" of the LBW. It is an argument that I have not only heard but have also made, myself, on more than one occasion. But I don't believe that is the case; the texts don't support that argument.

Here is the interesting fact that Dr. Kleinig's comment led me to discover: It is in St. Matthew's account that our Lord Jesus Christ says, "Take, eat," and "Drink from it, all of you." St. Mark's account is similar, though he doesn't record either the "eat" or the "drink" as a Word of Jesus. In any case, neither St. Matthew nor St. Mark record the Words, "Do this in remembrance of Me." Those Words come to us from St. Luke and from St. Paul; but neither of them include "Take, eat," or "Drink from it."

When the four different narratives are conflated, as in the Catechism and in the Divine Service, we hear: "Take, eat" and "Drink from it," followed shortly by "Do this in remembrance of Me," and the natural conclusion is that we as communicants are to do the eating and drinking in remembrance of Jesus. Never mind for the moment that there's been any number of different interpretations of what that means; the assumption is that "Do this" refers to the eating and drinking. If one reads the actual texts of the Holy Scriptures, however, the "Do this" seems clearly to specify the verbs that have immediately preceded this Word of Jesus: verbs that Jesus is doing, rather than His communicant disciples; that is, taking the bread and the cup, giving thanks, and distributing His gifts with those particular Words that are basically the same in all four accounts: "This is My Body," "This is My Blood." Which is to say that, as it now seems clear to me, "Do this in remembrance of Me" refers not to the reception but to the administration of the Supper.

This distinction is underscored by the fact that St. Matthew (explicitly) and St. Mark (by implication of the preceding verses) write of the disciples at the Last Supper, whereas St. Luke writes of the Apostles reclining at the table with Him; and St. Paul is addressing the Church concerning the way in which the Supper ought to be administered. St. Matthew and St. Mark address the Institution Narrative toward those who are given to receive, to eat and drink the Sacrament; whereas St. Luke and St. Paul address those who are given to hand over the Sacrament to the disciples of Jesus. These are matters of emphasis, not of exlusive distinction, but I believe the difference is instructive to a proper understanding of the Holy Communion.

The Sacrament is to be administered "in remembrance of Me." What does this mean? It really is remarkable how many different ways the "remembrance" has been interpreted, and I'm not inclined to suggest that those various interpretations are mutually exclusive of one another. Löhe speaks of our Lord first of all remembering us by giving us His body and His blood, by which we, in turn, remember Him. Luther speaks of these Words in a variety of ways, too, depending on the context in which he is addressing the matter. Historically, the remembrance has been clarified by way of the ritual anamnesis, following the Verba, in which the incarnation, life, death, resurrection and coming of our Lord for judgment are confessed with the lips. Such things are meet, right and salutary, but the heart of the matter is deeper and more comprehensive.

St. Paul's account in 1 Corinthians is perhaps most helpful, especially in following the second "Do this in remembrance of Me" with the explanatory Words: "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes." I should certainly acknowledge and point out, to begin with, that both the doing of "this" and the "remembrance" are indeed to be connected to the eating and drinking, even if that holy consumption is not the referent of "Do this." Rather, "this" is to be done "as often as you drink it." In contrast to the convoluted meals that the Corinthians were having, they were to eat the bread and drink the cup according to the rubrics of the Lord Jesus Christ, who instituted His Supper in His own way. Instead of one man taking for himself and leaving others hungry, and another man getting drunk, the Christians are to come together as the Church and to give and receive the gifts of Christ Jesus as He has given.

Luther has somewhere interpreted the phrase, "you proclaim the Lord's death," not as an indicative but as an imperative. To paraphrase the point, "as often as you celebrate the Lord's Supper, you must proclaim the Lord's death." This coincides precisely with my observation: the administration of the Sacrament is done "in remembrance" of Jesus by the preaching of Christ the Crucified, which is the good work of the Church and Ministry in giving out the gifts. Thus, I would say that the "remembrance" is rooted, first and foremost, in the preaching of the Gospel; and the Sacrament should never be administerd apart from that preaching.

In connection with the preaching, I believe the "remembrance" characterizes the entire eucharistic rite: in the confession of the Creed, in the Prayer of the Church, in the Preface and Post-Sanctus, in the Anamnesis, the hymnody, etc. That is to say, the entire celebration of the Sacrament is encompassed within the confession of Christ, dependent upon the preaching of repentance in His Name, and given voice in prayer, supplication, intercession, praise and thanksgiving to the Father in His Name.

8 comments:

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

1 - Is it just me, or do people like to try and play around with the pronouns in the Words of Institution - especially "this"? And we can like to try and mince apart the entirety of the Supper into little discrete pieces. Do this whole thing in remembrance of me.

2 - One of the things I like to point out when looking at the Lord's Supper is that when you have "remember" and "covenant/testament" together, it doesn't just imply a wistful looking back, but it implies present action on the part of God.

God remembers Noah, and so He acts.
God remembers the covenant with Abraham and so He rescues folks from Egypt.
If you remember at the altar that your brother has something against you, you act to go fix it.

Of course - the whole Christian faith, the preaching of the Word and the Administration of the Sacraments are about the present and current acting of God through His Word. . . and if we don't understand that all these "Churchly" things are about God acting. . . well, we miss the whole boat.

wmc said...

This would be even clearer if we translated the Greek preposition "eis" as "for" rather than "in." Do this for my remembrance."

