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The Implications of the Eucharist for the Arts
A lecture by Kemper Crabb
Wednesday, July 3, 2002
Cornerstone Farm, Marietta County, Illinois
Upon surveying the 20-something people gathered in the early evening shade of the Press Tent, Kemper Crabb was heard to remark:
I picked this subject tonight because I knew it would be of such pressing interest that hundreds would come. Maybe if I had said something like, ďA post-modern take on . . . ď or, ďHeavy Metal and the Eucharist, Can they Co-exist?Ē maybe we wouldíve had more people, but thatís all right. This is what I know about, so this is what Iím going to talk about.
Itís interesting. You find pockets of people who are interested in stuff like this. Of course, most artists are passionately interested in it, at least on some level but Iím just glad that you-all came, because this is what I know about and there are not many people who want to hear about it. But thatís okay. Because it doesnít take a lot of people. It takes people who are doing key things, who are influencing other people who might not be interested in it, to change things.
Matthew 26: 26
You-all Do This
But what does that mean biblically to remember something? Of course, huge battles have been fought over this doctrinally, most of them completely missing the point, but the nature of the remembrance is a central kind of argument that continues. We see that Jesus, when they were gathered there, what they were gathered for was the Passover, ďPacach,Ē and they were specifically celebrating the old covenant rite wherein God delivered the Jews through the Exodus. Thatís what the Passover was about. And in that context, Jesus establishes his new covenant sacrament of the Lordís Supper, the Eucharist. We shouldnít be surprised to find, that like so many other things, so many aspects of the new covenant, that the old covenant is taken up in that and fulfilled in the new covenant. It is not set at odds, it is not forgotten about, itís not done away with. The argument of the early church was that the Exodus that God performed in bringing Israel up out of Egypt, taking them through the wilderness to the Promised Land, was deliberately meant to be a great saving act of God that was to point towards the fact that one day Jesus would come and lead his people, take them out of their bondage, into the promised land, to be with Him. That was one of the huge arguments of the early church.
A remembrance, or memorial, is a dominant concept in the old covenant. As Jesus and his apostles and the people of Israel, during his time on earth, they were aware of this. They all knew this because, of course, they were raised as Jews. They understood this concept of remembrance. Thereís a Hebrew word, ďzakar,Ē and itís the equivalent of the Greek word for anamnesis or remembrance. The Jews at the time understood because they read a Greek Old Testament that the word zakar was the word ďanamnesis.Ē All across the Diaspora, all across the world of the Jews at that time, when Christ said this particular word, ďDo this in Ďanamnesisí of me,Ē there was nobody there who didnít understand what he was saying. (Of course he said it in Aramaic, and thatís another whole question we could talk about afterwards.) Everybody understood that he was speaking about something that was intrinsic to the covenant.
He was talking about a remembrance. It doesnít mean exactly what we think in our English that ďremembranceĒ means. Zakar has a very specific meaning within the given context. The context of the covenant, remember, is more than just thinking of whatever is brought to mind again. Itís a dynamic concept. Itís an active concept as opposed to a passive one. Itís not you just have this idea come into your head. Itís not that you just bring this idea. Itís more than that. In Israelís worship, in what are called the complaint psalms, Jaweh is invoked to remember (zakar, anamnesis) his covenant mercies from the past as a motive for him to act now to intervene on behalf of his covenanted people on the grounds of what he remembers he has covenanted to do. You can read about this in Psalm 25:6, Psalm 74:2, Psalm 119:49, and even in the intercessory prayer of Exodus 32:13. Over and over, ďRemember, oh, Lord, remember your people who you did this for.Ē These prayers were couched like that to move God to act on behalf of his people in remembering what he had done for them in the past. It was tied in with his covenant. In Psalm 98:3, Psalm 105:8, 42, Psalm 106:45, Psalm 115:12, Psalm 136:23 and many other ones, God is praised for his hassid, his covenanted mercies. To covenant faithfulness in remembering his covenant.
Hassid, covenant faithfulness, means God being praised for remembering his covenant. This concept of God remembering and acting for his people on the basis of his covenant is an integral part of what is said in scripture when it says, ďGod is merciful.Ē When God is spoken of as merciful, he is hassid. That means he acts on behalf of his people because he is covenanted to do so in remembering what he has done. Itís a very important concept. Unfortunately, itís not a concept thatís much talked of anymore.
Psalm 132:1 says, ďremember unto David all the hardships he endured,Ē which is a prayer grounded in Godís covenant promise to David, which verse 11 and the verses following of that particular Psalm talk about. That God will act for Davidís present anointed successor is prayed for in verse 10. In other words, the author of that is saying, God is here asked, on the basis of his covenant promise with David, to bless Davidís house because God said, ďIíll bless you and I will bless your descendents.Ē In that particular Psalm, on the basis, as it says in the Greek Bible, of Godís ďanamnesis,Ē his remembrance of his promise to David in the acts that he did. Heís asked to act now on the basis of that former action to bless Davidís lineal descendents. Thatís kind of how this term works.
