No words of Jesus have been repeated by the Church more than these six, “Do this in remembrance of me.”
Jesus’ first generation disciples gathered in homes for fellowship, teaching, prayer, and to remember–that is, to take bread and wine, give thanks for them, break the bread, pour the wine, and pass them among the believers. They did this to remember the meal Jesus shared the night before his crucifixion. Think about that: Jesus, aware his day on earth was reaching its twilight, did not give his followers a theology of his impending death and resurrection to pass on; he gave them a meal. He instructed them to eat this meal remembering him, which they did faithfully and taught others to do the same.
Before anyone penned manuscripts or canonized the New Testament, Christians shared this meal and recited these words. In doing so, Jesus, the God-man the disciples had come to know as their friend during his earthly life, would be brought back to their minds. Likewise, the early Christians found themselves anticipating when he would sit with them again in table fellowship.
The disciples not only recalled the past and anticipated the future; they also became mindful of the presence of Jesus with them in the moment. When two or more gathered to remember him, he was with them. Jesus went so far as to say that the bread is his body and the wine is his blood. The persons who eat and drink have eternal life because of him and will be raised up on the last day.
These simple words – like the simple meal they accompany – carry in them a mystery of eternal significance.