This is a post from an older blog, but I thought it deserved to be made more accessible here. Some of my juvenile antics are present in this one, but oh well…
Joachim Jeremias, in his The Eucharistic Words of Jesus, has done us all a great favor by rigorously examining the various phrases recorded in the Last Supper passages. He also has a special section on Paul’s retelling of the Last Supper in 1 Cor. 11.
He notes that scholarship has produced very little contextual explanation for the use of the Greek phrase eis mnemen (in remembrance). This has lead some to suppose that Paul is either inventing the phrase’s occurence at the Last Supper or is drawing from an independent source that the gospel writers did not have. Many have simply rejected that the phrase comes from Jesus. The scholars cannot find this phrase in Hellenistic literature in any setting that helps to explain Paul’s usage.
Jeremias though tries another option. He looks to the Old Testament. It is frankly amazing just how opposed to the Old Testament modern biblical scholarship was/is. Whereas from a literary standpoint it would seem the obvious place to start, Bible scholars almost always leave it as a last option. Thankfully Jeremias gets it right.
He whips out his Septuagint (always a good thing to use), and voila! There are all sorts of great mnemoi! Jeremias finds that the cereal offering of Lev. 2.2 is a memorial. The frankincense with the shewbread (Lev. 24.7) is a memorial. The trumpet-blasts (Num. 10.10), the stones in Aaron’s breastplate (Ex. 28.12,29;39.7), and even prayers are memorials (Acts 10.4 New Testament! wow!).
Jeremias writes, “The reader who will take the trouble to check the references to Old Testament and Jewish remembrance formulae gathered together on pp. 244-246 from the viewpoint as to whether they are concerned with human or divine remembrance will see at once that for the most part they speak of God’s remembrance” (pg. 248).
Jeremias concludes that another important aspect of “memorial” is that it is something brought before God. Like prayers, offerings, and sacrifices, memorials are brought before God with the intention “to induce God to act” (pg. 249).
Building off 1 Cor. 11.26, Jeremias also notes that there is an eschatological aspect to memorializing the Lord’s death. He writes, “Consequently the command for repetition may be understood as: ‘This do, that God may remember me’: God remembers the Messiah in that he causes the kingdom to break in by the parousia” (pg. 252).
This makes good sense if we consider that John’s Revelation is a book about Lord’s Day worship and also that when we have the Lord’s Supper, Jesus comes to judge and recreate. The Eucharist is a memorial that we bring before God with the intention that He will remember Jesus Christ’s work. We ask that He will remember its past accomplishment and its future promise. Come Lord Jesus. And He does.