**Warning!! The article below contains major spoilers for Avengers: Endgame, which comes out today on Blu-ray/DVD! Although everyone has probably seen it by now, I thought I should warn you about it just in case**
“… through intercession, thanksgiving, doxology, confession, and petition to God we have the very body of the hero.” – Patriarch Jeremiah II
A few weeks ago, my wife and I went to see Avengers: Endgame for a second time.
Boy, is that movie good.
One scene that gripped us very much during both viewings was the funeral of Iron Man. As you probably know by now, at the end of the film, Tony Stark sacrifices himself to save all reality from Thanos and his armies. After the battle, all the heroes gather together to commemorate their fallen comrade with a loving tribute. A memorial is held, with an unspoken certainty that this was a sacrifice that was to be remembered by everyone for all time, never forgetting how much was given for ultimate victory. His death scene is moving, as is the sight of all the heroes at the funeral, mourning their departed friend.
As human beings, remembering those who sacrifice for us is simply what we do. Every nation has similar stories from every war, as does every family. Whenever a sacrifice is made, it is acknowledged out of sincere gratitude for what that person has done for their country, as to do any less would simply be unthinkable. I recently read that last year was the 100th anniversary of the US Marine Corps victory at the Battle of Belleau Woods in World War I, a battle in which a handful of marines overwhelmed a German battalion who had entrenched themselves in a think forest covered in poison gas. It was a turning point of the war, one that led to ultimate victory a few months later, because of those many marines who knowingly gave up their lives.
A human being sacrificing oneself for others around them is the greatest expression of love, as our Lord said. (John 15:13) Before going to His life-saving passion, the Lord broke bread with His disciples at the Last Supper, and told them to continue partaking of this meal. Among the many reasons we receive Holy Communion- the remission of sins, we were told to, it is our spiritual heartbeat, and so many more- there is another reason which Jesus proclaimed at the Supper, that of “remembrance.” Much of what we do in our Orthodox faith is also about remembering sacrifices that others have made for our sake- the apostles, martyrs, and other heroes of our faith and, most importantly, the Lord Himself. As He gave them the broken bread, which He affirmed is His body, He said, “Do this in remembrance of Me,” (Luke 22:19) which Paul later affirmed as well. (1 Cor 11:24-25)
When Patriarch Jeremiah II of Constantinople (1572-1595) engaged in dialogue with the early Reformers, he had the following to say about remembrance and Holy Communion, which I thought was very unique:
“For such remembrances men have contrived many means: graves, statues, columns, feasts, games. These contrivances have one purpose, to keep the excellent among men from being delivered over into the abyss of oblivion. And just as we inscribe on columns the hero’s victories by which we have been saved, in the same manner by these divine gifts we memorialize the death of the Lord, by which we have been saved, and in which a total victory has been gained over the Evil One. We do not have a picture, but through intercession, thanksgiving, doxology, confession, and petition to God we have the very body of the hero…
“[The Holy Gifts] are not changed into a human body, but we are changed into them, because the greater ones are victorious.” (First Answer Concerning the Augsburg Confession, Sent to Tubingen, May 15, 1576, Article 13)
It is amazing to consider that among all the other reasons that we receive the Lord’s Body and Blood, we do so as a commemoration of His heroic victory as well. We celebrate the incredible destruction of death and the defeat of the enemy by the ultimate hero! Like all the great heroes whom we have commemorated in song, story, or today on the silver screen, there is no commemoration that will ever be greater than the antitypes of His Body and Blood in the Divine Liturgy. (Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil the Great) This is a foretaste of the ultimate celebration in heaven, which we begin to experience here on earth! The gratitude that we feel for one’s sacrifice for us absolutely applies to the sacrifice that the Lord has made for all mankind, once and for all eternity.
The magnitude of this sacrifice is remembered by Orthodox Christians at each Divine Liturgy and, like all the greatest heroes and the sacrifices they have made, will be remembered for a long time to come. Upon receiving holy communion from now on, may we remember, each time, the Lord’s sacrifice and how much He gave for us out of His love for all mankind.
“And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me… Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.” – Luke 22: 19-20