Volume 53 Number 3 , May 1, 2004

Communion as Remembering

Patrick Bowers

Over our resent vacation to Pennsylvania, we attended my aunt’s funeral. I will confess that I was interested in going to the funeral because it was at a Catholic Church. I had never attended a mass for the dead, but I had read about some things that are particular to this mass. Here are three things unique to the Catholic funeral mass: taking time to admonish those in attendance to remember the one being buried, placing of the casket in the center aisle, and setting aside part of the mass for praying to receive forgiveness.

After the funeral I began to realize how these three rites were part of communion. What do these things have to do with the taking of communion? Are these important to understanding our life as a community of believers? They could teach us greatly about how communion, in both senses, could be closer to Jesus’ meaning.

In Luke 22:19 Jesus said, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” Most times, to us the word “remember” means to bring to mind. What if Jesus meant some thing more? What if to “remember” means to live in the same way Jesus lived and taught? In the mass for the dead, the priest admonished us to remember my aunt by living out those things that exemplified Christ in her life! Is it not best to see Jesus by those who exemplify him among our church community? As Christians, we have no need for the world’s heroes. We need to have honestly lived out examples of Christ in the midst of the local church! What the apostle Paul would call the saints. Jesus calls us each time we take communion to glorify God as he himself glorified God (i.e.- to reflect God’s reigning kingdom in our everyday lives).

Placing the casket in the aisle among the pews is also helpful to understanding communion. It brings context to our belief in Christ as a church. The Catholics do not see the member being buried as disconnected from the congregation but as an ever-present part of its history. Why? It is because the life of the deceased has influenced other lives still alive in the congregation. It is important for us not to forget our past as a local church, as God’s people, and as God’s creation. If we forget our history, we forget our rebellion of the past, and we forget the working of God through history! Israel, through their psalms and festivals, did not forget their past. Yet we today, the continued covenant, have forgotten! We assume over a thousand years ago the church believed the same thing we do today. When we stumble across what they believed differently, we do not ask why they believed it, we only think of ourselves as more evolved in theology. Communion is a way we are to be remembering, in context, our heritage as God’s people in this place. Communion is an active way for all to remember those who have trusted in God’s plan over their own (from Abel to those in the pew next to you).

Lastly, taking time to pray for forgiveness seems like an odd thing to do at a funeral, but it is very appropriate as Christians. Jesus was not short on admonishing us to be reconciled. Should we not also be reconciled first one with another before our time of communion? Also, is it too much to believe death can not stop the process of reconciliation? If God wants us to be reconciled one to another, then death can not stop God’s work. But why wait until death for us to seek reconciliation? Our unity as the body of Christ is too important to be put off! Communion is remembering God’s working reconciliation in our (and the world’s) present state. Communion is remembering Jesus forgiving those whom persecuted him until his last breath.

Communion is very important for us. We should not take it for granted, just as we should not take our relationships with each other for granted. We must not forget, but remember that the witness of a church is to be the continuing presence of Jesus. Communion is one way to practice that glorification of Christ.

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