Memorial (Lord’s Evening Meal)
Definition: A meal commemorating the death of Jesus Christ; hence, a memorial of his death, the death that has had effects that are more far reaching than that of any other person. This is the only event that the Lord Jesus Christ commanded his disciples to memorialize. It is also known as the Lord’s Supper, or the Lord’s Evening Meal.—1 Cor. 11:20.
What is the significance of the Memorial?
To his faithful apostles Jesus said: “Keep doing this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19) When writing to members of the spirit-begotten Christian congregation, the apostle Paul added: “As often as you eat this loaf and drink this cup, you keep proclaiming the death of the Lord, until he arrives.” (1 Cor. 11:26) So, the Memorial calls special attention to the significance of the death of Jesus Christ in the outworking of Jehovah’s purpose. It highlights the meaning of Jesus’ sacrificial death particularly in relation to the new covenant and to the way that his death affects those who will be heirs with him of the heavenly Kingdom.—John 14:2, 3; Heb. 9:15.
The Memorial is also a reminder that Jesus’ death and the way it was accomplished, in harmony with God’s purpose as expressed at Genesis 3:15 and thereafter, served to vindicate Jehovah’s name. By maintaining integrity to Jehovah down till his death, Jesus proved that Adam’s sin was not due to any flaw in the Creator’s designing of man but that it is possible for a human to maintain perfect godly devotion even under severe pressure, and thus Jesus vindicated Jehovah God as Creator and Universal Sovereign. Besides that, Jehovah had purposed that Jesus’ death would provide the perfect human sacrifice needed to ransom Adam’s offspring, and thus make it possible for billions who would exercise faith to live forever in a paradise earth, in fulfillment of Jehovah’s original purpose and in expression of his great love for mankind.—John 3:16; Gen. 1:28.
What a tremendous burden rested upon Jesus on his last night on earth as a man! He knew what his heavenly Father had purposed for him, but he also knew that he had to prove faithful under test. Had he failed, what a reproach it would have meant for his Father and what a loss to humankind! Because of all that would be accomplished by means of his death, it was most fitting that Jesus instructed that it be memorialized.
What is the meaning of the bread and the wine served at the Memorial?
Regarding the unleavened bread that Jesus gave to his apostles when instituting the Memorial, he said: “This means my body.” (Mark 14:22) That bread symbolized his own sinless body of flesh. This he would give in behalf of the future life prospects of mankind, and on this occasion special attention is drawn to the life prospects that it makes possible for those who would be chosen to share with Jesus in the heavenly Kingdom.
When passing the wine to his faithful apostles, Jesus said: “This means my ‘blood of the covenant,’ which is to be poured out in behalf of many.” (Mark 14:24) That wine symbolized his own lifeblood. By means of his shed blood, forgiveness of sins would be possible for those who put faith in it. On this occasion Jesus was highlighting the cleansing from sin that it would make possible for his prospective joint heirs. His words also indicate that by means of that blood the new covenant between Jehovah God and the spirit-anointed Christian congregation would be made operative.
Who is to partake of the bread and the wine?
Who partook when Jesus instituted the Lord’s Evening Meal shortly before he died? Eleven faithful followers to whom Jesus said: “I make a covenant with you, just as my Father has made a covenant with me, for a kingdom.” (Luke 22:29) They were all persons who were being invited to share with Christ in his heavenly Kingdom. (John 14:2, 3) All who partake of the bread and wine today should also be persons whom Christ brings into that ‘covenant for a kingdom.’
How many are there that partake? Jesus said that only a “little flock” would receive the heavenly Kingdom as their reward. (Luke 12:32) The full number would be 144,000. (Rev. 14:1-3) That group began to be selected in 33 C.E. Reasonably, there would be only a small number partaking now.
Does John 6:53, 54 indicate that only those who do partake will gain everlasting life?
John 6:53, 54: “Jesus said to them: ‘Most truly I say to you, Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in yourselves. He that feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has everlasting life, and I shall resurrect him at the last day.’”
This eating and drinking would obviously have to be done figuratively; otherwise the one doing it would be violating God’s law. (Gen. 9:4; Acts 15:28, 29) However, it should be noted that Jesus’ statement at John 6:53, 54 was not made in connection with the inauguration of the Lord’s Evening Meal. None who heard him had any idea of a celebration with bread and wine used to represent Christ’s flesh and blood. That arrangement was not introduced until about a year later, and the apostle John’s report about the Lord’s Evening Meal does not begin until more than seven chapters later on (in John 14) in the Gospel bearing his name.
How, then, can a person “eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood” in a figurative way if not by partaking of the bread and the wine at the Memorial? Notice that Jesus said that those thus eating and drinking would have “everlasting life.” Earlier, in verse 40, when explaining what people must do to have everlasting life, what did he say was the will of his Father? That “everyone that beholds the Son and exercises faith in him should have everlasting life.” Reasonably, then, ‘eating his flesh and drinking his blood’ in a figurative sense is done by exercising faith in the redeeming power of Jesus’ flesh and blood laid down in sacrifice. This exercising of faith is required of all who will gain the fullness of life, whether in the heavens with Christ or in the earthly Paradise.
How often is the Memorial to be commemorated, and when?
Jesus did not specifically state how often it was to be done. He simply said: “Keep doing this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19) Paul said: “For as often as you eat this loaf and drink this cup, you keep proclaiming the death of the Lord, until he arrives.” (1 Cor. 11:26) “As often” need not mean many times a year; it can mean annually over a period of many years. If you commemorate an important event, such as a wedding anniversary, or if a nation commemorates an important event in its history, how often is it done? Once a year on the anniversary date. This would also be consistent with the fact that the Lord’s Evening Meal was instituted on the date of the Jewish Passover, a yearly celebration that no longer had to be kept by Jews who had become Christians.
Jehovah’s Witnesses observe the Memorial after sundown on Nisan 14, according to the reckoning of the Jewish calendar that was common in the first century. The Jewish day begins at sundown and extends until the following sundown. So Jesus died on the same Jewish calendar day that he instituted the Memorial. The beginning of the month of Nisan was the sunset after the new moon nearest the spring equinox became visible in Jerusalem. The Memorial date is 14 days thereafter. (Thus the date for the Memorial may not coincide with that of the Passover kept by modern-day Jews. Why not? The start of their calendar months is set to coincide with the astronomical new moon, not the visible new moon over Jerusalem, which may come 18 to 30 hours later. Also, most Jews today keep the Passover on Nisan 15, not on the 14th as did Jesus in harmony with what was stated in the Mosaic Law.)