There were about 25 teenagers chattering with one another in the activity room of the church, but they fell silent for a moment as I walked a bicycle into the room and propped the bike’s kickstand into place. As soon as I did, their questions flew like confetti:
“Whose bike is that?”
“Why did you bring a bike in here?”
“Are you giving it away?”
“Are you going to ride it?”
I’d been asked to talk with the church youth group about communion, and was counting on the bike to help the teens think about the Lord’s Supper in a new way. I asked if any of them knew what the term ‘muscle memory’ meant (they didn’t), so I told them that there was a formal name for a phenomenon they’d all experienced. “If you regularly practice a specific motor skill like typing, throwing a ball, or playing an instrument, the movement becomes embedded in your long-term memory and you can do it without thinking about it.”
“Like riding a bike!” one young man laughed.
I nodded, and told them about something I’d done throughout my growing-up years that had become a part of my spiritual ‘muscle memory’ – my Jewish family’s yearly Passover Seder. The ceremonial meal recounting God’s miraculous deliverance of my people from generations of slavery in Egypt was both ritual and feast. My grandfather insisted on reading every passage in the Haggadah, the booklet guiding the recounting of the Exodus story. The symbols of water, egg, parsley, saltwater, bitter horseradish, sweet charoset (an apple-cinnamon-wine-nut mixture), lamb shank bone, wine and matzo (unleaved bread) were the centerpiece of the table, living illustrations of a true story that had been passed down for generations in obedience to God’s command to remember and retell (Ex. 13:8). The Seder meant active participation for everyone as we sang, prayed, ate and remembered.
This sort of active, participatory remembrance was captured in the Apostle Paul’s familiar words in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26:
For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ 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, in remembrance of me.’ For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
“When we hear the word ‘remember’, most of us think of recalling information – recollecting the information for a test, or trying to think of where you left your house key,” I told the teens. “But the word ‘remember’ in this passage is a deep kind of muscle memory remembering, like riding a bike. It goes far, far beyond simply remembering the facts about what Jesus did for us.”
I reminded them that communion was rooted in Yeshua’s final Seder meal with his friends, and that remembering him at communion means bringing to active remembrance the context in which this sacrament was given us.
Then I flicked the kickstand up and climbed onto the bike. I hadn’t ridden a bike for nearly thirty years, but was betting that the skill was so deeply embedded in my muscle memory that I would still be able to do it. “How many of you think I’m not going to be able to ride this bike since I haven’t been on one for three decades?” The room erupted into laughter. They all were certain I’d fall or crash into something.
I was wobbly, but I successfully pedaled a couple of laps around the room’s perimeter. I simply had to bring that my long-dormant skill to active remembrance in order to do it. (I hoped that the image of me pedaling around the room would not be what the teens would remember the next time they took communion!)
Jesus infused new meaning into the cup and the unleavened bread at the final Seder he shared with his friends when he told them that these familiar symbols proclaimed the deliverance and new life he came to bring each one of us.