Jesus. He was a game changer and he knew it. His mission: A rescue, save that world that God so loves. Simple, that is, the words are simple.
Reflecting upon this, as I sat dissolving in the music of Jazz service Thursday evenings, one thing persistently challenged my thoughts. Of all the things that Jesus wanted us to remember, as if a commandment, those words that are so familiar to any Christian are recorded in Luke 22:19:
“This is my body which is given for you: do this in remembrance of me.”
Sure, I get it. He gave His life for our salvation. I know that I am salvageable. But what was He thinking on a deeper level? Just celebrate the elements and remember Him? Only that?
Physically, the bread and the cup become part of us. But the digestive truth of the matter isn’t what Jesus was going for. No, he was going for something bigger, much bigger. Spiritually, it isn’t only that the elements and therefore Christ are becoming part of us, we are becoming part of the elements as well, and thus part of Christ’s body.
There is a story that brought that home for me. Hoda Kotb, author of “10 Years Later”, chronicles the lives of six people who have been personally transformed by overcoming hardships. It wasn’t in her book, however, but in an interview, that Hoda relayed this story.
A young girl, understandably very upset about her physical condition, had lost the use of both her legs in a terrible accident. Alone, in a hospital room, she withdrew into herself. Her doctor, concerned about her state of mind, suggested to her parents that she be moved to be with other children. “No, she is too upset. Just leave her alone,” her parents countered. But the doctor persisted and the girl was moved. Then in the ward, a boy in the bed next to her asked “Can you help me? Will you push the button next to my bed? I need to call the nurse and I can’t do it myself.” The girl retorted “How can I help you? I lost the use of my legs.” The boy responded “Well, I lost the use of both my arms and my legs.” Suddenly, the girl, forgetting about her own situation, struggled to push the button to call the nurse for the boy. The best part of this story, she grew up to become an attorney, an advocate for people with disabilities.
I think that when that young girl made her first move to push that button in response to the needs of another, she feasted on the communion bread and drank deeply from the cup. She remembered something, something that had lain forgotten inside her. It gave her the power to transform her life. By a Christ-like act, she was providing us with a glimpse of God’s kingdom.
I got a glimpse of that world when I was a little girl. My mother used to have me bring meals to an elderly woman who lived down the street. Her husband had died and she lived alone with four or five cats. She was a bit grumpy and almost never smiled. The other children in the neighborhood were very much afraid of her. I wasn’t, but then I was bringing her something, something more wonderful than even a delicious meal. I was bringing her “helpings of caring.” Her joy at receiving the meal was something that I got to experience and that my mother didn’t need to. My mother had remembrance. Like all mothers, they just know. It is a treasured memory for me. I grew up expecting that is what people should do for one another. By helping another, my mother partook of the elements and I may even get an assist on that one. My mother’s individual response to human need was just that, an individual response. Would I ever find a church that did what she did and give me that wonderful caring servant feeling? It never dawned on me that I would find that in a church. I never could have even imagined that such a church would exist, so I never thought to look for it.
Then I found Old South Church. In this House of God, there is that same spirit of lovingly taking care of one another both right here and on a global scale. Remembrance abounds in this building. At Old South, we and our ancestors have drunk the cup of the Lord and tasted the sweetness of the bread. Now, no human institution can be perfect, but for me Old South comes dangerously close. At Old South, I am always challenged out of my complacency and comfort and jolted into that world that God so loves. In Gordon Chapel, during the celebration of communion, while reflecting on how I would measure up with the disciples sitting at the Last Supper, I became aware of, and began a struggle with that complacency.
It begins with a tale of two Armstrongs. One named Neil and the other Lance. One ate and drank of the elements and one passed them by without partaking.
The world best remembers Neil as the first man to walk on the moon. He was an honorable man, pursuing his goals with righteousness and achieving them with Christian humility. But there was a different walk that revealed the depth of his remembrance. On a trip to Jerusalem, upon learning that Jesus had walked upon the very steps to the Hulda Gate where he was ascending, Neil remarked, “I am more excited stepping on these stones than when I was stepping on the moon.”
The world best remembers Lance as the cyclist who won the Tour de France a record seven consecutive times. Lance, in an interview, stated that he felt he had the capacity to be a spiritual person even though he wasn’t Christian. Now, I cannot tell you much of his spiritual journey but I can tell you about his religion. It was the religion of winning … and winning at all costs. With the eternal spiritual meal right at hand, Lance declined Christ’s offer, a meal that He offers to all of any faith or no faith. It only requires remembrance.
After being diagnosed with cancer, Lance had set up the Lance Armstrong Foundation, now operating under the new name, LIVESTRONG. This foundation provides support for cancer patients. Perhaps, this time Lance had tasted the sweetness of the communion meal.
Now, I wish I could say that Lance wasn’t one of those people whom I thought of as a sports hero, that I saw through his falseness. After all, Lance had worked hard, sacrificed much, devoted his life. Hadn’t he? But the real problem here isn’t with Lance. The problem is with me and my faith. I couldn’t forgive Lance for cheating and robbing someone of the victory that was theirs. If Lance had never redeemed himself or never would, I still had to come to terms with the depth of love my faith teaches. I needed a release from the anger I felt toward him and I wanted that release before I actually began to enjoy my contempt for Lance, a very unhealthy spiritual condition. I needed to practice Christianity to its fullest. It is simple to say but not easy for me to do. I needed remembrance, to partake of the elements with more of a laser focus on my problem.
Sitting in Jazz service one Thursday evening with the table spread out before me, I realized what was missing. Why hadn’t I understood it before? Where Christ is, goodness is in abundance! The table is crowded with gifts from Christ, a bountiful offering to all of us. Everything is right there, all that is good. Forgiveness is the main course. Thanksgiving, courage, mercy, redemption, and more, all are there. It is by remembrance and partaking of that meal that those things that are dead within us are resurrected. I had a deadness within me, the deadness of not forgiving. The truth of the bread and the cup is that they are always right at hand wherever we are, whenever we are ready to partake. It is a perpetual meal that Christ offers the world, one special remembrance that satisfies our deepest yearnings.
Christ says to us, to all peoples, do this in remembrance so that you do not live in vain. Remembrance has consequences and remembrance of communion has the most wonderful of consequences. Why not make your way? Dine at God’s five star restaurant as His guest and live the consequences.