Then we could also take delight in the linguistic ambiguity of the objective/subjective genitive:

Do this for your remembrance of me.
Do this for my remembrance of you.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

I think the point about God acting in His "remembrance" is exactly right. At least, that is another way of describing the point I was trying to make. I'm not sure what you have in mind by "mincing apart the entirety of the Supper into little discrete pieces." That's certainly not my intention here. Everything is taken up into the "remembrance" of Christ, which begins with the Lord's gracious remembering of us, by which He is actively present and at work to save us by His action on our behalf. In hearing His Word and receiving His acts and His gifts, we remember Him by faith and love, and by loving our neighbor as God in Christ loves us.

The distinction that has become somewhat clear to me, in a way that I have found instructive and helpful, is that God acts for us in Christ by the way and means of the Ministry of the Gospel. That is to say, one can speak of the giving of His Supper, not only in the sense of distributing His Body and Blood to His disciples, but also in the sense of entrusting that administration to His called and ordained servants of His Word. "Do this in remembrance of Me," therefore, can be understood along the lines of "in the Name and stead of Christ."

In any case, the Church and Ministry of Christ give and receive His Body and Blood "in remembrance" of Him, also by the giving of thanks in His Name, as well as by the proclamation of His death until He comes. That is to say, there should be both the preaching of Christ and thanksgiving that confesses Christ in the administration of His Supper.

Rev. Benjamin Mayes said...

Fascinating! Thanks for your insightful essay.

Rev. Paul Beisel said...

We probably do ourselves a disservice in interpreting these words by not considering their Old Testament roots. Daniel Brege has a great book based on his doctoral thesis that I just got a copy of and he looks with great detail into the Old Testament foundation of the Lord's Supper. It's called: "Eating God's Sacrifice." The meals that were eaten in the OT were always to commemorate (remember) God's saving action. I think Luther in his Great Confession or perhaps somewhere else goes into great detail about what this remembrance is all about. "In remembrance of Me," that is, "My suffering, death, resurrection, etc."

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Thanks for your comments, Paul. I'll have to keep an eye out for Dan Brege's work, as I haven't seen that before. I know I've seen and heard others, including Dr. Nagel, point to the significance of God's remembering in the Old Testament (as Brother Brown has also alluded to). In that respect, it is not God's people who first of all remember Him, but God who remembers His people and His covenant with them. Yet, that active remembrance of God is laid hold of by His people, by their receiving and using His sacred ordinances (to use the older language).

On Luther, he writes of the remembrance in a variety of ways, depending on the context of his discussion. Certainly it is connected to the Passion, Cross and Resurrection of our Lord, but the way in which this is "remembered" is the point at hand. In opposition to Carlstadt, for example, Luther basically said that "remembering the Cross" was useless apart from our Lord's distributing of the gifts of His Cross. That again gets to the point, that the remembrance begins with the Lord's active remembering of us by His actually giving to us what He has promised. And, again, He does so by the way and means of the Ministry, by the service of those whom He has called and sent in His name and stead.

It is interesting to me, in that respect, that it is St. Luke (who speaks of the Apostles at the Last Supper, and of the Apostles being seated with the Lord at His Table in the Kingdom of God), who has earlier written of those servants who are first of all called upon to wait upon the table, before they are invited to sit down and eat. Just as our Lord Himself is among us, at Table, as One who serves us. So do His Apostles serve His Table, first of all as ministers (deacons or waiters), though they too are also served among His communicant disciples.

On different ways and means of the remembrance (anamnesis), Gottfried Krodel, in his massive critique of the LBW "Great Thanksgiving," points to two different forms of this in Luther. I don't recall the particular terminology that he uses to identify these, but one of them is located in the eating and drinking of the Sacrament in faith at the Word of Jesus, and the other is confessed in prayer and thanksgiving, etc., in the celebration of the Sacrament. Krodel's work is pretty interesting and helpful, but I fear it got lost in the length of his treatise and in the controversial shuffles of the day.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Here is what I think it means, and why it matters:

The right administration of the Lord's Supper is comprised, not only by the matter (bread and wine) and the form (Verba Domini), but also by the proclamation of Christ Crucified and thanksgiving in His Name. The preaching of the Cross of Christ should precede and acompany the administration of the Sacrament; and the celebration of the Sacrament should include the giving of thanks (eucharistia) for the works of God fulfilled in Christ Jesus.

The order of the Holy Communion in TLH, in LW, and in all five settings of LSB meet these criteria. However, where the preaching is lacking or absent, the administration of the Supper is not done "in remembrance" of Jesus. And where the service proceeds directly from the prayer of the Church to the Verba without any thanksgiving (that is, where the preface, proper preface, pre-sanctus and sanctus are simply omitted, and nothing comparable is even used in their place), then the administration of the Supper is not done "in remembrance" of Jesus. At least, that is my working premise, on the basis of the institution narratives recorded by St. Luke and St. Paul.

I'm inclined to think that most Lutherans would agree as to the necessity of preaching; but I do wonder what my colleagues and brothers in Christ would have to say regarding the necessity of thanksgiving.

Fr. Timothy D. May, SSP said...

Thank you for this post. I had not considered this understanding of "Do this" before and find it quite compelling. Then there is the natural connection to "Go and make" in baptism. The "thanksgiving" question I cannot comment on having not studied this in depth. Still, if I were to have a 7-year old reaction, I think the thanksgiving would need to remain connected to and a part of the whole. In our understanding and appreciation of the forgiveness of sins I do not understand how the thanksgiving in the Eucharist would undermine grace and faith. I realize that there is disagreement but I have not studied this close enough to appreciate the disagreement. As we get closer to the Last Day and Thanksgiving, thank you again for the post and this discussion.