Memorializing Christ’s Death
Why? When? How? Who? Where?
AMONG the many meaningful and truly touching incidents recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures is that of the patriarch Abraham proceeding to offer up his son Isaac.
What a test faced Abraham when he heard God say: “Take, please, your son, your only son whom you so love, Isaac, and . . . offer him up as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall designate to you”! (Gen. 22:2, 3) Because of his great faith, Abraham met that test, confident that God could resurrect Isaac so as to fulfill the divine promise regarding his offspring. (Gen. 12:2, 3; 21:12; Heb. 11:17-19) Thus Abraham made a fine picture of how Jehovah God would offer up his only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, whom he likewise loved so greatly.—John 3:16; Gal. 3:16.
However, did you know that Isaac also successfully met a great test on that occasion? By now he most likely was a strong young man. Had he wanted to, he could have easily resisted his father or run away. But no, he obediently submitted to his father. In doing so Isaac well pictured how Jesus Christ would submit to his heavenly Father’s will down to his death on the execution stake, saying: “Not as I will, but as you will.”—Matt. 26:39; Phil. 2:5-8.
How much was accomplished by Jesus’ obediently submitting to his heavenly Father’s will! As can be seen from Job chapters 1 and 2 Satan the Devil had taunted Jehovah God that He could not put men on earth that would keep integrity to Him. Faithful men, such as Job, proved the Devil a liar. However, could another perfect man like the perfect Adam in Eden keep flawless integrity whereas Adam had failed to do so? Whose fault had this failure been? God’s or man’s? In that Jesus as a perfect man kept integrity perfectly, he proved that Jehovah God was just and right in making everlasting life for Adam dependent upon perfect obedience. Jesus proved that it was not God’s fault, but man’s, that Adam sinned. Jesus thereby vindicated his heavenly Father as rightful Sovereign. That is what he accomplished for his Father by keeping integrity until death.
And for humankind, what did Jesus accomplish? By his death he provided a propitiatory sacrifice that takes away the sin of the world and provides the basis for restoring humankind to perfection. (1 John 2:2) This restoration is to take place in an earthly paradise by means of God’s kingdom. (Matt. 6:10; 20:28) As the great Teacher, Jesus also made his Father’s will known to us, a fine example being his Sermon on the Mount. (Matt. 5:1–7:28) Moreover, he set a perfect pattern for his followers: “Christ suffered for you, leaving you a model for you to follow his steps closely.”—1 Pet. 2:21.
WHY A MEMORIAL?
There is no question about Jesus’ having suffered a great deal. Thus, on one occasion he said: “Indeed, I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and how I am being distressed until it is finished!” On occasion he even prayed to God “with strong outcries and tears.” (Luke 12:50; Heb. 5:7) And what a tremendous burden rested upon Jesus that 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. He could have failed. Had he done so, what a reproach it would have meant for his Father and what a loss to humankind! But he kept perfect integrity. Because of all that he accomplished thereby, both for Jehovah God and for humankind, it is indeed most fitting that his death be memorialized.
HOW OFTEN? WHEN?
Some denominations in Christendom celebrate Christ’s death daily, others weekly, others quarterly. But is it not usual to memorialize great and meaningful events annually? This was so with the passover that marked the deliverance of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage. It was celebrated once each year on the anniversary of the very day that it took place, namely, on the fourteenth day of the Biblical month Nisan. And it was on Nisan 14, 33 C.E., that Jesus instituted the memorial of his death, he dying later on that very day. It is therefore logical and fitting that his death be memorialized once each year and on that date. This year, Nisan 14 falls on Sunday, April 3, after sundown. Why after sundown? Because in ancient Bible times the day ran from sundown to sundown. So, even though the sun may set late in certain northern latitudes, the time of the actual passing of the Memorial bread and wine should be after sundown.
In instituting the memorial of his death, Jesus took a loaf of bread (actually a large round waferlike loaf) and, breaking it, said: “Take, eat. This means my body.” (Matt. 26:26) What body was Jesus here referring to? His own body of flesh and blood, for it was his fleshly body that he gave for the life of the world. The bread’s being without leaven pictured Jesus’ being without sin. Accordingly, the bread used at the Memorial should be unleavened, without yeast, and it should be free of any other ingredients except flour and water.—John 6:51; 1 Cor. 5:7, 8; 1 Pet. 2:22.
