Remembering How to Walk on Water
I always thought it bizarre that he asked me to remember something I never saw in the first place. It was a practical observation for a child. I wondered if it was a matter of oversight, sloppy facts, or just too many people to keep track of. I had no recollection. But he asked repeatedly that I try anyway, as if he knew better—and I wondered if maybe he did. The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.‘ In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.‘ For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).
With the help of a timeline and some background years later, it was of some comfort to learn that Paul, who remembered these words, had no personal recollection of that night with Jesus in the upper room either. He makes note of it just before he recounts the memory: "For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you" (1 Corinthians 11:23). Even so, it seemed a difficult request. How can you remember something you did not witness? How do you remember someone you have never actually met?
Of course, the short of the answer is that we do it all the time. I have many fond memories of my great grandfather, though I was quite young when he passed away. In fact, most of my memories have been constructed by the memories of those who knew him best. Stories I have heard repeatedly make him a character I can visualize, whether or not I was present, or even born, at the time these qualities were visible or the memorable events witnessed. In this, there is a sense that our memories carry us beyond ourselves, and it is far from a solitary phenomenon. Remembering the stories of a particular time in which we were not present, we are in some sense made into participants nonetheless, lifted beyond our familiar, fleeting days by the communities that can reach past us and help us get there.
The one who remembers Christ is lifted similarly with the help of the Holy Spirit and the many witnesses who have gone before him, though it is a far more profound ascent. Remembering Christ in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, we remember the last meal shared with the disciples in the upper room; we remember the death of Christ and his path to the cross; we remember these events in such a way that we are carried by the Spirit beyond our present lives to the events that changed all of history. But far more than this, Christians believe we are also lifted to the ascended incarnate Son as he sits today at the right hand of the Father—resurrected, living, and present. In this sense, it is far more than a static memory of a grandparent in history or a friend whose life was cut short. We are lifted with the great community of believers by the Spirit as we remember the one who stands with us yesterday, today, and tomorrow—here and now in the kingdom he died to proclaim. In this memory, we are further united with Christ and his church as adopted sons and daughters. In his presence, we are taught some of the ineffable things our present distractions would have us to forget, and some of the difficult things we are asked to endure, at the side of the one who endured the most. We remember Christ, and we remember who we are.
In fact, Plato spoke of all learning as remembering. Along with Socrates, he saw a world of students with the need to resurrect all that we have forgotten as souls from another kingdom. The biblical call for remembrance is not far from this. By remembering the acts of God in history, the people of God throughout time recollect what it means to be children pursued by the one who has so often tried to gather us, as hen would gather her chicks. As human beings united to the vicarious humanity of the incarnate Son, we recollect what it means to be human by following the one who is most fullyhuman. “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust,” writes Paul, “we will also bear the image of the man of heaven.” Christians profess that Christ is not only at work redeeming a fallen humanity, transforming us with the self-giving love of God; he also came to unite humanity with God so that we can remember what it means to be who we are. It was in this spirit that Madeleine L’Engle said she hoped one day she would remember how to walk on water, and not continue on like Peter who remembered instead that humans cannot do what he was doing, and immediately began to sink.
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