In like fashion, Genesis 19:29 as is written in the Torah, ďSo it was that when God destroyed the cities of the valley, God remembered (Itís actually a variant of that word anamnesis.) Abraham sent Lot out in the midst of the overthrow.Ē God saved Lot because he remembered his covenant with Abraham. And on the basis of that remembrance, he acted to save Lot.
Exodus 2:24-25 says God heard their groaning, God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and God saw the people of Israel and knew their condition. This is actually part of the Exodus, the mainspring that causes God to move that begins the whole process of the Exodus, because God remembered his promise and actions on behalf of Abraham. These were the people of Abraham that shared that covenant.
Even the pagans understood
The covenant concept of remembrance
is also seen in the New Testament when the thief on the cross prays to
Christ, Luke 23: 42, ďJesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.Ē
The New Covenant is Still
In the Pasah ritual, the people dressed as the Hebrews did at the time of the Exodus, they ate a covenant meal, the sacrificed lamb, in haste as a covenant zacharone; anamnesis. A memorial, a remembrance to God of his covenant-saving actions in the past so that he would act on behalf of his people at the time of the ritual to call Godís blessing down on his people as a reminder of his covenant promises.
Thatís why Jesus did that thing think on us, oh, God. We eat the covenant meal that symbolizes Christís sacrificed humanity by which God acted savingly to establish his new covenant people when Jesus died. When we reenact these elements in Godís presence, it is a remembrance. It is a memorial of Christís saving covenant action which pleads that remembrance of that action to move God to act in covenant blessing to his people.
Weíll get to the art part in a minute, but if you donít get this, you wonít get that.
Thatís why we do that. Thatís why Jesus did that thing. Thatís why he said, ďDo this as, an anamnesis, a remembrance, a zacharone, of what Iíve done, of me.Ē Because that reenactment of that memorial reminds God to worship him in his presence, ďThink on us, oh God. We are the people of the covenant. That Jesus your son acted savingly, and you acted savingly through your son to bless us. We are one with you.Ē Thatís the point.
The showing of Christís death, for an anamnesis until he comes, ď. . . shows my death until I come,Ē as 1 Corinthians 11:26 says, cannot be separated from all that Christís death sacrificed in that death. Jesusí death is not just a death that didnít have any content. His death was his sacrifice of himself as the incarnated one, of his birth, of his circumcision, of his life, of his baptism, of all of his obedience to the law, of all of his humanity. When Jesus gave himself, it wasnít just some death. It was the death of a person who had been born as the God-man, had lived a sinless life, who had obeyed the Torah, and obeyed Godís purposes perfectly, and offered all of that perfection as a sacrifice and in return was able to take all our wickedness on himself. Thatís what his death means.
Itís all tied together
More than bringing something
Effected on Every Level
An Action, A Reality, A Mystery
In anamnesis, the past, the present, and the future are all involved at the same time. The past, because it is remembered, becomes a present reality. The remembrance is a picture in small of the future, and indeed, it realizes that future vision of what we will inherit in Christ in worship. When we go into worship, we see Christ. When we do a remembrance of what he has done, it brings us to mind of where he is heading reality. Thatís the future.
One of the functions of a symbol is to bring the past and the future into the present through remembrance. Thereís a prayer in the liturgy called the epiclesis, the invocation of the spirit. That prayer in a ritual symbol is so that the transcendent God will come to enable anamnesis to be more than just something that happens in our mind. That God will come and act and his action will invoke in us a resultant action as we see Godís presence.
Bringing It Home
Itís a way of us being brought into relationship again and again with God as we are reminded of what heís done for us and as we see him act in response to that. Itís clearly exposed in Deuteronomy 5:2-4 where it says, ďThe Lord our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. Not with our fathers did the Lord make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive this day.Ē Now you realize this had happened generations before this. ďThe Lord spoke with you face to face at the mountain out of the midst of the fire.Ē The story that is repeated over and over by these people remains decisively significant for future generations.
Remembrance is especially prominent in the celebration of Passover. Every generation in Israel may and will say anew, ďAnd the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us and laid upon us harsh bondage and we cried to the Lord, the God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice and heard our affliction, our toil, and our oppression, and the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and with outstretched arms with great terror and signs and wonders and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.Ē [Deuteronomy 26:6-10] They still say this today, the Jews, as Jesus and his disciples did prior to the bringing of the new covenant. They identified themselves with the experience of their forefathers. They identified themselves so strongly with those people that they dressed up like them and they went through the actions because this involved more than their minds. This involved them on even a physical level, and on a corporate level to tie them into the story of how God had acted savingly for his people in Israel.
