“Remember Jesus Christ”, wrote Paul to Timothy (2 Tim 2.8). The place we supremely remember Jesus is at the Lord’s Table. According to ‘the words of institution’ Jesus at the Last Supper broke bread and said “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me”. Later he took the cup of blessing and said, “This cup if the new covenant in my blood. Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Cor 11.24,24). Although in 2 Timothy – as indeed in the other ‘Pastoral Letters’ – there is no specific refence to ‘the Lord’s Supper’ (1 Cor 11.20), nonetheless Paul’s charge to “remember Jesus” inevitably reminds us of Jesus command to remember him. Celebrating the Lord’s Supper (what is often called Holy Communion or the Eucharist) is not an optional extra. It is at the very heart of Christian worship. It was central to the worshipping life of the churches in Corinth (1 Cor 11.8) and Troas (Acts 20.7). It was presumably central to the worship of the church int Ephesus. It should also be central in our worship today.
In the church where I worship – Chelmsford Cathedral – almost every service is eucharistic. Certainly, the main 9.30 Sunday morning service always climaxes with a celebration of the Lord’s Supper – and for that I am grateful. However, in many Baptist and other independent churches, Communion is not the norm. It tends to be celebrated once a month, or even less often. Indeed, in some North American churches Communion can be a quarterly or even just an annual ‘event’ on Maundy Thursday. I cannot believe that Jesus asked his disciples to remember him ‘just now and again’. John Calvin regarded infrequent communion as “an invention of the devil”. The French Reformed scholar, J.J. von Allmen, was of the decided opinion that “the absence of the Eucharist shows contempt for grace.”.. Communion may not be right for a civic service or for a ‘seeker’ service, but otherwise it should surely be part of regular Sunday worship.
The Lord’s Supper is a meal ‘in memory’ of Jesus. However, it is far more than a mere memorial meal. For when we remember Jesus’ broken body and his out-poured, we do not just recall that Jesus died for us – rather we experience afresh his death for us. The past becomes present. Here there is a very real parallel with the way in which Jews celebrate the Passover as a ‘memorial meal’ (Ex 12.14). “Each Jewish father (including those who lived generations and centuries after the fact) was to explain to his son that he celebrated the Passover Seder in the way he did ‘because of what the Lord did for me when I came forth out of Egypt’ (m. Pesahim 10.5)”. Similarly, as we Christians remember the death of Jesus, the past becomes present and we encounter Jesus. It is not that Jesus comes nearer to us at the Table, but that we come nearer to him. As we gather around his Table we become conscious of his presence with us. To quote Ralph Martin, a distinguished Baptist New Testament scholar of a former generation. “’In remembrance of me’ is no bare historical reflection upon the Cross, but a recalling of the crucified and living Christ in such a way that He is present in all the fulness and reality of his saving power”. Or in the words of an old communion hymns: “Here O my Lord, I see you face to face; here faith can touch and handle things unseen; here I will grasp with firmer hand your grace, and all my helplessness upon you lean”.
However, Paul did not simply say “Remember Jesus Christ”, but “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead”. At this point the underlying Greek past tense is highly significant. Paul did not use a simple past tense (the Greek ‘aorist’) which refers to a one-off action in the past, but rather a past tense (the Greek ‘perfect’) which indicates a past event which relates to the present. Let me give an example of the difference between the two tenses. If I said ‘I married Caroline’ and used the simple past tense, it could mean that I had married Caroline, but it would not indicate that I was still married to her; she could be dead, or we could be divorced and both onto our second marriages. But if I said ‘I married Caroline’ and used the perfect tense, it would mean that I had married Caroline and remained married to her. It is this perfect tense which Paul used here. If Paul had used the simple past tense here, he would be saying “Remember Jesus, who on that third day God raised from the dead – full-stop”. It would not be clear that Jesus is still alive. However, instead Paul used the ‘perfect’ tense, which indicates a past event which spills over into the present. ‘Remember Jesus, whom God raised on the third day and who remains forever risen and is present in his resurrection power. Remember Jesus, Timothy, remember that he is with you now.’
The context gives added significance to Paul’s charge. Timothy was clearly finding life tough. Paul therefore had urged him to “share in suffering like a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2.3). Paul’s subsequent mention of “Jesus Christ, raised from the dead”, is a reminder that “even he had to walk the way of the cross and taste death before being exalted” (J.D.D. Kelly). Jesus is an example of victory after death and Timothy’s source of strength: “he who conquered death through resurrection will ‘strengthen you’ for your task and endurance” (Gordon Fee). These words, although addressed in the first place to Timothy, have a message too for us. Notice too that at right at the very start of this section, Paul had said to Timothy “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 2.1). This translation is a little misleading, for the underlying Greek verb is passive, and not active. Literally Paul said: “Be strengthened” in the grace that the Risen Lord supplies. Timothy, there is no need to set your jaw and grit your teeth as if everything depends on you. Instead ‘take strength from the grace of God’ (REB) and remember that Jesus is risen from the dead.” What a difference remembering Jesus can make. All the more reason, therefore, to ensure that Sunday by Sunday we do remember “Jesus Christ, raised from the dead”!