These words take us back to Jerusalem two thousand years ago. But they work the other way, too: they bring Jerusalem of two thousand years ago here today, to this place, in this place. And not just the words, but all the action and the whole occasion: the upper room, the meal, the celebration despite impending doom; the companionship of the disciples, even the one who had something to hide—and who doesn’t? ‘This do in remembrance of me’ brings it all into the present.
That is what sacraments do. They bring with them all the intervening years as well: all the Christians of the past, all the joys and sadnesses of history. The whole of the past concentrated into the words and action of the consecration prayer: we open the door of Dr Who’s Tardis and find ourselves in the vastness of history.
Every time the Lord’s supper is celebrated, the past is gathered up and presented to us, just as a snowball rolling down the slope incorporates the snow it has rolled over. Then in the heavenly banquet, past and present are refreshed, and launched into the world transformed. In an instant, the larva of the past becomes the imago of the future. Rebirth. Or, if you prefer astronomy, the entire universe is compressed, sucked into the infinitely dense black hole of crucifixion—the bloody, dirty hole of crucifixion—and propelled with infinite acceleration to create the glorious new universe.
This is a magnificent vision. All Christian theology and history concentrated into the moment at every Eucharist. No wonder we should celebrate it with all possible splendour and theatre and solemnity and joy. The entire cosmos gathered up and borne for an instant by the priest.
Each of us is a sacrament. Each of us has all our past within us. We are the sum of our memories. All our past is included in our genes: material from the primeval soup at the moment of creation are in every one of our cells. All this is sanctified in this sacrament. We are cleansed. We are fed. We are forgiven. We have the meal set out by the gracious father for the prodigal son. We are accepted. We are loveable and loved. We are launched for future service.
In the old Ritual of the Church we find that on the cover of the canister, wherein was the Sacrament of His Body, there was a star engraven, to shew us that now the star leads us thither, to His body there. So what shall I say now, but according as St John saith, and the star, and the wise men say ‘Come’. And he whose star it is, and to whom the wise men came, saith ‘Come’. And let them that are disposed ‘Come’. And let whosoever will, take the ‘Bread of Life which came down from heaven’ this day unto Bethlehem, the house of bread. Of which bread the Church is this day the house, the true Bethlehem, and all the Bethlehem we have now left to come to for the Bread of Life – of that life which we hope for in heaven. And this our nearest coming that here we can come, till we shall by another Venite come, unto Him in His Heavenly Kingdom to which He grant we may come, That this day came to us in earth that we thereby might come to Him and remain with Him for ever, ‘Jesus Christ the Righteous’. (Bishop Lancelot Andrewes, Christmas 1620)