“And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this for the anamnesis of me.’” Luke 19:22
“In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, for the anamnesis of me.’” 1 Corinthians 11:25
Anamnesis is a Greek word with the seemingly simple meaning of remembering. To do anamnesis is to remember, to recollect. Many are most likely familiar with anamnesis as it appears in our Eucharistic prayers: “On the night he was handed over to suffering and death, our Lord Jesus Christ took bread; and when he had given thanks to you, he broke it, and gave it to his disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat: This is my Body, which is given for you. Do this for the remembrance of me.’”
That likely sounds familiar and sensible in its plain meaning. “Do this as a memorial, as a refreshing of your memory, of me.” Perhaps there is some reminiscing with an emotional response like “Yeah, I remember Jesus’ love for his disciples. That must have been a memorable evening. It is worth remembering.” While there is value in this, the truth is that there is much more to anamnesis that simply this. Remembering anamnesis and the Jewish context of Jesus’ ministry can lead us to a more meaningful and helpful understanding.
In Genesis 9, after the flood, God establishes a covenant with Noah, all living things, and future generations. God says that the rainbow will serve as a reminder to himself of his covenant that he has made with all living creatures. Remembrance is about calling into the present the covenant once established. It is a reaffirmation of that covenant and a reassurance that the covenant still holds in the present. It is a making present what was in the past and unites history, the past with the present. Likewise, the Jewish celebration of the Passover described in Deuteronomy is a remembrance of the events of Exodus 12. In the rabbinic teaching on the Passover feast we read “In every generation, a person is obligated to see himself as if he himself came out of Egypt; as it is written: ‘This is done because of that which God did to me when I came out of Egypt’” (Talmud, Pesachim 116b). This is no mere bringing to mind, but again is making present what was past and uniting the Jews of the Exodus with all Jews of all times in the blessings and salvation of God. This is the sort of anamnesis that Jesus would have had in mind for his followers. We take and eat the bread and drink the wine to make the moment of the Last Supper present in all its significance and all its saving grace. When we gather and do anamnesis, it is not a merely a refreshing of memory or a reminder to be thankful, through those might be included, but we make Christ present in the same way that the rainbow brings the fullness of covenant into the present moment and the Passover feast brings the fullness of God’s exodus salvation. This is a powerful remembering and our hopes and expectations for Eucharistic anamnesis should be equally powerful. I bid you to come to the table with all your hopes and dreams, because it is Christ who truly invites you to come.