I’ve made a few brief explorations into the concept of the word “remembrance” in the Bible, trying to tease out a more complete understanding of the concept. This has been done with the specific goal in mind to work out more clearly what Jesus meant when he said “do this in remembrance of me.” I’ve argued a number of times that it goes beyond mere mental recollection (like here and here), and that it has a strong link to the sacrificial context (like here). But finally someone has gone through with a proper study of the remembrance concept in the Bible and shown how to apply it to the Communion passages of scripture. You can check it out at the All Saints Writers Block. I will, now, briefly summarize Fr. Brian’s excellent article.
Asking God to remember things is a biblical prayer – Psalm 13 (among many others) cries out “how long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?” And yet, other passages like Isaiah 49:16 assure us that God will not and can not forget us. This reality is assured when we pray to God to remember us… if God truly had forgotten us then our prayer would be pointless! But God has given us this gift of prayer that always has his attention. But there are more specific ways of getting God’s “attention” scattered throughout the Bible.
Thesis Statement: Remembrance
As I’ve also observed in the past, there are many Christians who think “do this in remembrance of me” means that when we participate in Communion, we’re remembering Jesus. Fr. Brian argues that this is mistaken; the meaning of Jesus’ statement is actually “do this to bring me into God’s remembrance.” I’d like to add some support from the grammar of the Greek in that quote, too: τουτο ποιετε εις την εμην αναμνεησιν translates most literally to “this do ye for my remembrance.” With the proposition εις or “for” the question of who’s doing the remembering could be answered either way.
The remainder of the article contains Fr. Brian’s argument for why it’s for God’s remembrance of Jesus, and not our remembrance of Jesus. He proceeds with following the usages of the 8 appearances of the remembrance word αναμνησις in the Greek Old Testament and New Testament.
Αναμνησις in the Septuagint
- Leviticus 24:7 – The remembrance is here translated as a “memorial portion.” Through the offering of the memorial portion, the entire gift (of bread in this case) is brought to God’s remembrance, so that he may be pleased with it.
- Numbers 10:10 – Here the “reminder of you before God” is most clearly pointing to God being the one doing the remembering and us doing the reminding. This is just one of many means that God set forth in the Old Testament for people to guarantee God’s attention to their prayers, unlike the pagan nations who had to make stuff up to get their gods’ attention, which usually proved to be far more violent and painful.
- Psalm 38‘s title includes “for the memorial offering.”
- Psalm 70‘s title also. In both of these cases, the Hebrew version of the word is in a causative form, which means that its literal translation would be “to cause God to remember,” or as the NET Bible puts it “to get God’s attention.”
- Wisdom 16:6 – Funnily enough, the one appearance of αναμνησις in the Apocrypha is the one instance of that word referring to humans remembering things.
Αναμνησις in the New Testament
- Hebrews 10:3 – The context of this verse is more complicated, but it essentially boils down to the contrast of the Old Testament sacrifice reminding God of our sins, and the New Testament sacrifice reminding God of our forgiveness.
Αναμνησις in the Eucharist
- & 8. 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 – In order to be consistent with the biblical usage of the concept of remembrance thus far, the remembrance in Communion should be directed toward God, not us. Fr. Brian lays out three major arguments at this point.
First, there’s the sacrificial context of the Last Supper. The feast of Passover was upon them, and the Apostles were celebrating with Jesus the atonement of the blood of the lamb back in Egypt all those years ago. Now Jesus is giving them “the new covenant in my blood.” The Last Supper is a new type of sacrificial meal.
Secondly, this sacrificial nature applies not just to the Last Supper, but to the continuing Eucharistic celebration. This shows up most clearly in 1 Corinthians 10:14-22, wherein Paul equates communion with demons in pagan sacrificial meals to communion with Jesus in the Eucharistic sacrificial meal. So if the sacrificial nature of the meal is continued, so too continues its function as the remembrance before God of Christ’s atonement on our behalf.
Thirdly, Fr. Brian points to the liturgy for the Jewish Passover itself, in which we find a prayer asking God to remember his people past and present, his holy city Jerusalem, his Temple, and even his promised Messiah. Just like in the Christian Eucharist – we ask God to remember the Messiah and the forgiveness that he wrought for us!
Αναμνησις in Christian Liturgy
The Jewish Passover liturgy linked the remembrance before God to petition and intercession very neatly, and so do the ancient Christian Eucharistic liturgies. In this final section of the article, Fr. Brian shows how this works out more specifically in the Book of Common Prayer. Something very important that he notes along the way is the distinction between that which is complete: the sacrifice of Christ, and that which is perpetual: the remembrance we continue. So the remembrance is brought before God, and then the thanksgivings and petitions follow.
As Fr. Brian puts it, “through these prayers, which are covered in the pleasing blood of Jesus, the effect of Christ’s redemptive work continues to progress broader and deeper, drawing us toward that day when God will be all in all.” But if you want to full treatment, I encourage you to read his article in its entirety: http://allsaintswritersblock.wordpress.com/2012/08/31/making-god-remember/