Why Celebrate the Lord’s Supper?
Jehovah God, through his Son, commanded Christians to celebrate the lord’s supper. When understood, the reasons why will appear to be at once simple, powerful and convincing.
IT WAS Thursday evening, April 3, 1958. At 136 Columbia Heights, Brooklyn, New York, exactly five hundred persons packed out the Kingdom Hall, occupying not only every seat but also all the available standing room. The audience consisted of dedicated Christians and their friends who listened with keen interest to a Scriptural discourse. What was the attraction—the speaker? No, even though it did happen to be the president of the Watch Tower Society. Rather, it was the occasion, the celebration of the Lord’s supper. What is the Lord’s supper and why should it be celebrated?
The Lord’s supper is the term used to describe an arrangement that Jesus instituted on the night of his betrayal. In brief, it consists of a Scriptural discussion, the giving of thanks and the partaking of bread and wine. Some refer to it as the Eucharist, because of Jesus’ “giving thanks” on that occasion. It is also referred to as the Communion and the Mass. Doubtless, the most fitting of all names for it is “the Lord’s evening meal.”—1 Cor. 11:20.
Some professed Christians, such as the Quakers, object to this celebration, terming it a stress on “useless external things.” In support of their position they quote: “The kingdom of God does not mean eating and drinking,” and, “Let no man judge you in eating and drinking.” However, an examination of the contexts of these scriptures shows that what the apostle Paul, their writer, was discussing was not at all the Lord’s evening meal but rather the restrictions of the Mosaic law. We cannot take those texts out of their setting and use them to contradict the plain words of Jesus: “Keep doing this in remembrance of me.”—Rom. 14:17; Col. 2:16; Luke 22:19.
Then again there are certain liberals who claim that Jesus did not intend to institute any observance. They point to the fact that the command to observe the Lord’s evening meal is found only in the writings of Luke and Paul and carp at the slight variations in the various accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and Paul. However, if we believe, as all Christians should, that the Christian Greek Scriptures are indeed the Word of God, then the account of just one writer is sufficient for our faith and we will readily understand how one account could be more complete than another. Then also we will not cavil at minor variations which but give proof that the several writers wrote independently; Matthew, incidentally, being the only eyewitness among the four.
NOT A SACRIFICE, NOT A SACRAMENT
From the foregoing it is clear that the reason for celebrating the Lord’s supper or evening meal is because Christ commanded it. But why did he? Is it because at that time the bread and wine literally become his flesh and blood, a change termed “transubstantiation”? And is Jesus therefore actually sacrificed for our sins each time the Lord’s supper is celebrated? That is the claim of some who hold that this change was the greatest of all miracles that Jesus performed. But how could that be when Jesus still had his own flesh and blood at the time he said: “Take this; this is my body. . . . This is my blood”? And if this is the greatest of all of Jesus’ miracles, is it not passing strange that no Bible writer calls attention to this stupendous miracle, if miracle it is?—Mark 14:22, 23, Knox.
In fact, Roman Catholic translator Knox, while using “is” in connection with the Lord’s evening meal, having Jesus say, ‘This is my body. This is my blood,’ uses the words “stands for” in a similar case in the illustration of the sower: “The grain that fell in good soil stands for those who hear the word,” etc. If Jesus used “is” in the sense of “stands for” in the parable of the sower, is it not more reasonable to conclude that he meant the same regarding the bread and wine than to insist that he performed his most notable miracle at that time? Surely! And that is why such translations as those of Moffatt, Williams and the New World Translation read, “this means” or “this represents my body.”—Luke 8:15.
As for the Lord’s supper being a bloodless repetition of Christ’s sacrifice, first of all let it be noted that such a sacrifice could not take away sins, for we read that “unless blood is poured out no forgiveness takes place.” That is why God forbade the Israelites to eat blood: “For the soul of the flesh is in the blood, and I myself have put it upon the altar for you to make atonement for your souls, because it is the blood that makes atonement.” It is because of this that “the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sins.” And further, particularly at Hebrews chapter 9, Paul repeatedly stresses that Christ died only once and would not die again. So, clearly, no bloodless repetitive arrangement could be a sin-removing sacrifice.—Heb. 9:22; Lev. 17:11; 1 John 1:7.
Many Protestant organizations, while opposed to the teachings of transubstantiation and that the Lord’s supper is a sacrifice, nevertheless teach that it is a sacrament. What is a sacrament? A sacrament is a religious action that is said to impart merit to those doing it. Is the Lord’s evening meal such a sacrament and is its remission of sins “its most necessary part,” as Luther claimed?