Next, Jesus took the cup of wine and, after having given thanks, handed it to his disciples, 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) From these words we understand that a twofold purpose is served by Jesus’ shed blood. First, it serves for cleansing humans from sin. (1 John 1:7) And, secondly, it serves to make valid or operative the new covenant between God and the Christian congregation, even as the old Law covenant between God and the nation of Israel was made operative by Moses’ sprinkling the shed blood of animals. (Heb. 9:19, 20) Just as Jesus used pure fermented red wine to represent his perfect human lifeblood, so today the wine used at the Memorial should be pure red wine, with nothing added either to fortify, sweeten or flavor it.
Who may appropriately partake of these emblems? Jesus instituted the Memorial when only his eleven faithful apostles were present. Thereafter he told them that he was going away to prepare a place in the heavens for them. (John 14:1-3) And he also told them that he covenanted with them for a kingdom. (Luke 22:28-30) So it is only those who expect to share with Jesus in his heavenly Kingdom, and who are also in the new covenant, that are in line to partake of the Lord’s Evening Meal, as it is also called.—Luke 12:32; Heb. 8:10-13; 1 Cor. 11:20.
Of these partaking, we read further: “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) Writing to such Christians Paul gave instructions as to the proper observance of the Memorial. And regarding them he went on to say that in the resurrection they would be clothed with incorruption and immortality. (1 Cor. 11:20-34; 15:50-54) Thus it can be appreciated that only those who have this heavenly hope may properly partake of the Memorial bread and wine.
WHO ELSE BENEFIT?
There are two destinies for different ones of the followers of Jesus Christ. This is indicated by the fact that the Scriptures tell of both heavenly glory and earthly paradisaic conditions to be enjoyed by God’s people. (Rev. 20:4, 6; 21:3, 4) Jesus spoke of these two classes as two folds that eventually become one flock. (John 10:16) Similarly we read of the human creation’s eagerly expecting the revealing of the spiritual “sons of God.” (Rom. 8:19-21) These sons are also spoken of as “firstfruits to God and to the Lamb,” indicating that there are also other, later “fruits.” (Rev. 14:1, 4) Further indication of this is found in the inspired words that Jesus Christ “is a propitiatory sacrifice for our sins, yet not for ours only but also for the whole world’s.” (1 John 2:2) This distinction is to be seen also in that the Kingdom heirs are likened to Abraham’s seed that is to bless all the families of the earth.—Gen. 22:17, 18; Gal. 3:29.
Therefore it is apparent that those with earthly hopes, the “great crowd” of “other sheep,” who are not in the new covenant, are not to partake of the bread and wine at the Memorial. Is there any point, then, in their being present? Indeed there is! We might liken it, in a way, to a wedding anniversary celebration. Of course, it concerns chiefly the married couple, but they may well invite others, friends and relatives, to share in their happiness. (Compare Revelation 19:6, 7.) Those with the earthly hopes are keenly interested in that which concerns those with the heavenly hopes; happily they honor the occasion with their presence.
Surely all, regardless of their destiny, can profit greatly by attending. This occasion is always used to recount the grand quality of love that Jehovah God showed in giving his Son to be our ransomer. It also emphasizes the depth of Jesus’ love in laying down his life for us, as well as the fine example he set for his followers. (John 15:12, 13; 1 Cor. 15:3) The Scriptures further indicate that the Lord’s Evening Meal serves as an occasion for self-examination for all those attending. And this would particularly be as to their love for one another, for on that occasion Jesus said: “I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love among yourselves.” Certainly this quality of love, so strikingly expressed by Jehovah God and Jesus Christ, is something that should identify all Christians regardless of what their hope may be.—John 13:34, 35.
The memorial of Christ’s death is a time of rejoicing. For Jesus could tell his apostles at that memorable evening meal together: “I have conquered the world.” (John 16:33) By keeping his integrity, Jesus proved the Devil a liar and God true, surely a cause for joy. Shortly, in upward of 40,000 congregations throughout the earth, Jehovah’s Witnesses will rejoice to memorialize Jesus’ death. Are you one who appreciates or who wants to know more about all that Jehovah God and Jesus Christ have done for you? Then you are welcome to come to one of the Kingdom Halls of Jehovah’s Witnesses after sundown on Sunday, April 3, 1977, and join in observing this memorial of Christ’s death, to the praise of Jehovah God and for your own spiritual well-being.
Why so Expensive?
● The “genuine nard” poured by Mary, Lazarus’ sister, upon the head and feet of Jesus Christ had a value of 300 denarii. (Mark 14:3-9; John 12:3-5) This was the equivalent of about a year’s wages. (Matt. 20:2) It is generally believed that the source of the product that Mary used was the small aromatic spikenard plant (Nardostachys jatamansi) found in the Himalaya mountains. The fact that the “genuine nard” came from such a distant place, plus its rarity, would explain why it was so expensive.