Why Observe the Lord’s Evening Meal?
“I received from the Lord that which I also handed on to you.”—1 Corinthians 11:23.
1, 2. What did Jesus do on Passover night in 33 C.E.?
JEHOVAH’S only-begotten Son was present. So were 11 men who ‘had stuck with him in his trials.’ (Luke 22:28) It was Thursday evening, March 31, 33 C.E., and a full moon very likely adorned the skies above Jerusalem. Jesus Christ and his apostles had just concluded the Passover celebration. Traitorous Judas Iscariot had been dismissed, but it was not time for the others to depart. Why? Because Jesus was about to do something of utmost importance. What was it?
2 Since the Gospel writer Matthew was there, let him tell us. He wrote: “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.’” (Matthew 26:26-28) Was this to be a onetime event? What was its significance? Has it any meaning for us today?
“Keep Doing This”
3. Why was what Jesus did on the night of Nisan 14, 33 C.E., significant?
3 The step that Jesus Christ took on the night of Nisan 14, 33 C.E., was much more than a passing incident in his life. The apostle Paul discussed it when writing to anointed Christians in Corinth, where the pattern was still being followed over 20 years later. Although Paul was not with Jesus and the 11 apostles in 33 C.E., he surely learned from some of the apostles what happened on that occasion. Furthermore, Paul evidently got confirmation of aspects of that event by inspired revelation. Said Paul: “I received from the Lord that which I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which he was going to be handed over took a loaf and, after giving thanks, he broke it and said: ‘This means my body which is in your behalf. Keep doing this in remembrance of me.’ He did likewise respecting the cup also, after he had the evening meal, saying: ‘This cup means the new covenant by virtue of my blood. Keep doing this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’”—1 Corinthians 11:23-25.
4. Why should Christians observe the Lord’s Evening Meal?
4 The Gospel writer Luke confirms that Jesus commanded: “Keep doing this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19) These words have also been rendered: “Do this in memory of me” (Today’s English Version) and “Do this as a memorial of me.” (The Jerusalem Bible) In fact, this observance is often referred to as the Memorial of Christ’s death. Paul also calls it the Lord’s Evening Meal—an appropriate designation, since this was instituted at night. (1 Corinthians 11:20) Christians are commanded to observe the Lord’s Evening Meal. But why was this observance instituted?
Why It Was Instituted
5, 6. (a) What was one reason why Jesus instituted the Memorial? (b) Give another reason why the Lord’s Evening Meal was instituted.
5 One reason why the Memorial was instituted had to do with one purpose served by Jesus’ death. He died as an upholder of his heavenly Father’s sovereignty. Christ thus proved Satan the Devil, who had falsely charged that humans serve God only out of selfish motives, to be a liar. (Job 2:1-5) Jesus’ death in faithfulness proved this contention false and made Jehovah’s heart rejoice.—Proverbs 27:11.
6 Another reason why the Lord’s Evening Meal was instituted was to remind us that by means of his death as a perfect, sinless human, Jesus ‘gave his soul a ransom in exchange for many.’ (Matthew 20:28) When the first man sinned against God, he forfeited perfect human life and all its prospects. Jesus said, however: “God loved the world so much that he gave his only-begotten Son, in order that everyone exercising faith in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) Indeed, “the wages sin pays is death, but the gift God gives is everlasting life by Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) Observance of the Lord’s Evening Meal reminds us of the great love shown by both Jehovah and his Son in connection with Jesus’ sacrificial death. How we should appreciate that love!
Observe It When?
7. How is it that anointed Christians partake of the Memorial “often”?
7 Regarding the Lord’s Evening Meal, Paul said: “As often as you eat this loaf and drink this cup, you keep proclaiming the death of the Lord, until he arrives.” (1 Corinthians 11:26) Individual anointed Christians would partake of the Memorial emblems until their death. Thus, before Jehovah God and the world, they would repeatedly proclaim their faith in God’s provision of Jesus’ ransom sacrifice.