First of all, let it be noted that nowhere in the Scriptures is any sacrament mentioned. Pertinent is the testimony of McClintock and Strong’s Cyclopædia, whose editors, while holding that the Lord’s supper is a sacrament, nevertheless state: “A negative lesson of no little significance is taught in the fact that the term sacrament is not found in the N.T.; neither is the Greek word mysterion in any instance applied to either baptism or the Lord’s supper, or any outward observance.” No, the idea that an outward observance imparts merit is contrary to God’s principles and his understanding of mankind; such things are all too easily performed without sincerity. For Christians both baptism and the Lord’s evening meal are only symbols that mean nothing unless the reality is being performed or has taken place.
That outward observances cannot procure forgiveness of sins is the lesson that God drove home with the nation of Israel. That is why he told them, through the prophet Isaiah, that he had enough of their sacrifices and took “no delight” in them, and why Paul wrote that “it is not possible for the blood of bulls and of goats to take sins away.” And that is why we look in vain for any statement that we should observe the Lord’s evening meal to have our sins forgiven, as if, as Luther says, that were its most necessary part.—Isa. 1:11; Heb. 10:1-4.
On the contrary, we are told: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous so as to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” “The prayer of faith will make the indisposed one well, and . . . if he has committed sins, it will be forgiven him. Therefore confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may get healed,” spiritually. Yes, “if anyone does commit a sin, we have”—the Lord’s evening meal? no, but—“a helper with the Father, Jesus Christ, a righteous one. And he is a propitiatory sacrifice for our sins.”—1 John 1:9; Jas. 5:15, 16; 1 John 2:1, 2.
A MEMORIAL OF CHRIST’S DEATH
If celebrating the Lord’s supper is not a sacrifice, is not a sacrament, does not cleanse from sins, then why did Jesus command: “Keep doing this in remembrance of me”? For that very reason, as a memorial. It was to commemorate what took place on the Passover day of Nisan 14, A.D. 33, according to the Hebrews’ lunar calendar, even as the Passover itself commemorated what had taken place 1,545 years previous, on Nisan 14, 1513 B.C. And what took place away back there? Jehovah God made a great name for himself by defeating the gods of Egypt, by destroying Egypt’s firstborn and by delivering the oppressed Israelites from their yoke of bondage.—Ex. 9:16; 1 Sam. 6:2-6; 2 Sam. 7:23.
If that event back there was deserving of being commemorated, and it certainly was, how much more deserving of commemoration is what took place A.D. 33! There Jehovah God gained an even greater victory over Satan and his demons in that they were unable to swerve Jesus, God’s Son, from his course of faithfulness until death; thereby God through Jesus proved that the Devil was a liar when he boasted that God could not put a man on earth that would prove faithful to Him. And by that sacrificial death Jesus provided, not merely a temporary, religious, political and economic freedom and that of but one small nation, but he thereby opened the way for all mankind to be set free in God’s due time from every kind of bondage.
Thus we see why Christ commanded his followers to commemorate his death by eating unleavened bread and red wine, symbols of his body and his blood. It was so that we should forcefully remind ourselves of the marvelous demonstration of the supremacy of Jehovah that took place at that time, as well as the wonderful expression of his justice and love; he having such respect for his righteous principles and such love for mankind as to be willing to offer up his only-begotten Son. Also it was that we should ever have a keen appreciation of what Christ Jesus did for us, the suffering and death that he was willing to experience so that we can become reconciled to God and gain everlasting life. And the Lord’s evening meal should both make us want and help us to follow the example set by Jesus in keeping integrity against great odds.
More than that, the Lord’s evening meal should be an occasion for self-examination as to whether or not the Christian partaking of the emblems does so in a manner worthy of the meal, even as Paul shows at 1 Corinthians 11:27-32. And, finally, it serves to impress all those who are of the spiritual body of Christ with their oneness: “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a sharing in the cup 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.
WHO AND WHEN?
Who may partake of the Lord’s evening meal? All sincere Christians? No. Why not? Because the context of the record of Jesus’ institution of the Memorial as well as the testimony of other scriptures show that it is limited to those who have the hope of sharing heavenly glory with Jesus Christ, which number the Scriptures show to be limited to 144,000. The facts show that today only a small remnant of that number, who began to be selected at Pentecost, A.D. 33, remains. All men of good will, however, are welcome and should come and observe the celebration, as for them also it calls to mind what Jehovah God and Jesus Christ did, and how they can show appreciation therefor.
How often and when should the Lord’s evening meal be celebrated? Regardless of how often others may profess to do so, there is no Scriptural warrant for doing so more than once a year, even as the Passover, commemorating the deliverance from Egypt, was observed once a year, and that on the night of their deliverance, Nisan 14. Since Jesus instituted his evening meal on the night of Nisan 14, it is but fitting that we continue to celebrate it on the same date. Nisan is the first month of the Jewish lunar year and begins with the visible new moon nearest the spring equinox. This year Nisan 14 falls on March 23. Jehovah’s witnesses throughout the world will heed Jesus’ command to “do this in remembrance of me” by coming together after 6 p.m. at their Kingdom Halls to celebrate the Lord’s supper. Associate with them and receive the blessings that such an attendance brings with it!