Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me." Luke 22:19
Dear Friends in Christ,
Do you remember Christmases past? When you gather with friends and families, do you tell stories of experiences you have had together? Do you have family traditions that connect back for generations? There is something about remembering and recalling to mind those past experiences that impact our present lives. In some cases, they are not merely recalling a distant event, but rather the remembrance makes real for us today what was real back then: we own that experience as our own and let it make us who we are today. Theologians have a special word for this remembrance: Anamnesis.
Anamnesis (“an – am – NEE – sis”) is a Greek word that means remembrance, and specifically in the theology of the Eucharist (our communion service), anamnesis is where we remember how God has acted in the past, calling to mind God’s actions in human history so that we might today call on God to act in the same way and experience the same grace for ourselves. The chief anamnesis of the church is the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, who reveals to us God the Holy Trinity alive and reaching into human history to save us from our sins and reconcile us to God and each other. The chief expression of this anamnesis is in the Eucharistic Prayer (the long prayer before communion).
After the peace, we gather bread and wine at the holy table (the altar). We then lift up our hearts to the Lord, seeking God’s presence, and we begin to express our thanks to the Lord our God (“eucharist” means thanksgiving). Then as we begin to thank and praise God (in part echoing the anthem of Isaiah’s vision of heaven: “holy, holy, holy”), we also recall what God has done for us.
The anamnesis in Prayer A is the simplest: ‘you made us for yourself, when we had fallen into sin you sent Jesus to live and die as one of us, to reconcile us to you. He offered himself on the cross as a sacrifice for the whole world.’ We then recount the “words of institution” that Jesus spoke at the last supper about the bread and the wine, adding “do this in remembrance of me.”
Prayer B remembers a bit more, going back to the calling of Israel, God’s Word spoken through the prophets, and above all, the Word made flesh, Jesus, his son. Prayer D is a more lengthy prayer and anamnesis, going back before time, describing in more detail the angelic choir. Prayer D goes on to describe God’s purposes for us in creation, our disobedience to God, and God’s repeated calls to us to return to him. Prayer D describes the birth of Jesus to Mary his mother, and his mission in the world, along with the gift of the Holy Spirit.
While Prayer D comes from an ancient Eastern Orthodox prayer, Prayer C, on the other hand, is a new prayer written for the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. It carries some of the cultural vibe of its day (think: “the vast expanse of interstellar space…and this fragile earth, our island home…”). Prayer C says more in its remembrance of who we are as God’s creatures, “blessed with memory, reason and skill.”
The Rite I anamnesis, on the other hand, provides a theological account, citing concepts key to the protestant reformation context in which it was written. Christ “suffered death upon the cross for our redemption; who made there, by his one oblation of himself, once offered, a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world; and did institute, and in his holy Gospel command us to continue, a perpetual memory of that his precious death and sacrifice, until his coming again.” All those words are packed with theological baggage, meant to stake particular claims about Jesus and about the communion service.
The next time you participate in the Eucharist, listen carefully for the anamnesis, that remembrance of God’s saving acts, especially in Jesus Christ, who came to us at Christmas, lived, died and rose again that we might be reconciled to God and have new life in him. And as you join in that prayer, find yourself around that holy table with his first disciples, receiving for yourself that same grace Jesus gave them.
Yours in Christ,