Thursday, May 12, 2005

Where Did We Ever Get the Notion That the Lord's Supper is a Funeral Procession? (Part 4)

As we saw in our previous entry to this series, Jesus, in his words of institution (“do this into my remembrance”), seems to be instructing his apostles to remind him of something. Just what is not clear from this verse alone. Yet the context bears considerable weight in determining the content of this reminder. Jesus has already told his apostles that he would never again eat the meal or drink the cup until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God (Luke 22:16, 18). The phrase “do this into my remembrance” follows immediately on the heels of this pledge of abstinence (v. 19). It seems reasonable to conclude, therefore, that the content of this “reminder” is for Christ to come again and to inaugurate the Messianic Banquet in fulfillment of the Lord’s Supper.

One objection to this view might be to question the need for Christ to be reminded of anything. In light of his omniscience, is there any chance he will forget what he has promised to do? On the surface this seems to be a reasonable criticism. Upon closer examination, however, this criticism loses substance. Of course, Christ (being God) does not forget anything. Yet to reject this view on the basis that God’s omniscience precludes his needing to be reminded of anything is surely to prove too much; for on that basis, any kind of repeated intercession would go by the wayside. David prayed more than once that God would “remember” him or his righteous deeds (e.g., Pss 25:6-7; 89:50; 106:4). Moses himself appealed to God to “remember” his covenant promises and so to spare Israel from divine wrath (Deut 9:26-27). Nehemiah repeatedly appealed to God to “remember” him for his righteous deeds (Neh 13:14, 22, 29, 31). Jesus himself urged us to pray persistently to God: “And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly” (Luke 18:7-8). Jesus’ point seems to be that God acts as he sees persistence in the petitions of his people.

This persistence is demonstrated in our reminding God of our plight and thereby petitioning him to act in our favor. This is particularly true of God’s covenant promises to his people. In Exodus we read:

During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them (Exod 2:23-25).
Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the Israelites, whom the Egyptians are enslaving, and I have remembered my covenant. Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment’ (Exod 6:5-6).
God “heard” the plea of his people in Egypt when they cried out to him for help. As a result, God “remembered” his covenant he had made with the patriarchs and acted to rescue his covenant people. Other appeals to God to “remember” his covenant relationship include Jer 14:21, Exod 32:13, Deut 9:27, and 2 Chr 6:42. As we have already seen, the Passover served not only as a reminder to the people of how God saved their fathers out of Egypt, but also as a reminder to God to save Israel from all her enemies by sending the Messiah. The Passover was the meal of the Old Covenant that embodied this petition to God.

The petition of the Lord’s Supper is no different. By repeatedly partaking of the Supper (the meal of the New Covenant) we are “reminding” Christ of our plight that we are still without a host at our banquet and that the Banquet itself is still in its unfulfilled state. The Lord’s Supper, then, is an appeal to Christ—a reminder, as it were—to return and bring this meal to its fulfillment; namely, the Messianic Banquet in the inaugurated kingdom.

The Eschatological Focus of the Supper in Paul
But what of the obvious connection of this anamnesis ("reminder") to Christ’s death in 1 Cor 11:23-26? Paul writes:

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance (anamnesis) of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever (hosakis) you drink it, in remembrance (anamnesis) of me.” For (gar) whenever (hosakis) you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim (katangellete) the Lord’s death (thanaton) until he comes.
Here Paul makes a direct connection between “remembrance” (“reminder,” anamnesis) and “the Lord’s death.” The word “for” (gar) in v. 26 is likely used to show that v. 26 serves as an explanation of this reminder in vv. 24-25. The pivotal term here is “whenever” (hosakis), found in both v. 25 and v. 26. In v. 25 Paul seems to include this word to introduce the purpose of drinking the cup: “When you do it, it is to be done into (eis, “with a view to”) my remembrance (or reminder).” He uses “whenever” (hosakis) again in v. 26 to explain that purpose—“For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes."

The anamnesis ("reminder"), then, is a “proclamation of the Lord’s death.” But does this not suggest (as the memorial view holds) that the anamnesis has a historical rather than eschatological focus? On the contrary; Paul gives us many indicators in this very passage that his focus of the Lord’s Supper is no different than what we have argued is Luke’s focus—which is not all that surprising given that Paul and Luke were traveling companions (indeed, Paul’s account of the Last Supper tradition mirrors Luke’s account).

