In general, it is good and enriching to remember the noble deeds and characteristic actions of truly good human beings. The action of Jesus which he tells us to remember is first of all what he did at his last meal before being crucified. Knowing what was about to take place, Jesus took bread, gave thanks to God, broke the bread, and gave it to his disciples to eat. The action itself, in the context of the Passover meal, is clearly rooted both in the Exodus event and in Jewish family meals and prayers. And then in a similar way, after supper, Jesus lifted up the cup of wine, gave thanks to God, and asked his disciples to drink from the one cup. Again, the action befits the Passover, the celebration of the LORD God leading His people, through Moses, from captivity in Egypt to freedom under God. Jesus gave his disciples bread and wine in the context of the Passover meal as a memorial for keeping his disciples mindful of what Christ did for each and for all. He makes of us an Exodus people: human beings on a journey through death-in-self into the sheer peace and freedom of God.
The prayer and sharing of the bread and wine, with the command to “do this in memory of me,” are not rooted in themselves, nor do they point simply to themselves. Rather, they direct our minds directly to Jesus Christ and to what he did for us and for all in his ultimate self-giving act of love, even unto death by the brutal torture of crucifixion. Christ established what he called “the new covenant in my blood” through his life-giving death on the cross; and he established the memorial for the new covenant at the Passover Last Supper. Jesus used the rich meaning of the Passover to throw light on his suffering unto death for us, and to show us the way to the new Exodus into God.
Christ is teaching us, among other things, that the God who led His people out of bondage in Egypt through Moses is now leading his disciples from the bondage of sin and death into life eternal in God. This is the new Exodus. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself,” as the Apostle Paul explains.The evangelist John similarly turns the life-giving action of Christ into a lesson for every disciple: “As I have done for you, so you also must do for one another.” And what must one do for each other? Give oneself up in love to bring each other into union with God.
Is this explanation of “Do this in memory of me” too familiar, and perhaps too superficial? Familiar it is. But let’s bear in mind that the depth of the meaning comes not from the words used to interpret Christ’s Eucharistic gift to us. Whatever real depth of meaning is in the Eucharist comes from the depth of Christ’s love, which surely is in the mystery of God—in the mystery of the divine abyss. We may peer into this abyss, but not see. Love alone understands love. Only to the extent that one “goes and does likewise,” that one is self-giving as Christ is self-giving, can one truly understand the Eucharistic feast. The man, woman, or child, who comes to the table /altar of the Lord, and humble and lovingly surrenders “all that I am, all that I have,” is the one who has a genuine understanding of the Eucharist. “Just as I am, without one plea…”
“Do this in memory of me.” Do what in memory of Christ? Ultimately, the entire orientation of our lives ought to be “in memory of Me,” in a faith-union with the Christ who “humbled himself, and became obedient into death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2). As we consciously remember who Christ is, and what He has done for us and for all, and as we put into daily practice his abandonment of a self-centered life in all of its forms for the good of others, then we truly are living “in memory of Me.”