In Remembrance

by Rebecca D. Higgins

Study Scripture: Mark 14:10-2

It was just family and a few long-time family friends who stood on the knoll to commit my grandmother’s body to the ground. My minister uncle conducted the graveside service and invited any of us who so desired to describe our special memories of Grandma. Those moments were intensely meaningful and sacred to our family as one by one we began to share: “I remember . . . .”

As I stood there surrounded by my loving family, my mind moved backward over the preceding days to the night she died. As ten of the family members circled her hospital bed and sang her into heaven, I intentionally burned the memory on my mind—who was there, the positioning of each person in the circle, the songs we sang, the moment we knew she had slipped from earth’s ties into the presence of her Lord. Why go to such lengths to imprint those moments on my mind? I wanted to remember.

In His final night with His disciples Jesus must have wanted them to do much the same thing. As He gathered the Twelve around Him to observe the final Passover meal with them, He no doubt gazed around the circle, peering intently at the countenances of the group and thought of their development over the three years of being with Him and of how far they yet had to go. He knew that before the night was over their bravado would falter and all would forsake Him and flee. So in those final moments before His Passion, He impressed on them the urgency of remembering that night.

I hesitate to compare the importance of remembering the Last Supper with my memories of my grandmother, because that final meal had such sacred significance—not for nostalgic sentiment, but as a means of grace. But one thing they have in common is the aspect of remembering.

There are places I cannot go without thinking of my grandmother. There are certain activities in which I participate to keep her memory strong.

And that is somewhat the idea represented behind observing the Lord’s Supper. It is to be done to help us to remember. What did Jesus mean when He said, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19c)? Just what are we supposed to remember?

 

Protestant Communion Elements

1. REMEMBER THAT THE LORD’S SUPPER REPRESENTS CHRIST’S ATONING SACRIFICE FOR OUR SINS.

The broken bread and poured-out wine is a strong visual symbol of the broken body and shed blood of our Lord. He was broken so that we might be made whole. His blood flowed freely so that we could be set free from the bondage of sin. “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

Paul wrote to the Corinthians that it was possible to eat and drink the Lord’s Supper unworthily—that is, to participate in the ceremony commemorating Christ’s death without fully participating in the life of Christ that frees us from the entanglement of sin.

2. REMEMBER THAT THE LORD’S SUPPER REPRESENTS THE FELLOWSHIP BETWEEN THE BELIEVER AND THE LORD.

Communions to me are among the most intimate moments in my relationship with the Lord. They are times to contemplate His overwhelming love for me that sent Him to the Cross. They are times to bow humbly before Him and thank Him that because of His willingness to go to the Cross, I can now go before God himself. They are times when I look back and ponder on His provision and presence in recent months and throughout my life.

3. REMEMBER THAT THE LORD’S SUPPER REPRESENTS THE ALL-SUFFICIENCY OF CHRIST.

Scripture records that during Jesus’ earthly ministry, He was faced with the seemingly impossible task of feeding the multitudes. But on both of the occasions recorded, He was more than enough to meet the need. He did it by breaking the bread and fish and distributing it to the hungry crowds until all were satisfied.

Evangelist Jimmy Johnson told of a time many years ago when he took a group of teens to a little church in northern California to minister in special meetings during Easter week. God moved in a powerful way as they visited in the community, passed out literature, and held preaching services each evening. By Friday night something incredible had happened. The teens had won the pool hall owner and his wife to the Lord, and true revival had swept the community.

On that Friday night before Easter, the group gathered at the church to have a communion service. They arrived to find the place packed. Some of the teens sat on the floor so the community people could have seats, but even then, there were still some individuals who had to stand. As the ministers began serving the bread and the juice, they were horrified when they quickly ran out of the elements. They did not have enough to serve the entire crowd. What could they do? Instead of allowing the circumstances to defeat the sweet spirit in the church, they were able to use the situation to highlight the sufficiency of Christ. He never runs out! He’s always enough! He’s there even when you’re not aware of His presence! He’s all we need! The elements of communion might not be enough, but Jesus Christ is!

4. REMEMBER THAT THE LORD’S SUPPER REPRESENTS A TIME OF UNSELFISHLY SERVING AND SHARING WITH OTHERS IN THE BODY OF BELIEVERS.

