Celebrating the Lord’s Evening Meal
ONLY one red-letter date appears on the 1954 calendar of Jehovah’s witnesses, and that is April 17. On that date, as the sun sinks behind the horizon in the west, every last one of Jehovah’s witnesses that can possibly do so will assemble with other witnesses at the local congregational meeting place. This year upward of a half million witnesses together with several hundred thousand persons of good will are expected to assemble thus.
Why should all the witnesses of Jehovah come together on April 17? Because it is also Nisan 14. Nisan 14? Yes, according to the calendar that Jehovah God gave to the nation of Israel the first month of the year was Nisan or Abib and it began with the new moon nearest the spring equinox or the first day of spring.—Ex. 12:1, 2.
What is so notable about Nisan 14, you ask? That day became outstanding in the year 1513 B.C., when Jehovah made a name for himself by breaking the Egyptian yoke over his people and setting them free. On that night the Israelites ate a “supper” consisting of roast lamb or kid, unleavened bread and bitter herbs; and it was termed the “passover supper” because God’s angel of death spared or ‘passed over’ their firstborn while destroying all the first-born of Egypt; that is, spared them provided they had carried out all the instructions including the splashing of some of the blood of the lamb on the doorposts and on the upper part of the doorway belonging to the houses in which they ate the supper, and remained inside.—Ex. 12:3-13, NW.
So that they would never forget that memorable day when Jehovah vindicated his supremacy, humbled Pharaoh’s pride and set his people free from the bitter Egyptian bondage, God commanded that this passover supper be celebrated annually on Nisan 14, and later that it was to be celebrated in the city on which he had placed his name, Jerusalem. Thus, some fifteen centuries later, on Nisan 14, A.D. 33, we find thirteen Israelites in an upper chamber in the city of Jerusalem celebrating the passover. Who were these thirteen? Christ Jesus and his twelve apostles.
However, it is not to celebrate the Jewish passover that Jehovah’s witnesses come together this year on Nisan 14, but rather to celebrate the signal events that were to occur on that Nisan 14 of A.D. 33, events that would far surpass in importance even those that occurred 1545 years before in Egypt. Yes, Nisan 14, A.D. 33, saw Jehovah’s name vindicated in that on that day Christ Jesus gave proof that a perfect man could keep integrity in spite of all that the Devil could bring upon him, and on that day the ransom sacrifice was provided which was to lead to the eventual deliverance of all lovers of righteousness from the bondage of the Greater Pharaoh, Satan the Devil, and from antitypical Egypt, his organization. All on that day? Yes, because according to God’s calendar the day began at sunset and continued until the next sunset.
MEANING OF THE EMBLEMS
Just as Moses instituted an anniversary celebration of the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt on the very night that they were delivered, so Christ Jesus instituted an anniversary celebration of the deliverance he was to provide on that very night of Nisan 14, A.D. 33. And while the various religious organizations of Christendom celebrate the “Lord’s supper” semiyearly, quarterly, monthly, weekly, and even almost daily, yet in view of the fact that the passover, which commemorated the deliverance from Egypt, was celebrated only once a year and that on Nisan 14, it is reasonable to conclude, in the absence of any instructions to the contrary, that the Lord’s evening meal also should be celebrated only once a year, on Nisan 14, to commemorate the deliverance provided by the death of the antitypical passover Lamb, Christ Jesus.
It was after the passover supper and after Jesus had dismissed Judas that he “took a loaf and, after saying a blessing, he broke it and, giving it to the disciples, he said: ‘Take, eat. This means my body.’” (Matt. 26:26; John 13:21-30, NW) To which body was Jesus referring here? To his fleshly body? Hardly, for concerning it we read that not a bone was broken, whereas Jesus broke the loaf. (John 19:36) Rather, he was referring to his spiritual body, the Christian congregation, which in the Scriptures is termed a body or Christ’s body more than forty-five times. That this is the correct conclusion is apparent from Paul’s words: “The loaf which we break, is it not a sharing in the body of the Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, although many, are one body, for we are all partaking of that one loaf.” Clearly the loaf pictures not Jesus’ fleshly body but his body members, the Christian congregation.—1 Cor. 10:16, 17, NW.
