BY MARK HORNE
This is based on a communion meditation I gave in worship several years ago. I tried to make changes that were appropriate for a wider audience.
Whenever we participate in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, we remember Christ and His Work for us.
And in remembering, we imitate God, as His creatures made after His image. God remembers. This is mysterious to us because we usually think of remembering in the context of our finite limitations. We think of remembering as something we do to counteract forgetfulness. And since God is not limited in His knowledge, it is hard to imagine why He bothers to remember things he already knows.
Well, I don’t know any way to explain it, but Scripture is clear that God remembers. Time and again He remembers His covenant and acts to rescue His people in order to keep His covenant with them.
Thus we read in the Word of the LORD:
Then God spoke to Noah and to his sons with him, saying “Now, behold, I Myself do establish with you, and with your children after you; and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the cattle and every beast of the earth with you; of all that comes out of the ark, even every beast of the earth. I establish My covenant with you; and all flesh shall never again be cut off by the water of the flood, neither shall there again be a flood to destroy the earth.” God said, “This is the sign of the covenant which I am making between Me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all successive generations; I set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a sign of a covenant between Me and the earth. It shall come about, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow will be seen in the cloud, and I will remember My covenant, which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and never again shall the water become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the cloud, then I will look upon it, to remember the everlasting covenant between Me and all flesh that is on the earth.” And God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant which I have established between Me and all flesh that is on earth.”
John Calvin thought the rainbow was a sacrament. Some theologians after him have scratched their heads at this. After all, all the rainbow does is simply remind us of what God has promised. A sacrament must be something more. It must involve our participation in some way.
It is true that sacraments require our participation. There must be something done to us in particular, not simply a sign in general of God’s promise. But according to the passage in Genesis 9, which I just read to you, we do participate in the rainbow. The theologians who are questioning Calvin on this point, are not paying close attention to the text. Nowhere does God say that the rainbow is to remind us of God’s promise. No, the rainbow reminds God of His promise.
We baptize babies because we know God has regard for the sign of baptism irrespective of whether or not a baby being bapized is aware of what is going on. Babies are participants in baptism because God is the one to whom baptism is directed. Our passage says the same thing about the rainbow. God sees it and He remembers His covenant. It is fine to remember God’s promise when we see a rainbow, but a rainbow is an effectual sign and seal of the covenant even if no one on earth ever sees it. God sees it; that is what really matters. Whether we understand it completely is irrelevant because we dare not tell God what he should have said!
Now hear the Word of the Lord again, not about the rainbow, but about Passover:
For I will go through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments–I am the LORD. The blood [of the Passover lamb] shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live; and when I see the blood I will pass over you and no plague will befall you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. Now this day will be a memorial to you, and you shall celebrate it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations you are to celebrate it as a permanent ordinance.
On that first Passover, blood was put on the doorposts and on the lintel of each house where people dwelt, if they believed God’s Word enough to follow his directions. When God saw the blood then he would spare those who were inside from His wrath on Egypt. That blood was a sign “for” them; but that doesn’t mean it was a sign primarily for them to interpret and understand. Rather, it was a sign for them to show to God for him to interpret and understand and, what is most important, act upon. He saw the blood and had mercy.
That was the only Passover that was celebrated in people’s homes. Ever after, the Passover was only to be celebrated around God’s Tabernacle and then His Temple later in history. And every lamb had to be brought to the altar where the Priests would put the blood on the altar, not on each family’s doorposts. So the Passover was never merely a reminder of what God had done in the past in delivering Israel from Egypt. The blood was always put where God would see it and respond–on His altar in His central sanctuary where He dwelt. So each Passover was a confession, not only that God had saved Israel from Egypt, but that God continued to save Israel. Each year blood was put before God’s presence to remind God of His covenant promises so that He would continue to act. Each year there was a sense in which Israel was still in Egypt and needed God to remember his covenant promises and to act to bring them into a new future.
There is much more I could say about how God remembers His covenant, about how God responds to signs, and about how people are to present those memorial signs to God. However, I will be bried and jump ahead to the Last Supper.
Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper as a transfiguration of Passover and all the other sacrificial meals. Everytime a congregation partakes of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper they participate in the Sign of the Covenant. “This do in memory of Me.”
Interestingly, there’s been some question raised by New Testament scholarship as to whether our words of institution in English really capture Jesus intention or accurately translates the Greek. I could very easily translate the words found in the Gospels and First Corinthians as “This do as My memorial” or even “This do as a memorial to Me.”
We must not simply leave aside the rich heritage we have in the Hebrew Scriptures (which I’ve barely touched for you) if we are going to understand what Jesus has established as a Sign of the Covenant for us. The blood of the Passover Lamb reminded God not to destroy that particular house. The Rainbow reminded God not to destroy the earth. Our participation in the Rite of Communion reminds God to remember the work of Jesus and His covenant with us through Him.
You might think we don’t have an altar anymore, where we can put things for God to notice them so that they will remind Him to keep His covenant. But the Bible says that we are living stones in His Temple where He indwells by His Spirit. We are God’s altar. We display His body and blood in ourselves.
So remember that God remembers in this Sacrament. This Holy Supper is a sign for us that God will see and remember what Christ has done for us. This Eucharistic Feast is done to the LORD so that He will respond and act on our behalf according to His covenant promises to us in Christ Jesus.
Rainbows do not have minds with which to meditate on God’s promises. Blood dripping down a doorpost has no ability to piously pray for us. Nevertheless, they are effectual reminders to God because of His appointment of them for that purpose. So no matter how distracted you get, nor how little a young child might understand what they are doing, the bread and wine in our eating and drinking work. They remind God to have mercy on us in Jesus Christ. In this rite there is an objective transaction between us and God apart from any piety or intention on our part, though no benefit will be received without faith.
It’s true, of course, that we need to partake worthily. But we can stress our duty in that area to the point that the force of the sacrament almost seems to depend on our own ability to evoke pious feelings and thoughts within ourselves. But the sacraments are given to us to be objective confirmations of our faith and means of grace. If we think the sacraments depend on us, our faith will always waver. After all, our faith is suppposed to be placed not in ourselves but in God and his work in Jesus Christ.
So praise God that He works for us. He has established this sign of the Covenant so that He will remember Jesus Christ and respond by acting on our behalf. And because we are assured that He is working for us, our faith has an objective anchor, and we can be assured.