We find ourselves in the twenty-second chapter of Luke, verses fourteen through twenty. You know the story. Time is running out on Jesus’s earthly ministry. So much has already happened. The last person has been healed. The last lesson has been taught. The events of Palm Sunday are nothing more than a memory. The tables turned over in the temple courts are now setting upright. The only thing left to do is to have one last supper with the disciples. It wasn’t just any meal. It was the Seder. It was, and is, a meal with a message. Everything they ate reminded them of their past as God’s Chosen People. The Exodus was not just remembered, it was celebrated. It was not their first Seder. They observed it annually. There is nothing negative to say about the Seder. Every Jew looked forward to it. That means, the disciples were looking forward to that particular Seder. They didn’t have a clue that everything was about to change.
We call it Communion or the Eucharist. At one point in the meal, Jesus picked up the bread and shared it with the disciples. The bread was more than a baked good, it was the body of Christ. They believed; it was a sign of fellowship with God. Later in the meal, Jesus picked up a glass of wine and shared it with the disciples. It was more than a fermented juice; it was the blood of Jesus. They believed; blood was the life-giving agent in the human body. The disciples must have been confused because Jesus changed the script. They had no clue they were witnessing history. They had no clue Jesus was giving them a memorial for the ages. However, the disciples must have known something special was about to happen. Jesus said it clearly. “Do this in remembrance of me.” It was not just a command for them. It was a command for us. This is my question for you today: When you consume the body and the blood of Christ, what do you remember?
I am not a United Methodist by birth; I am a United Methodist by choice. I was raised in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). My parents were members at Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Warren, Ohio. To the Sunday morning worshipper, there is very little difference between the United Methodist Church and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). However, one thing stands out. In the United Methodist Church, the pastor decides how often Communion is served. My churches took Communion monthly. In some United Methodist congregations, the elements are offered quarterly. It is the pastor’s choice. In a Disciples church, Communion is offered every time the church gathers for worship. If you throw in high holy days, Communion can be consumed sixty times a year. I was raised in that tradition and heard the words of Jesus many times, Do this in remembrance of me. Jesus’s words never changed, but what I remembered about Jesus did change because I changed.
When I was young, I remember sitting by my parent’s side as they took Communion. I remember the minister quoting Jesus, Do this in remembrance of me. I did my best to remember Jesus. I was influenced by my family’s nativity set. In my mind’s eye I can still see it. The various characters were arranged around a simple barn shaped structure. I remembered the infant Jesus laying in the straw, surrounded by his mother and earthly father, Mary and Joseph. Jesus was the focal point of the set. To the side stood the blue-collar workers, the shepherds. They were the ones who first got the announcement, the Messiah had been born. One had a lamb draped on his shoulders. Outside of the basic structure stood the mysterious visitors from the east, the Magi. At the time I called them Wise Men. They brought the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Years later, I learned my nativity set was wrong. They came two years later. Hanging on a small hook over the doorway was an angel, who sang praises to God. At some point, I started thinking about Jesus’s baptism. I tried to remember as much as possible, because Jesus said those words, Do this in remembrance of me. As a youngster that is what I remembered about Jesus. What do you remember?
I committed my life to Christ in December of 1974. I was seventeen years old. When I took Communion after that pivotal moment, I remembered Jesus’s sacrificial death. I remembered how the great crowd of Palm Sunday abandoned him. I remembered how Jesus cursed the fig tree, the very symbol of Israel. I remembered how Jesus turned the tables over of the money changers. I remembered how Jesus went to the temple courts and taught about the Kingdom of God. I remembered how Jesus was anointed in Bethany. I remembered how Jesus washed the disciple’s feet. I remembered how he went to the garden to pray and was arrested. I remembered how he was tried and led to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. I remembered how Jesus was rejected by the crowd and was executed Roman style. I remembered how the blood Jesus was shed, but most how all, I remembered how Jesus was resurrected, the cornerstone of our faith. Still today, I am humbled that Jesus died for me. I tried to remember as much as possible, because Jesus said those words, Do this in remembrance of me. That is what I remembered when I was new to the faith. What do you remember?
