The idea of memory and remembering is a key theme throughout Scripture. God calls on his people to remember their covenantal relationship. Specifically the Lord instituted the Passover as a memorial for the Israelites: “And it shall be to you as a sign on your hand and as a memorial between your eyes, that the law of the Lord may be in your mouth. For with a strong hand the Lord has brought you out of Egypt” (Ex. 13:9 ESV). At other times God is called to remember his covenant with people, specifically the use of the rainbow to remember that he will never again wipe out all of humanity (Gen. 9:12-16).
In the gospels, when Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper/Eucharist, he instructs his disciples to partake in remembrance of him (Luke 22:19), which Paul reiterates in 1 Corinthians 11:25. Why are we called to partake of the Eucharist in remembrance of him?
In his book The Eucharist, Alexander Schmemann, an Eastern Orthodox theologian, writes, “Man’s memory is his responding love for God, the encounter and communion with God, with the life of life itself” (p. 125). Memory is not simply a recalling of facts, but rather an attentiveness to God and his love. We as humans, who alone possess the power to remember, only truly live as we remember God.
Therefore, sin, according to Schmemann, is that “man has forgotten God.” Forgetting God, like remembering God, is not simply to stop thinking about God, rather “to forget means above all to cut what has been forgotten off from life, to case to live by it, to fall away from it.” Sin came into the world when Adam “forgot God because he turned his love, and consequently his memory and his very life, to something else, and above all to himself.” I continue to sin in the same way – when I turn my attentive memory away from God’s love toward me to my own self love. Schmemann draws out the implication of this: “If it is God, the giver of life and life itself whom I have forgotten, if he has cased to be my memory and my life, my life itself becomes dying, and then memory, which is the knowledge and power of life, becomes knowledge of death and the constant tasting of mortality” (p. 126).
Part of the multifaceted act of salvation is the regeneration of memory – moving from remembering only death and mortality to love and life everlasting. Schmemann writes, “Salvation consists in this: that in Christ – perfect God and perfect man – memory comes to reign and is restored as a lifecreating power, and, in remembering, man partakes not of the experience of the fall, mortality and death, but of the overcoming of this fall through ‘life everlasting’” (p. 128). And life everlasting is not simply some future hope of glorious bliss, but life everlasting begins in the here and now as Christ’s kingdom has begun to break through into this present age.
If remembering is an attentiveness to God, an encounter and experience with God, then the Eucharist has the power to be a means for us as believers to re-center our attentiveness towards God through Christ’s sacrificial offering. To quote Schmemann, “The services are the entry of the Church into the new time of the new creation, gathered by the memory of Christ, transformed by him into life and the gift of life” (p. 129).
As we remember Christ through the sharing of his body and blood in the Eucharist, we remember him not as we remember a loved one who has passed, but rather as one who lives. We remember Christ as the one who invites us to partake now of his kingdom. We remember Christ by returning our attention to what he is doing to bring salvation to others. We remember Christ as we celebrate with others the broken body and blood of Christ as being formed into a worldwide, eternal community.