8. How long were the body of anointed ones to observe the Lord’s Evening Meal?
8 How long would the body of anointed Christians observe the Memorial of Christ’s death? “Until he arrives,” said Paul, evidently meaning that these observances would continue until Jesus’ arrival to receive his anointed followers into heaven by a resurrection during his “presence.” (1 Thessalonians 4:14-17) This harmonizes with Jesus’ words to the 11 loyal apostles: “If I go my way and prepare a place for you, I am coming again and will receive you home to myself, that where I am you also may be.”—John 14:3.
9. What is meant by Jesus’ words recorded at Mark 14:25?
9 When Jesus instituted the Memorial, he referred to the cup of wine and told his faithful apostles: “I shall by no means drink anymore of the product of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” (Mark 14:25) Since Jesus would not be drinking literal wine in heaven, he obviously had in mind the joy sometimes symbolized by wine. (Psalm 104:15; Ecclesiastes 10:19) Being together in the Kingdom would be a joyous experience that he and his footstep followers yearned for with great anticipation.—Romans 8:23; 2 Corinthians 5:2.
10. How often should the Memorial be observed?
10 Should Jesus’ death be commemorated monthly, weekly, or even daily? No. Jesus instituted the Lord’s Evening Meal and was killed on the day of Passover, which was observed “as a memorial” of Israel’s deliverance from Egyptian bondage in 1513 B.C.E. (Exodus 12:14) The Passover was held only once a year, on the 14th day of the Jewish month Nisan. (Exodus 12:1-6; Leviticus 23:5) This indicates that Jesus’ death should be commemorated only as often as the Passover—annually—not monthly, weekly, or daily.
11, 12. What does history reveal about early commemorations of the Memorial?
11 So, then, it is appropriate to observe the Memorial annually on Nisan 14. Says one reference work: “The Christians of Asia Minor were called Quartodecimans [Fourteenthers] from their custom of celebrating the pascha [Lord’s Evening Meal] invariably on the 14th of Nisan . . . The date might fall on Friday or on any of the other days of the week.”—The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Volume IV, page 44.
12 Commenting concerning the second century C.E. practice, historian J. L. von Mosheim says that the Quartodecimans observed the Memorial on Nisan 14 because “they considered the example of Christ as possessing the force of a law.” Another historian states: “The usage of the Quartodeciman churches of Asia was continuous with that of the Jerusalem church. In the 2nd century these churches at their Pascha on the 14th of Nisan commemorated the redemption effected by the death of Christ.”—Studia Patristica, Volume V, 1962, page 8.
Significance of the Bread
13. What kind of bread did Jesus use when instituting the Lord’s Evening Meal?
13 When Jesus instituted the Memorial, “he took a loaf, said a blessing, broke it and gave it to [the apostles].” (Mark 14:22) The bread available on that occasion was the kind that had just been used at the Passover. (Exodus 13:6-10) Since it was baked without leaven, it was flat and brittle and had to be broken for distribution. When Jesus miraculously multiplied bread for thousands, it too was crackerlike, for he broke it so that it could be distributed. (Matthew 14:19; 15:36) Apparently, then, the breaking of the Memorial bread has no spiritual significance.
14. (a) Why is it fitting that the Memorial bread be unleavened? (b) What kind of bread can be obtained or baked for use at the Lord’s Evening Meal?
14 Regarding the bread used when instituting the Memorial, Jesus said: “This means my body which is in your behalf.” (1 Corinthians 11:24; Mark 14:22) It was fitting that the bread was unleavened. Why? Because leaven can denote badness, wickedness, or sin. (1 Corinthians 5:6-8) The bread represented Jesus’ perfect, sinless human body, which fittingly had been offered as a ransom sacrifice. (Hebrews 7:26; 10:5-10) Jehovah’s Witnesses keep this in mind and follow the precedent set by Jesus by using unleavened bread at Memorial observances. In some cases, they use unseasoned Jewish matzos having no extra ingredients, such as onions or eggs. Otherwise, unleavened bread can be made with a small amount of whole-grain flour (where possible, wheat) mixed with a little water. The dough should be rolled thin and can be baked on a slightly oiled cooking sheet until the bread is dry and crisp.