Some of the most memorable and meaningful communion services don’t always take place in stately cathedrals as Dr. Rich Eckley so aptly illustrates. On a church canoeing expedition with a group of men and young boys, Rich had taken along the elements to serve communion at one point on their trip. However, as so easily happens on canoe trips, the supplies in the boat got wet and the bread was ruined.

When it was time to observe communion around the campfire, the only thing they had to use was one hamburger bun. Rich shared with the group from Paul’s epistles about the body of Christ and how young men and older men can learn from each other. Each person has a part to play in building and edifying others in the body. Rich then took the hamburger roll and broke it symbolically to represent the broken body of our Lord. But as he looked around the circle of approximately 35 men and boys, he realized that one hamburger bun really wasn’t enough, so he said, “Listen, guys, I want to caution you—don’t take very much. Make sure everyone gets a piece.” He then handed over the two halves of the roll to be passed around the circle.

When everyone had broken off a piece of bread and Rich had collected the halves, they appeared to be almost as large as at the beginning. Rich looked around the campfire and noticed that each person was holding a tiny crumb of bread in his hand. The lesson to be learned from that hamburger roll was this: each individual around that fire had thought about the person to whom he was going to pass the bread, and each person wanted to make sure that his neighbor had a piece. Rather than breaking off a large chunk, they all had thought of others first.

That is the way it is to be in the body of believers for whom Christ died.

5. REMEMBER THAT THE LORD’S SUPPER REPRESENTS THE UNIVERSALITY OF CHRIST’S LOVE.

I have two specific communions that stand out in my memory for similar reasons.
The first was at an international women’s convention for my denomination. For several days those of us in attendance had been stirred and challenged through workshops and special evening rallies. The convention culminated in a Sunday morning worship service to be concluded with the observance of the Lord’s Supper. As I waited to partake of the elements, I looked around at the diverse races and cultures represented in the gathering. When the minister gave us the cue, the entire group partook of the elements in unison as one body. Suddenly, I felt hands behind me embrace my shoulders as someone whispered in my ear, “I’m so glad you’re my sister in Christ.” I turned to look into the beautiful face of a lady from Guyana. Though the color of our skin was different, and we hailed from different countries and cultures, we were united because of the sacrifice of Calvary. We were both part of the family of God.

The other communion that comes to mind took place in a football stadium with thousands in attendance. It, too, was an international denominational gathering. However, it was not my denomination. As I celebrated the Lord’s Supper with my fellow believers, I was reminded that it is humans who get hung up by barriers of gender, race, culture, and denomination, but Christ “is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier” (Ephesians 2:14a), and “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

6. REMEMBER THAT THE LORD’S SUPPER COMMEMORATES NOT A DEAD JESUS, BUT A CRUCIFIED AND RISEN SAVIOR.

There is a country cemetery just outside of Baraboo, Wisconsin, that contains the gravestone for my grandmother. I could go there and know that the piece of granite marks the site of her earthly remains. But I can’t do the same with my Lord. While the Scriptures record that there most certainly was a grave, they also proclaim the wonderful news that it is empty! When I observe communion, however, I don’t just think of an empty tomb. I visualize a rough, blood-spattered cross on which Jesus gave His life for me. For without the Cross, there would be no Easter; but without Easter, the Cross would be meaningless.

What do you remember when you observe communion? Take some time today to reflect on the Lord’s Supper and commit to live your life in such a way that it clearly proclaims, “Lord, I remember.”

(This article first appeared in Teacher Helps, Spring 2000, Volume 8, No. 3, Published by Wesleyan Publishing House, P. O. Box 50434, Indianapolis, Indiana 46250-0434.)
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Promises to Keep: You Will Never Be Forgotten

by Rebecca D. Higgins

On Sunday night of Memorial Day weekend 2011, I paused to sit down and watch the National Memorial Concert from Washington, DC on my local PBS station. As the stories of brave men and women were told interspersed with musical numbers, I found myself reaching frequently for the box of Kleenexes sitting on the coffee table nearby. Outside my living room window the gentle snap of my flag as it caught the evening breeze served as a reminder that I am still able to fly that symbol of freedom proudly as a result of the sacrifice of so many brave men and women throughout the years.

As I went to bed that night to sleep peacefully, I said some prayers for those families who have paid the ultimate sacrifice so that I can enjoy the freedoms this country holds dear.

