Do this in memory of me
Through the centuries many world leaders have issued commands that have affected the course of history. Julius Caesar ordered his troops to cross the Rubicon boasting, “Alea iacta est.“ (The die is cast.) At Gettysburgh General Pickett shouted, “Charge!” Karl Marx decreed, “Workers of the world unite.” All of these have had far reaching effects, whether for good or ill. But none of them has had the lasting impact of the simple command by Jesus of Nazareth at the Last Supper, “Do this in memory of me.”
On Holy Thursday Christians commemorate the celebration of the Passover by Jesus with his disciples when he offered the first Eucharist and told his disciples, “Do this in memory of me.” That simple command has been obeyed by his followers faithfully for two thousand years to the farthest corners of the world.
“Do this in memory of me,” refers to the words and actions of Jesus at the Last Supper as recorded in the gospels. “He took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me.’ And likewise the cup, saying, ‘This is the new covenant in my blood which will be shed for you.’” (Lk 22:19-20)
St. Paul reaffirmed this to the early Christians when he wrote, “The Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, gave thanks, broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also the cup, saying ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this as often as you drink it in remembrance of me.’” (1Cor 11:22-25)
These statements of Jesus are predicate nominatives and Christians have always understood them as such: the subject is equated with the word following the verb. The bread is the Body of Christ and the wine is his Blood. There have been theological discussions over precisely how that happens and the manner in which Body and Blood are to be understood, but the basic belief remains unchanged. The words mean what they say.
Jesus had prepared his disciples for his remarkable command when, after the multiplication of the loaves, he told them, “The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.” (Jn 6:51ff)
Since that first Holy Thursday, “Do this in memory of me,” has been followed in grand cathedrals with elegant ceremonies and in tiny chapels with simple liturgies. And the tradition continues today, unchanged. Countless times each day that command is obeyed and through these Eucharistic celebrations the faithful throughout the world gain courage and strength to try again to live according to His gospel. In the words of the Second Vatican Council,“The Eucharist is the source and the summit of our Christian life.” (LG 11)
“Do this in memory of me.” No other command in the course of history has been obeyed as faithfully for so great a length of time with such lasting impact. Even an unbelieving cynic must wonder why powerful world leaders could not accomplish with force and restraint what a Galilean peasant has done with soft words and simple actions. Naive superstition, religious zealotry, or misguided piety cannot explain the astonishing result of that one simple command, ”Do this in memory of me.” Clearly, there is something here beyond the natural order.
Fr. Earl Meyer, St. Fidelis Friary in Victoria, is a regular contributor to The Hays Daily News and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.