For instance, the question “To whom are we to proclaim Jesus’ death?” gains relevance here. The answer to this question is difficult to adduce if we view anamnesis as our remembering Christ. Are we proclaiming Christ’s death to unbelievers? I. Howard Marshall (Last Supper and Lord’s Supper, 113) thinks so. He holds that this is a verbal proclamation of the gospel and that the Lord’s Supper is a set occasion for preaching the good news: “The action of the church in celebrating this meal is a proclamation of the gospel to all who are present to see and hear what is happening” (ibid., 148). But this betrays a contemporary view of the church as a place where unbelievers are commonly present. This was probably not the case in the first century. While Paul does entertain the possibility of an unbeliever walking in during the meeting (1 Cor 14:23-24), it is unlikely that this was the norm given the fact that the normal place of meeting for the first-century church was in private homes, not public buildings (cf. Acts 2:46; 5:42, 16:40, 20:20; Rom 16:5; 1 Cor 16:19; Col 4:15; Phlm 1-2; 2 John 10).

To whom then do we proclaim Christ’s death? To ourselves? While that seems possible, neither is it without difficulties. It would seem strange that Christians are to “proclaim” to each other that Christ died. Moreover, just what form this proclamation would take is not readily apparent. The view advanced by F. F. Bruce (1 Corinthians, 113-14) that the “proclamation” here refers to the symbolic act of the breaking of bread is unlikely since katangello (“to proclaim”) always seems to be associated with a verbal proclamation in Paul. While neither of these objections is conclusive, both of them militate against the memorial view to some degree.

In light of Luke’s eschatological focus, Paul’s words make equally good sense if we view this “proclamation” as one directed to Christ himself. After all, the mention of Christ’s death in the Lord’s Supper texts is essentially synonymous with the initiation of the New Covenant: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood” (1 Cor 11:25; cf. Matt 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20). It does not seem too far a field, then, to say that this “proclamation” acts as the “reminder” (anamnesis) to Christ; that is to say, whenever we partake of the Lord’s Supper we are “proclaiming” to Christ (reminding him, as it were) that whereas he has initiated the New Covenant by means of his death, he has yet to bring it to its consummation by returning and inaugurating the Messianic Banquet in his kingdom. In the words of Joachim Jeremias:
The proclamation of the death of Jesus is not therefore intended to call to the remembrance of the community the event of the Passion; rather this proclamation expresses the vicarious death of Jesus as the beginning of the salvation time and prays for the coming of the consummation. (The Eucharistic Words of Jesus, 253).
This may be a bit of an overstatement on Jeremias’ part. It very well could be the case that the reason the phrase “into my remembrance” is so ambiguous is precisely because both ideas—a historical looking back and an eschatological looking forward—are intended (although the eschatological element may well be prominent).

Whatever historical element is involved in this "reminder," it is clear that Paul in 1 Cor 11:23-26 intends an eschatological element as well. This may be seen in the phrase “until he comes” (achris hou elthê) in v. 26. The Greek construction achris hou, used with the aorist subjunctive and without av, always denotes an eschatological goal. Here it produces the awkward “until the goal is reached that he comes,” and means, “until the goal of the proclamation is reached—namely, his coming.”

Hence, the purpose of celebrating the Lord’s Supper is to sound a plea for the second coming: “As often as the death of the Lord is proclaimed at the Lord’s Supper, and the maranatha rises upwards, God is reminded of the unfulfilled climax of the work of salvation ‘until (the goal is reached, that) he comes’” (Jeremias, 253). In the words of Geoffrey Wainwright: “At every eucharist the church is in fact praying that the parousia may take place at that very moment” (Eucharist and Eschatology, 67). Each time the church comes together for the Lord’s Supper, Christ is reminded that he is still not “eating” and still not “drinking” (Luke 22:16-18), and that the heavenly banquet which the Lord’s Supper prefigures has not yet been “fulfilled in the kingdom”:
This means that the command to repeat the rite is not a summons to the disciples to preserve the memory of Jesus and be vigilant ("repeat the breaking of bread so that you may not forget me"), but it is an eschatological oriented instruction: "Keep joining yourselves together as the redeemed community by the table rite, that in this way God may be . . . [regularly] . . . implored to bring about the consummation in the parousia" (Jeremias, 255).
Tomorrow’s Blog: Maranatha and the Lord’s Supper.