Seven months ago, I finished my working career. Throughout my forty years in the ministry, I offered Communion many times. Sometimes, I offered Communion in the sanctuary. Sometimes, I offered Communion in the fellowship hall. Sometimes, I offered Communion in the outdoor chapel. The location changed, but not the words, Do this in remembrance of me. I encouraged people to remember Jesus, but I remembered the Master too. I remembered Jesus’s miracles. He got the lame to walk. He got the blind to see. He made demonic whole. I remembered his teachings. I remembered how Jesus taught us how to live. We are supposed to be practicing today, what we will be doing in heaven for eternity. How taught us how to handle many of life’s problems. I remembered how Jesus changed lives and I remembered how Jesus changed the world. I tried to remember as much as possible, because Jesus said those words, Do this in remembrance of me. That is what I remembered during my working career. What do you remember?
Several months ago, I lost a good friend, Kay. I sincerely miss her. She was in her mid-nineties when she died. I officiated at her funeral. I met Kay in the Mahoning Valley District of the East Ohio Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. Our friendship grew because I called her daily as I walked my dog, Macy, the world’s best dog. We shared many stories and opinions. She was never afraid to talk or share an opinion. She was concerned about the direction our denomination was taking. I couldn’t disagree. Near the end of her life, she was homebound. Many days, outside of family, who watched her closely, I was her only call. She knew the end was coming, and she faced death head-on. Regularly, she would say, “The only thing that matters to me at this point in my life is Jesus.” We would speculate about heaven. I cherish the memories of those discussions. Since Kay’s death, I remember what Jesus said about heaven. After all, none of us get out of this world alive.
The first significant death in my life was my maternal grandfather, Walter Milligan. I was about eight years old. He lived in Brooklyn, New York with my grandmother, his wife, Nina. My grandmother was harsh and opinionated. She wrote harsh critical letters weekly to Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945) to tell him everything he was doing wrong. This is the truth: As harsh and as critical as my grandmother was, my grandfather wasn’t. He was quiet and kind. He worked for his father, who owned apartment buildings in New York City. At his calling hours, I have heard the stories of how he helped his tenants during the Great Depression. He only expected them to pay what they could afford and that wasn’t much. Personally, I have very few memories of him. However, I do remember him smoking a pipe. Every time I smell pipe tobacco, I think of him. I will never forget his funeral because it was the first time, I saw my mother cry. When I get to heaven, I am going to spend some time with Walter Milligan. He was the grandfather I never really had a chance to know. Who do you want to visit first when you get to heaven?
When death invades my personal space, I always remember the fourteen chapter of John. Jesus is with the disciples, and he tells them that he is going to be leaving them. He had told them in the past but this time they hear it, Jesus was leaving them. Upset, the disciples begin to question him. Jesus sees they are upset and tries to comfort them with these words, “In my father house are many mansions,” or rooms. That means there is a mansion or room waiting for you and me when we get to heaven. That means our departed loved ones are already occupying their room in heaven. My grandfather, Water Milligan, is occupying one of those rooms. My good friend, Kay, is occupying one of those rooms. The hope of occupying one of those eternal rooms is only possible because of the redemptive work of Jesus. Death has a way of making us think of Jesus’s eternal promises. When death invades your personal space, what do you remember?
According to the people at World Data, there are 2.2 billion Christians in the world today. In various ways, and at various times, each believer finds themselves partaking Communion. The sacred words are read, and Jesus is quoted, “Do this in remembrance of me.” What do you remember? Your answer will depend on your personal situation. There is no such thing as a bad memory about Jesus. In the end, only one thing truly matters, Jesus cannot be forgotten. English Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) may have said it best, “We can’t have communion with Christ until we are in union with him.” What do you remember?