The Hebrews who hadn't gone through the Exodus, by sharing in the Passover, were able to see themselves emotionally, physically, mentally, and so forth, as a part of a covenant people who shared Godís deliverance in all time, from the Exodus onward.
When we partake, we Christians, of the Lordís supper, we are supposed to see ourselves as a part of that story that went on there when Christ said, ďThis is my body, this is my blood, this is a memorial of what I am going to do for you.Ē Weíre supposed to see ourselves as a part of Christís story emotionally, spiritually, physically, mentally and so forth, which is a significantly different thing than just bringing something to our minds.
How can that be? Because the story of Jesus is our story. As Paul teaches in Romans 6:1-14 and in Colossians 2:11-12 and in Ephesians 2:4-10, we are right now joined to Christís life; to all of his baptism, his life, his birth, his death, his resurrection, his ascension. If thatís not true, folks, weíre all going to hell in a hand basket. You better get used to the idea. Youíre not saved by your life, and Iím not either. Weíre saved just because of what Jesus did and because the Holy Spirit graciously, on the basis of Jesusí sacrifice, drew us into the life of Christ, who is our covenant head, who established a covenant of which weíre all a part. His story is our story.
Thatís why we have access, for instance, as Hebrews 10:19-20, and chapter 12 said, we have access to the heavenly worship itself because weíre seated with Christ in the heavenly places. We can come boldly before the throne and present our petitions. Weíve come to the place, as Hebrews 12 says, where the spirits of just men are made perfect and the angels are in festal array and Christ is seated on the throne at the right hand of the father. This is our privilege because we have been joined to the Christ whose life takes us into heaven. And through the veil of his flesh we enter into the heavenly places themselves, which is the great promise of the old covenant pointed to.
His life is more important for us than our own lives. It should be. We should, by the Spiritís power, enter into his life and experience his life. And isn't it odd that one of the primary sacraments that Christ established is one that has this concept of the covenantal anamnesis. One which takes us into the beginning of the very critical point when he extended himself to save us and deliver us just as God extended himself to save and deliver the Hebrew people. I donít think thatís an accident.
This is why the churchís calendar, for instance, is oriented around Christís life events. To remind the church over and over again in the context of reading the passages and acting out certain things, waving palm branches or whatever, to remind us his life is our life. Our lives are to be lived in the light of what he has done, what he has accomplished, who he is. His life gives meaning to all the events of our lives.
In worship, in the anamnesis, we live it again through Him as we enter heaven to the center of all events. We know his life from before his incarnation to the consummation. We do this in remembrance of Him, and that just doesnít mean when he was on the earth. From eternity past, to the eschatos, and beyond. Thatís what weíre celebrating. Thatís what we remember. Thatís what weíre entering into. Thatís what weíre pleading before God.
ďDo this in remembrance of me.Ē At issue here is not an act of memory, a recalling of something that happened in the past. At issue is a living relationship, a concern to be re-engrossed by the deeds of Christ. In other words, in the remembrance of the Eucharist, past and future come together as we go into the presence of God. We have a vision from beyond time. What all reality tends toward. The past and the future come together in the present. We remember what Christ has done, where Christ is taking us, and it meets us where we are now. We are united with the risen Lord, and he is with us to the close of the age.
Anamnesis happens not only in the Eucharist, but in Scripture readings, and it also happens in the other sacramentals as well; baptism, which is a picture of us being taken into the life of Christ, ďDonít you know,Ē Paul says, ďthose of us who have been baptized into his death, into his resurrection and into the glory to come.Ē [Romans 6:3 4] Paul wasnít just shooting smoke there, folks. He had a solid concept behind what he was saying. We have become a people who are so individualistic that we donít understand that this is so much bigger than any of us individually. But itís that bigness that gives each one of us individually meaning. It is his life that gives everything in creation meaning in the first place, the one who made everything to begin with. It shouldn't be surprising to us.
A dangerous memory
The Pattern of Creativity
Jesus does a five-fold action.
He Takes the Bread
He Gives Thanks
He Breaks It
He Renames It
He Shares It
This is the pattern of creativity for the people who are created, in this order, who share the fallen state of humanity. Christ has shown this to us. We are, as artists, to take hold of something in reality, whether it be a physical form, or a musical thing or whatever it might be, or a program for a computer or whatever it might be, we are supposed to take hold of that. Weíre supposed to thank God for that because heís given it to us as an opportunity to reveal who he is. We are supposed to deconstruct it, reinterpret it, shape it, change its shape so that reveals fully the glory of God in the way it was intended to and then we are supposed to share it.
Every time the church comes together and does this central sacrament, this memorial, this anamnesis, isnít it funny a creative act is at the heart of it? Itís the pattern of creativity.
We Become what we Worship