What does Jesus mean: "In remembrance of me"?
It has always been easy to see the Last Supper as Jesus' farewell speech. Preparing to die the next day, He gathers His closest friends and has a special meal with them. Like most humans I figured He desired to be remembered. No one wants to be forgotten. It is harder for me to grasp the fuller meaning of this Passover meal for an Ancient Jew. We do not hunger, as they did, for deliverance from a foreign pagan oppressor. We do not celebrate the ancient Jewish rituals as intimate celebrations to our collective hearts, declaring our trust in YHWH despite the centuries of hatred and abuse against us. For us the Exodus belongs to another group, it is sort of a warm up act by God in the days before He "became Christian." But the Exodus memory was not just an idea in the Jewish mind, it was a living reality in the here and now of each person at the table. That is what remember meant to ancient Jews, including Jesus; it is the opposite of dismember (to cut up into separate parts) to re-member is to bring it back together (past into present) and experience it as a living reality.
"Remember" translates the Hebrew word zakar which seems to derive from "being pierced or penetrated" in the sense that memory enters into us and fill us. To remember is also to memorialize. zakar is also to be a male. However, to remember is not simply a mental act; it is to act on the memory:
In Genesis 8:1 when God remembered Noah in the ark, He sent a strong wind to dry the earth. Later, (9:15, 16) God twice says He will remember His covenant, the sign is a bow in the heavens, and not flood the whole world again. To remember is to do (or not do) something. This continues in Genesis 19:29 God remembered Abraham and spared Lot in Sodom and in 30:22 God remembers Rachel and gives her a child. It applies to humans as well; perhaps one of the clearest examples is found in the Ten Commandments, Exodus 20:8 "remember the Sabbath and keep it holy." In the psalms the writer cries out "remember me O Lord as a cry for salvation."
In Exodus 6:5 God says "I have heard the moaning of my people... and I have remembered my covenant." When God remembers His covenant it is salvation. When Israel is in trouble she cries out, "Remember me Lord!" This really means know and understand my troubles and deliver me Lord. When God has redeemed us Jews, they say, then we have been remembered!
In Jewish belief, to remember is to enter into the reality, not simply refer to it as an idea. So the Passover meal now is a participation in the Exodus meal then. This permeable sense of time negates our western sense of history as the past. In the Bible 'time' can be an interpenetration of past and future in the present. It sounds like theoretical physics! It is truth.
Jesus wants us to present Him to God; that is what doing this in memory of Him means. He says He will not drink from the cup until He drinks it in the kingdom of God. He has made a vow to God (and us) and now requests that we gather in His Name and cry out, "Father, remember Jesus!" The Passover meal remembers the Exodus but looks ahead to the future when Messiah delivers God's people in the End Time. At the Last Supper, Messiah, present with His followers at the meal, washes them as a symbol of bringing salvation past, present and future! We are there with them because that is what Bible memory means... You and I, at each eucharist, are with Jesus at that meal and look to the Father with thanks, faith and hope and cry out, "Your Kingdom Come! Your Messiah come!"
Jesus --flesh and blood-- is the Paschal Lamb, slain and eaten on that Exodus night. Jesus' blood saved His people, is saving His people, will save His people. "Do this in remembrance of me," is a memorial prayer to our Father God. "Remember Jesus, Father, remember Jesus and act in His cause, for Jesus has offered Himself and we await the deliverance!"
This meal is two edged. If we deeply remember Him before God it will make us hungry and thirsty.
It will sharpen our pain and increase our desire. It will be like a glimpse of the face of a long separated loved one. A moment of joy which kindles greater longing. It is like a touch of the hand from the one whom we long to embrace and hold forever!
The eucharist is a glimpse into the Kingdom. It is a brief touch of Jesus' hand. We are to pray as those who wait impatiently, longing for the Father to act. Yes Jesus is among us. Yes the Kingdom is here. But not yet, not already. Still more to come. still more..... so Jesus says remember me, remember me before the Father and pray, "Thy Kingdom Come!"
So we do.