A Lasting Memorial
September 11, 2001 was a dark day in the history of the United States. With vitriol toward their enemy, several young Muslim extremists hijacked planes and used them to bring down the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. As a result, near 3,000 innocent Americans tragically lost their lives. Lest these men and women have died in vain, great efforts were undertaken to create a memorial in their honor. Today, two beautiful pools stand in the footprint of the disaster, each containing names of victims etched into the walls over which gentle waters flow. Between the two pools is a museum which houses images and artifacts to ensure that Americans do not forget their fallen countrymen or the disaster that brought them to an untimely end. Time, however, passes.
I recently had opportunity to visit the 9-11 Memorial in Lower Manhattan. Upon entering the museum, I was struck with an unexpected wave of emotion as I viewed the expressions of tragedy and fear upon those who witnessed the event firsthand and whose images were captured on film. Reading the stories of policemen, firefighters, and other heroes who gave their lives that fateful day made my heart ache for families who would soon celebrate another Thanksgiving with an empty chair and memory of a loved one gone forever.
After passing through the tributes and memorials in the museum, benches are provided for guests to rest as they look upon a single steel column pulled from the wreckage of the towers. It was with sadness and a tinge of anger that I witnessed museum guests sitting on these benches while mindlessly texting, scrolling through Internet sites, laughing with friends, and catching a quick nap before the next tourist stop. Where was their sadness? Where was the respect for those who spent their last moments on earth in pain, separated from the ones they loved? Reflection on this scene brought a thought to mind: “And he took 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 ESV).
The day that Jesus Christ died on the cross was also a dark day, both literally and symbolically. It was a day in which circumstances made it appear evil had won as the Son of God took His last breath while enemies mocked. However, this death was no surprise; it was no triumph for the forces of evil since the Son of God would return triumphantly from the grave. It was not in vain that Jesus Christ died, but for the salvation of mankind: “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life” (Romans 5:10). It is this victory through death that we remember as we partake of the bread and drink of the fruit of vine. Through His death we find life and through His blood we are joined in covenant with God. Where, though, is my mind as this memorial is observed?
In this remembrance there is danger. If men and women can grow lethargic over a tragedy of less than twenty years ago, how easily can they all but forget a day of tragedy 2,000 years past? In fact, one group of Christians demonstrated such difficulties not more than about twenty years after His death. As the apostle Paul wrote the Corinthians, he chastised their lack of sobriety in observance of this solemn remembrance. Torn by factionalism, the Supper had become nothing more than another point of division for them. Far from the sobriety needed to remember Christ’s soul saving sacrifice, they ate and drank “in an unworthy manner.” The apostle warned that lack of discernment would certainly bring the judgment of God upon them. Their lax attitude toward Christ’s death promised to not only bring personal judgment, but posed danger for the group as a whole (I Corinthians 11:29). In this, there is warning for all Christians.
Practically speaking, every Christian must take great care to maintain the solemnity and respect demanded in this memorial. It requires advanced preparation to center one’s mind solely on the grace of God that would make salvation possible for a wayward creation. It requires remembering that were it not for this grace, every man and women would stand condemned to death before the righteous Judge. The excruciating death of Jesus which stands as proof of this grace must maintain centrality of thought as the bread is partaken.
As Jesus established this memorial, He discussed how His great gift of love would open the door to a relationship with God: “And likewise [He took] the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood’” (Luke 22:20). His atoning blood makes a restored relationship with God possible. In contrasting the sacrifice of Christ with those offered under the Old Law, the Hebrew writer states, “How must more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (9:14). It is through His blood that we can truly be the covenant people of God.
Memorials to man will come and go; events that a generation believes will never be forgotten will as quickly find their way into the dustbin of history. This, however, must never happen to the day that changed the world. May every child of God soberly reflect on this great Supper and rather than allowing it to be diminished by the passing years, may each develop closer and deeper ties with the One who gave everything for His creation. May every Christian truly partake to the glory of God.