The Imitation of Christ

Within Holy Communion, we remember Christ’s death and resurrection, as we await his coming in glory. Christ himself compelled us to remember him in a specific way, not as an intellectual assent or idea, but to remember him in a practice – in a sacramental rite that seems to be summed up in the word, “Do.” Do this in remembrance of me. He might even say, “Practice this in remembrance of me.” “Pray this in remembrance of me.” “Do this in remembrance of me.”

Charles C. Colton once said, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” It’s a complement to imitate. It’s a complement to remember. But is there a difference in remembering and imitating? Are we to remember Christ – only – or are we called to imitate Christ? Or, are we compelled to do a bit of both?

I grew up in East Texas, and at one time my family owned and rode horses. But before we had horses, we had ideas of what it would be like to groom, ride, and care for a horse. My Mom expressed her interest in horses by going out and purchasing roper boots in a variety of colors. My Dad read and researched how to care for a horse (very practical, right)? But it was my brother who gave our family the most expressive way of remembering horses. He would run through the house on all fours galloping like a horse. He ate Cheerios and juice from a bowl…on the floor…with only his mouth…eating like a horse. He hardly used words when he was in this state of consciousness, but nayed and whinnied like a horse. My brother did not believe he was like a horse; however, my brother believed he was a horse. The way that he best remembered and related to the horse was to be and to become the horse.

In the reading from the first chapter in the Book of James we get that famous verse, “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” Again, the word, “Do” is highlighted. And how can we be and become doers of the word? Well, the Word was made flesh, so that means the Word is Christ. If the Word is Christ, then that must mean that we are all called to be doers of Christ. And doers of Christ are ones who remember him through his Body and Blood, and in remembering him, we are given strength to imitate him.

The imitation of Christ is both a nod to religion and our various religious traditions, but the imitation of Christ also transcends religion because all of our hearts and souls, all of our strength and minds reaches toward the Way, the Truth, and the Life – which our faith teaches is the person and presence of God through Jesus Christ our Lord. That’s comforting to me: That the very person and presence we are trying to imitate is already there…and/or here. And if we are reaching out to Christ, we know that he is reaching back to us.

To be an imitator of Christ holds great responsibility. To be an imitator of Christ, we don’t necessarily take on new things, so much as we give up old things. And Christ seems to be pretty good at revealing to us (deep within our hearts) what those things we need to give up are…what things are holding us back from full participation and imitation of Him. The Church has traditionally called the process of giving up things, the process of sanctification. It’s within this process of sanctification that we are being made holy by emptying ourselves so that Christ may fill us more fully.

This is played out in the liturgy of the Church when we empty ourselves of sin by confessing them to God before remembering and being filled by Christ with His Body and Blood. It’s played out further with the passing of the peace where we remember a brother or sister in Christ that has something against us (or we against them), so we pass the peace of the Lord, and are reconciled with each other before offering our gifts at the altar (Matt 5:23, 24). By doing such things in the liturgy of the Church allots a specific time to practice our faith, to be better Christians, and (ultimately) to imitate Christ, himself. Practicing gets under our skin, and in our pores so much so that if we are used to passing the peace every time we celebrate the Holy Eucharist, then outside the doors of the Church we will find ourselves being more peaceful and forgiving to those whom are hard to get along with. In other words, we are practicing what we are preaching…that’s remembering Christ. But we are also preaching what we are practicing…that imitating Christ. It’s a both/and, not one or the other.

So our primary gift from God is the gift of Christ, and it is with this gift that we (as Christians) get to share with the rest of the world; and we best share Christ by being imitators of him. What is another gift of God, but is only secondary are the gifts of the Church – mainly the sacraments of holy baptism and communion. It is through these gifts that we get to remember Christ, and practice our faith, and prayerfully commit to something that is bigger than ourselves.

These are the primary and secondary gifts of God for the people of God. Take them in remembrance that Christ died for you, and feed on him in your hearts, by faith, with thanksgiving, and ultimately, in the imitation of Him.