By partaking of this loaf one says in effect, ‘I profess to be a member of the body of Christ.’ Since in the Scriptures yeast or ferment is a picture of sin and all passover bread had to be without yeast, this would picture the fact that those who are part of the spiritual body of Christ will do their best to keep themselves free from sin and malice. Further this yeastless bread was also termed the “bread of affliction” because it was heavy, “sad” as it were, and reminded the Israelites of their sufferings in Egypt and of the great haste in which they left Egypt, so great that they did not have time to properly prepare their bread. It therefore also fittingly pictures the suffering that Christ’s body members must endure.—1 Cor. 5:6-8; Deut. 16:3; 1 Pet. 2:21, NW.
After giving the disciples the loaf to eat, Jesus also “took a cup and, having given thanks, he gave it to them, saying: ‘Drink out of it, all of you; for this means my “blood of the covenant” which is to be poured out in behalf of many for forgiveness of sins.’” (Matt. 26:27, 28, NW) Since drinking the cup means sharing with Christ, does that indicate that Christ’s followers have a part in providing forgiveness of sins by their sacrifice? No, for the Scriptures show that only Christ could provide a ransom. (Ps. 49:6-9; John 1:29) But his followers can share in drinking the same cup that Jesus drank in the sense that this cup also pictures God’s will for his servants, even as Jesus prayed on the night of his betrayal: “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass away from me. Yet, not as I will, but as you will.”—Matt. 26:39, NW. See also Matthew 20:22.
The Scriptures tell us that the soul or life is in the blood. (Lev. 17:14) Blood poured out would therefore picture death. So those who drink of the cup at the Lord’s evening meal confess thereby that they expect to die with Christ that they may share in his resurrection. (Phil. 3:7-11) With the arrival of God’s kingdom, drinking of the fruit of the vine is also a symbol of sharing in Christ’s joy.—Matt. 26:29; 25:21, 23, NW.
Perhaps by now some good Roman Catholic who has been reading the foregoing will say, ‘But you have changed the Bible! According to my Bible Jesus said regarding the loaf and the wine: “This is my body,” and “This is my blood.’” (Knox) True, many translations do so render Jesus’ words. But there are also others that render them similarly to the way the New World Translation does. Thus Moffatt uses the word “means” for “is”; C. B. Williams uses “represents” instead of “is”; whereas Weymouth in his footnote (Third Edition) states: “Or ‘signifies,’ ‘represents,’ ‘symbolizes my body.’ In many places in both the O.T. and the N.T. the verb ‘is’ or ‘are,’ expressed or (as here) understood, may be thus rendered.” Among the examples Weymouth gives is that of the illustration of the sower where Jesus repeatedly states that one thing “is” another, although meaning that one thing “represents” another. See also Matthew 13:36-39.
Yes, Jesus’ speech was full of metaphors, symbols; and not only Jesus’ but also his apostles’. Note Paul’s words regarding the rock in the wilderness from which water gushed forth for the benefit of the Israelites: “All drank the same prophetic drink, watered by the same prophetic rock which bore them company, the rock that was Christ.” (1 Cor. 10:3, 4, Knox) Was that rock actually Christ? No, but it foreshadowed, it pictured Christ. The same with Jesus’ words on the night of his instituting the memorial of his death.
Had Jesus meant that the bread or loaf was his actual body and that it would or was to be repeatedly sacrificed as is claimed by the Roman Catholic Church in the sacrifice of the mass, would he not have stated, “Do this in sacrifice of me”? or, “Thus sacrifice me”? But instead he said, “Do this for a commemoration of me.” (Luke 22:19, Knox) Obviously he meant that this observance was to be in commemoration of his sacrifice, not a repetition of it.
And if the wine at that time was actually Jesus’ blood, why should he refer to his blood as yet “to be shed” for sins? (Luke 22:20, Knox) Further, Jesus stated that he would not “drink of this fruit of the vine again” until he drank it new with his apostles in his Father’s kingdom. (Matt. 26:29, Knox) Why refer to it as “this fruit of the vine” if it actually was his blood?