The next day I had several at-home projects that kept me busy and away from the official Memorial Day observances, but later in the afternoon, I needed to get out of the house. I headed the few miles down the road to Camp Nelson National Cemetery, deciding to have my own quiet moments to remember the price paid for freedom. I drove my car back as far as I could in the cemetery, parked, and began to make my way quietly and respectfully along the rows of white markers and American flags that adorned each grave for the Memorial Day. A few other families were also visiting the final resting place of loved ones and friends.

Mike Tarter bugleSuddenly the plaintive notes of a lone bugle interrupted the hushed quiet of that sacred place as the familiar strains of Taps floated over the rows of markers and flags. I swallowed hard over the lump that formed immediately in my throat and wiped the moisture from the corners of my eyes. “Where were the notes coming from?” I wondered as my eyes scanned the cemetery. Then I saw them–two figures some distance away from me. Even though I had to squint to see and their backs were towards me, I recognized that they were wearing some type of uniform. As the notes of Taps died away, the arms of the taller of the two figures lowered the bugle to his side, and then his free right arm performed a slow, deliberate salute.

I had started moving in their direction as soon as I had determined the source of the music. I wanted to thank them for their service and for that poignant Memorial Day observance to which I had been a witness. Someone else who had witnessed the tribute reached them first, and I waited respectfully as a veteran from the Vietnam era talked about places and shared experiences that the bugler had also known. When I had opportunity, I shook the hands of the husband and wife duo and thanked them. I then heard their story.

Mike and Gerry Tarter are from Goshen, Ohio, where they both serve as VFW local honor guards at military observances and funerals. Mike served in the army as a helicopter gunner in Vietnam. While he is thankful to have made it home, seven of his high school buddies from Goshen did not. Their lives were cut short when they were still in their teens and early twenties while serving in the military. For over 40 years Mike has kept a promise that they would not be forgotten. After his stint in the army, he served in the Air Force for the rest of his career. Since he retired in 1990, every Memorial Day, he and his wife Gerry make a pilgrimage. Following their participation in their local Goshen Memorial Day observances, they head out in their truck, making stops at national cemeteries in Kentucky and on down the road to Tennessee where Mike’s buddies have been laid to rest. At each of their graves he plays Taps, salutes, and spends a few moments talking to his friends, always reiterating the promise that they will not be forgotten and that he will be back next year. They had two soldiers to honor at Camp Nelson and I listened as they pointed out the trees that helped pinpoint the location of the second soldier’s marker. And again I was moved as Mike performed his ritual–Taps and a salute and a wipe of the eyes to dab away the tears.

As I talked to the couple, Gerry (Mike’s wife) asked me if I had seen his truck. “It’s one of a kind,” she told me. As they headed to where they had parked it, I tagged along so that I could see the pictorial tribute on wheels they had created to remember those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice and to honor all veterans who have served. Even though it was around 5:00 p.m. when I encountered them at Camp Nelson National Cemetery, their day was far from over. They still had miles to go and more heroes to honor before they closed their eyes in sleep.

Mike and Gerry Tarter 1

As I watched their truck pull out of the cemetery and head south on state road 27, Robert Frost’s words appropriately came to mind as they continued their long Memorial Day journey:

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
(from “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost)

They are keeping the promise that those who have served and paid the ultimate sacrifice will not be forgotten.

Many years before them, one of our nation’s greatest presidents also stood in a cemetery that had been the site of a bloody battlefield. At Gettysburg, Abraham Lincoln eloquently urged the nation to remember:

 Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. 

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate—we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom— and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. (“The Gettysburg Address” by Abraham Lincoln).

So I have come to learn that on these national days of remembrance and throughout the year it is important to take the time to acknowledge that freedom isn’t free and be one who makes the promise to ensure that freedom will continue to ring–not only from sea to shining sea, but in the hearts of all those who humbly bow before Almighty God, the true giver of all freedom.

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Postscript:  On March 3, 2016, I received a message from the daughter of Mike Tarter informing me that her dad was in his final battle with cancer. A few days later I heard the news that after a lifetime of keeping his promise, Mike’s journey had come to an end. On March 15, 2016, I traveled to Goshen, Ohio, to attend Mike’s memorial service. As I told his family, it was the least I could do to pay my respects to someone who had traveled thousands upon thousands of miles over the years to honor the memory of others. Mike, you will not be forgotten!

Mike Tarter's flag resized

Mike Tarter’s wife Gerry receives the flag presented in Mike’s honor.

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