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Sunday, March 10, 2013

In Remembrance of Me

I haven’t made up my mind about Lent.

There are strong feelings about this season – from those who observe and from those who don’t. I see good points on both sides. But today, I’m looking at the “not” side.

My strongest objection would not be to the theme of self-denial; I surely need more of that. Saying “no” to self, even in legitimate matters, is a practice that is rarely overdone.

No, the issue I would raise is the idea of the mourning and lamenting involved. And I see it on two levels.

First, if the approach is mourning for sin, as I’ve heard in some liturgical contexts, then that seems to fly in the face of forgiveness. Yes, we are to be abjectly sorrowful for our sin when we come to God; but our sorrow is to work repentance, a turning from sin. In other words, once we are forgiven, we are not to repeat the sin, but lean on Christ’s strength to resist it the next time around. Thus, it seems to me that keeping Lent by “mourning for my sin” is not giving full credence to Christ’s work on the cross which frees me from the continual bondage to sin.

Second, if the approach is a lamenting the suffering of Christ, that is contradictory to biblical teaching as I understand it. Jesus does not want morose followers. While He surely wants us to appreciate His sacrifice and honor Him for it, He does not wish us to dwell on the darkness of Calvary. Christians are encourage to be joyful; nowhere in Scripture do I read that we are to be mournful (except in Ecclesiastes maybe, but you have to understand that context). Yet, this feeling of sadness permeates not only the season of Lent, but many times, those special occasions when we partake of the “Lord’s Supper” – communion.

Let me explain.

“In Remembrance of Me.” It’s carved into heavy wooden tables standing at the front of church sanctuaries. The phrase is a pull-out of Jesus’ words to His closest disciples on the occasion of His last meal with them. But this wasn’t an ordinary dinner; it was what we call the Last Supper.

Commemorating the Passover was the last thing Christ shared with his followers before going to the garden to pray and await Judas and the soldiers. For every good Hebrew, partaking of the Passover Seder was essential. But for Jesus, it was even more important on this occasion. This meal was also a ceremony to signify the covenant He was about to confirm with His own blood.

In accordance with Jewish custom, the bridegroom would give a cup of wine to the bride who would accept it with the right hand and drink from the cup, thereby giving her consent to the betrothal. The bridegroom was then expected to agree to the bride price – a sacrifice on his part which he was willing to pay for his beloved.

Jesus gave the disciples the cup and promised that He wouldn’t drink the “fruit of the vine” again until the day when He would drink it with them (and with us), the Bride, in the new kingdom. Then, after the meal and all that took place there was over, He left that upper room and went out to pay the price. The terrible agony would end on a place called Golgotha, and He would utter the words “It is finished” signifying that all was completed according to the covenant.

But the words He spoke to the disciples when He broke the bread and shared the cup are the ones that influence our customary observance of “communion.”

“And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. {in...: or, for a remembrance } After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.” (1 Corinthians 11:24-25)

What does Christ ask us to remember here? What are we supposed to dwell on as we partake of the bread and the cup? Is He admonishing us not to forget His suffering? Maybe.

But maybe He is asking us to remember Him. Would the bridegroom ask his bride to remember how much he paid for her? Would he instruct her not to “forget how much it cost me to get you?” If he did, she might wonder about his motives. No, more likely, he would ask her to think about him whenever she next took a sip of wine. He would want her to remember him and his love for her and the covenant he made to someday return for her – on their wedding day. He would ask her to remember in joy.

And I think that’s what Christ wants from us as well.

Now, I know there will be those reading this who will bring up the fact that many Christians today take their Christianity far too lightly anyway and that a sober reminder once in a while does us all good. I agree that I often forget just much Jesus suffered for me and stark reminders of that path of suffering and the agony of Calvary do me good. But I don’t think God intended that we spend several weeks focused on that aspect of our salvation.

I’ve heard it said that the early church observed the season of Lent. That may be so, and I would love to hear more about it. However, I find it possible that even the early Christians might have been wrong on a few things. After all, they were only human too. And being so close to the events of Calvary would make them even more prone to dwell on it.

So, I suppose now I sound really radical. I hope not. And I’d love to hear from you if you have additional thoughts or a different point of view. I’m always interested in dialogue in matters of spiritual and biblical importance.

And maybe I’m way off track here. You Bible scholars, chime in! I haven’t covered every possible angle, that’s for sure. These are just some thoughts that have occurred to me as I’ve pondered the idea of Lent this year and whether it is a biblical teaching.

I’m still thinking . . . .





3 comments:

  1. (This is Charity, not Kathryn ;o) Oooh, interesting! I always enjoy reading your thoughts, Val! I, too, see chances for self-denial as healthy. Some give up 'something' for Lent. The times I have (and I have again this year), when I think of/want that thing, I say, "Jesus, I want you more." I see it not as a magic formula toward anything, but as a healthy reminder toward what should matter most to me always. I think you raise some good points about the expectant sense of joy with which we should await the Bridegroom. I think the solemnity balance to this is that communion is a reminder of His sacrifice, and to take it lightly is forbidden. Those who took it 'unworthily' were even getting sick and dying in N.T. days. It is not a casual experience, and its joy is a holy, careful one.

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  2. I enjoyed this, Valarie. I share several of your thoughts and will continue pondering, I'm sure.

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  3. Thank you, Charity and Laura, for your thoughts. This is a deep issue and there are many things to consider. I'm glad you took time to tell me what you think.

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