Nor was there any need for Jesus to perform such a miracle, let alone prove that he did so. Whenever Jesus performed miracles it was to help those in need and to bring honor to his Father, but there was absolutely nothing to be gained from Jesus’ miraculously changing that bread and wine to flesh and blood. Besides, when Jesus changed water to wine at the wedding feast at Cana, the wine was real wine, but there is no evidence that the apostles ate real flesh and blood.—John 2:1-11.
Those who claim that the loaf and the wine actually become the flesh and blood of Christ at the mass are inconsistent in that they speak of the ‘unbloody sacrifice of the mass.’ How could it actually be Jesus’ blood and yet an unbloody sacrifice? And if an unbloody sacrifice, then it cannot take away sins, for Paul plainly states: “Unless blood is shed, there can be no remission of sins.”—Heb. 9:22, Knox.
We are told that the holy mass is the highest form of worship. Is it not strange that in all the twenty-two letters written to the early Christians the Lord’s supper should be mentioned only once (1 Cor. 11:23-33)? If it is imperative to the forgiving of sins, is it not also strange that John in discussing forgiveness of sins did not once refer to the mass? (1 John 1:8-10; 2:1, 2, 12, NW) And what about the need of a priest to have the mass said? Is there a single word in the Christian Greek Scriptures about a class of priests who alone were eligible to sacrifice the body of Christ in the mass? We read of Christ Jesus as the high priest, and of all Christians as being a ‘holy and royal priesthood,’ but nowhere about certain Christians’ being a special class of priests. (Heb. 8:1; 1 Pet. 2:5, 9, Knox) And is it reasonable that Christ Jesus the high priest should be offered or sacrificed by imperfect human ‘underpriests’? Look at it whichever way we will, to insist that the memorial of his death that Christ Jesus instituted was anything more than just that does not make sense.
PARTAKERS AND OBSERVERS
The 1954 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses tells that in French Equatorial Africa 573 persons attended the Memorial service and not a one partook of the emblems. Why? In fact, throughout all the world 742,565 attended the various celebrations of the Lord’s evening meal and only 19,183, or approximately one out of forty, partook. Why? Because while all who repent, convert, exercise faith in Jehovah God and Christ Jesus and then dedicate their lives to the doing of God’s will, and who then live up to their vows of dedication, may properly be termed Christians, yet only those who additionally thereto have had a heavenly hope awakened in them because of God’s begetting them with his holy spirit as sons of God and then anointing them with that same spirit to be members of the body of Christ can properly partake. Only these can share in Christ’s death and also in his resurrection. Of these Paul wrote: “The spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are God’s children. If, then, we are children, we are also heirs: heirs indeed of God, but joint heirs with Christ, provided we suffer together that we may also be glorified together.”—Rom. 8:16, 17; 2 Tim. 2:11, 12, NW.
Yes, of the 742,565 persons that attended the Memorial celebration in 1953, only 19,183 professed to be spiritual sons of God. And what about the rest? They recognized themselves as the “sheep” who show kindness to Christ’s brothers, as the “other sheep” who are no part of the “little flock,” and as the great crowd, seen in vision by John, that were standing before the throne in contrast with the 144,000 sealed servants of God who will share the throne with Christ Jesus.—Matt. 25:31-46; John 10:16; Luke 12:32; Rev. 7:9; 3:21, NW.
Then why do these attend the Memorial service? Because of Jesus’ command and because of their interest in their spiritual brothers. Besides, at the Lord’s evening meal Jehovah is magnified in the recounting of what he has done for us through his Son in providing deliverance, and the faithful example of Christ Jesus is highlighted, which example all dedicated Christians, whether with heavenly or earthly hopes, must follow. It is a lesson in appreciation of what Jehovah God and Christ Jesus have done for us and what is required of us. That is why on April 17 Jehovah’s witnesses throughout the world come together after sundown at their local Kingdom Halls.