“The Lord’s Evening Meal”
This evening meal is also known as “the Lord’s Supper,” as “the Eucharist,” and as “the Communion.” What does the Bible say concerning its meaning?
IT IS but fitting that God’s act be memorialized or annually called to mind by suitable celebration. That is why God commanded his people Israel to memorialize their miraculous deliverance from Egyptian bondage by an annual passover celebration. In obedience to that command Jesus and his apostles came together in Jerusalem on Nisan 14, A.D. 33, to celebrate the passover.
At its close Jesus instituted something new. It was to be a memorial of his death, replacing the passover celebration. And was it not most fitting that Jesus’ death should be memorialized? Did it not mark an even greater victory for Jehovah God than did the deliverance of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage? It did, for on that occasion Jesus proved that a perfect man could be faithful until death in spite of all that the Devil could do. He also provided the basis for deliverance of all mankind from bondage to sin, death and the Devil as the “Lamb of God.”—John 1:29.
Among those who recorded the event is Matthew, who was present: “As they continued eating, Jesus 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.’ Also he 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.’” The accounts of Luke and Paul tell of Jesus’ further instructions: “Keep doing this in remembrance of me.”—Matt. 26:26-28; 1 Cor. 11:24, NW.
What did Jesus mean by his words and how did he intend his followers to commemorate his death? Is this evening meal a sacrament? How often should Jesus’ death be memorialized? What is represented by partaking of the emblems of bread and wine? Who may properly partake and what are the obligations of those who partake?
The Lord’s evening meal is not a sacrament. It does not impart grace or special blessing from God by one’s partaking of it. Not even the thought, let alone the term “sacrament,” is found in God’s Word. In fact, unless one partakes of it worthily, one eats and drinks condemnation unto himself. There is no virtue in the act itself save that all obedience merits God’s blessing and approval.
THE BREAD AND THE WINE
Jesus used unleavened bread. That was the only kind the Jews were permitted to have in their homes at passovertime. In view of his example, as well as the words of the apostle Paul, likening malice, wickedness and injuriousness to leaven or yeast, it is but fitting that the bread used at the Lord’s evening meal be made without yeast. Because bread made thus is hard and brittle we read of Jesus’ breaking it. We need not, therefore, attach any symbolic meaning to Jesus’ breaking the bread.
Because of the great harm done by the liquor traffic, some have insisted that Jesus used grape juice and that it, rather than wine, should be used. But since there was no way in which to preserve grape juice in his day, the fruit of the vine must have been fermented wine, even as the word Jesus used indicates. And while some question its color, in view of Jesus’ likening it to blood it is reasonable to conclude that it was red wine.
Some theologians have stated that it is not necessary for those receiving the emblems to receive both the bread and the wine. There is no Scriptural justification for this, however, since Jesus gave the eleven apostles present (Judas having left previously) both the bread and the wine. Such a custom is merely a device to make more prominent the unscriptural distinction of clergy and laity. Many battles were fought and many lives lost on this very question, the Hussites insisting on receiving both emblems and the church of Rome wanting to deny them the wine.
HOW OFTEN CELEBRATED
Many religious authorities claim that the early Christians observed the Lord’s evening meal daily, citing such texts as Acts 2:42, 46. However, since wine is not mentioned in such instances it does not seem that such “breaking of bread” was a celebration of the Lord’s evening meal, but rather the taking of nourishment. Thus after Paul and his fellow travelers on a disabled ship had not eaten for many days Paul urged them all to eat. After which “he also took a loaf, gave thanks to God before them all and broke it and started eating.”—Acts 27:35, NW.
Since Jesus instituted the memorial of his death on passover night, is it not reasonable to conclude that he intended it to be celebrated annually, even as was the passover? Yes, it is, and that is why one Canon Foxley observed “we might have thought that the Christian Eucharist was meant to be annual like the Passover.” Foxley, however, missed the truth because he confused other “breaking of bread” with the Lord’s evening meal.—The Apostolic Age, Bartlett.
Besides, just as the passover had to be celebrated on the fourteenth of Nisan, Nisan being the first month of the Jewish year, which began in the spring, so it is but reasonable that the memorial of Jesus’ death be on its anniversary, Nisan 14. And that it was to be a memorial is clear from Paul’s further words: “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, NW.
WHO MAY PARTAKE
What is pictured by one’s partaking of the bread and wine of the Lord’s evening meal? It shows that those partaking have exercised faith in Jesus’ shed blood and have accepted the benefits of his sacrifice in their behalf. As Jesus stated on another occasion: “He that feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has everlasting life, and I shall resurrect him at the last day.”—John 6:54, NW.
Jesus further said that the wine represented his blood that made valid a new covenant in behalf of his followers. This calls to mind the blood of bulls and goats that made valid the old law covenant. It therefore follows that only those who belong to spiritual Israel, or Christ’s body, may properly partake. “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of the Christ? 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.”—1 Cor. 10:16, 17, NW.
Are not all dedicated Christians members of Christ’s body? No, they are not. The Scriptures show that Christ has a “little flock” as well as a “great crowd” of other sheep. To become a member of either class one must come in touch with God’s Word and with his servants, must exercise faith, repent of his former course and dedicate himself to do God’s will and to follow in Jesus’ footsteps. That dedication must be followed by water baptism in obedience to Jesus’ command.—Luke 12:32; Rev. 7:9; John 10:16, NW.
These steps all Christ’s sheep must take. However, those who become members of the little flock of Christ’s body have God specially act on their behalf. In what way? In first declaring them righteous by reason of their faith in Christ’s blood; in begetting them as spiritual sons by means of His holy spirit and in calling them to a heavenly calling as heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, with whom they will rule as kings and priests for a thousand years. Limited to 144,000, they are truly a little flock.—Rev. 20:5, 6; 14:1, 3.
These only are the ones “born again.” To them alone apply Paul’s words: “You received a spirit of adoption as sons, by which spirit we cry out, ‘Abba, Father!’ The spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are God’s children.” These have a sure, living hope of heavenly glory.—John 3:7; Rom. 8:15-17; 1 Pet. 1:3, 4, NW.
These must ‘keep presenting their bodies as a living sacrifice to God’; like Jesus, they must faithfully witness to God’s name and kingdom; and they must lead clean, exemplary lives.—Rom. 12:1; John 18:37; Gal. 5:19-21, NW.
Those who comprise the great crowd of other sheep, not being members of Christ’s body, do not partake of the Lord’s evening meal. However, they will benefit from Christ’s sacrifice and Kingdom rule, gaining everlasting life on the paradise earth of Jehovah’s new world.
Though not partaking of the Lord’s evening meal, these are nevertheless keenly interested in it and in those who do partake. All these, together with all men of good will, are invited to come together with the Christian witnesses of Jehovah on April 14, after 6 p.m., to observe the Lord’s evening meal being celebrated and to have recounted to them the importance of Christ’s death, to the vindication of Jehovah’s name and to their own gaining of everlasting life.
Look! I am come . . . to do your will, O God.—Heb. 10:7, NW.
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Genuine Fermented WINE