Meat Loaf died last night. Since the 1970s, Michael / Marvin Lee Aday has sold over 65 million albums under the recording name “Meat Loaf.” His most successful work, Bat Out of Hell, sold over 40 million copies and is recognized as one of the best-selling albums of all time. I was never a fan, but I hate to hear of his passing.
I don’t mean this to be disparaging of Aday or his fans. But you’ve probably noticed that whenever an entertainer passes away, the wave of online tributes quickly follows. I’m sure Twitter and Facebook are flooded this morning with tribute posts along the lines of “Meat Loaf was the greatest male vocalist in rock history,” or “Bat Out of Hell was the soundtrack of my youth,” and so on.
I witnessed the same thing a few weeks ago at the sudden passing of Bob Saget. One of my Facebook friends noted that Saget’s character on “Full House” was a surrogate father figure for her in the absence of her biological father.
And the same thing happened just a few days earlier on New Year’s Eve when the news broke about Betty White’s death. Google her name and you’ll see what I mean:
And I’ve noticed something else. The celebrity tribute invokes a particular style of language. The tributes hail Betty White for being “iconic” and “groundbreaking.” Many of this morning’s posts describe Meat Loaf as “a singular talent” and “legendary.”
I want to reiterate: I don’t mean to be disparaging of any of these individuals. No doubt their families are grieving these losses and I hope that the words of appreciation pouring in through these tributes can help assuage their pain somewhat. It seems to me that Betty White’s career was indeed groundbreaking. Now that I think about it, Meat Loaf was a singular and unique figure in the field of popular music.
But I can’t help but think that our impulse to memorialize and pay tribute to these figures reveals something deeper. It seems as if we’re hardwired to honor greatness, to deem something or someone as “worthy” — which is the literal meaning of the word “worship.” To worship is to ascribe value to something or someone.
And that leads me to the Christian act of communion,
I never thought about it until this morning when I read about the passing of Meat Loaf, but the impulse that animates the celebrity tribute is the same one that drives Christian communion. “Do this in remembrance of me,” Jesus said. And in this remembrance, we pay tribute to Him, invoking the same particularity of language.
- His “iconic” death upon the cross.
- His “groundbreaking” miracles.
- His “singular” teaching.
- His “legendary” resurrection.
Christian communion is our weekly celebrity tribute as we pay homage to One who was indeed a “surrogate” — literally, a substitute in our place.
In the era of the celebrity tribute, followers of Christ have an opportunity to frame the Christian sacrament of communion as an action rooted in the same impulse. Just as the tributes continue to pour in for our departed entertainers, the Christian community continues to memorialize the One whose greatness was rooted in His humility. In the emblems of bread and wine, Christian communion is our weekly tribute to the body and blood of Jesus. By being obedient unto death — even death upon a cross (Phil. 2:8) — Jesus defeated the Powers, setting us free from the Sin and the wages of Sin — Death. Through His atoning and sacrificial death, we experience redemption, the forgiveness of our sins.
Maybe the celebrity tribute provides us a helpful way to explain this key element of the Christian faith.