Significance of the Wine
15. What was in the cup used when Christ instituted the Memorial of his death?
15 After passing the unleavened bread, Jesus took a cup, “offered thanks and gave it to [the apostles], and they all drank out of it.” Jesus explained: “This means my ‘blood of the covenant,’ which is to be poured out in behalf of many.” (Mark 14:23, 24) What was in the cup? Fermented wine, not unfermented grape juice. When the Scriptures refer to wine, the unfermented juice of the grape is not what is meant. For instance, fermented wine, not grape juice, would burst “old wineskins,” as Jesus said. And Christ’s enemies charged that he was “given to drinking wine.” That would have been a meaningless accusation if the wine were mere grape juice. (Matthew 9:17; 11:19) Wine was drunk during the Passover observance, and Christ used it when instituting the Memorial of his death.
16, 17. What kind of wine is suitable for Memorial observances, and why?
16 Only red wine is a suitable symbol of what the cup’s contents represent, that is, Jesus’ shed blood. He himself said: “This means my ‘blood of the covenant,’ which is to be poured out in behalf of many.” And the apostle Peter wrote: “You [anointed Christians] know that it was not with corruptible things, with silver or gold, that you were delivered from your fruitless form of conduct received by tradition from your forefathers. But it was with precious blood, like that of an unblemished and spotless lamb, even Christ’s.”—1 Peter 1:18, 19.
17 Red grape wine undoubtedly was the kind Jesus used when instituting the Memorial. Some present-day red wines, however, are unacceptable because they are fortified with spirits or brandy or have had herbs and spices added to them. Jesus’ blood was adequate, not needing anything to be added to it. Hence, such wines as port, sherry, and vermouth would not be suitable. The Memorial cup should contain unsweetened and unfortified red wine. Homemade, unsweetened red grape wine could be used, and so could such wines as red burgundy and claret.
18. Why did Jesus not perform a miracle involving the Memorial bread and wine?
18 When instituting this meal, Jesus did not perform a miracle, changing the emblems into his literal flesh and blood. Eating human flesh and drinking blood would be cannibalism, a violation of God’s law. (Genesis 9:3, 4; Leviticus 17:10) Jesus still had his entire fleshly body and all his blood. His body was offered as a perfect sacrifice, and his blood was poured out the next afternoon of the same Jewish day, Nisan 14. Therefore, the Memorial bread and wine are emblematic in nature, representing Christ’s flesh and blood.*
The Memorial—A Communion Meal
19. Why may more than one plate and one cup be used in the observance of the Lord’s Evening Meal?
19 When Jesus instituted the Memorial, he invited his faithful apostles to drink out of a common cup. Says Matthew’s Gospel: “[Jesus] took a cup and, having given thanks, he gave it to them, saying: ‘Drink out of it, all of you.’” (Matthew 26:27) Using just “a cup,” not several cups, posed no problem, since on that occasion only 11 partakers were apparently at a single table and could readily pass the cup from one to another. This year, millions will assemble for the Lord’s Evening Meal in over 94,000 congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide. With so many meeting for this observance on the same night, just one cup cannot possibly be used for all. But the principle is maintained in large congregations by using several cups so that they can be passed through the audience in a reasonable amount of time. Similarly, more than one plate can be used for the bread. Nothing in the Scriptures indicates that the cup or glass itself should be of some specific design. However, it and the plate should reflect the dignity of the event. It is wise to avoid filling a cup to the point that there is a danger of spilling the wine when it is passed.
20, 21. Why can we say that the Memorial is a communion meal?
20 Although more than one plate of bread and one cup of wine may be used, the Memorial is a communion meal. In ancient Israel, a man could provide a communion meal by bringing an animal to God’s sanctuary, where it was slaughtered. Part of the animal was burned on the altar, a portion went to the officiating priest and another to Aaron’s priestly sons, with the offerer and his household sharing in the meal. (Leviticus 3:1-16; 7:28-36) The Memorial too is a communion meal because it involves a sharing together.
21 Jehovah is involved in this communion meal as the Author of the arrangement. Jesus is the sacrifice, and anointed Christians partake of the emblems as joint participants. Eating at Jehovah’s table signifies that the partakers are at peace with him. Accordingly, Paul wrote: “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 Corinthians 10:16, 17.
22. What questions about the Memorial remain for our consideration?
22 The Lord’s Evening Meal is the only annual religious observance among Jehovah’s Witnesses. This is fitting because Jesus commanded his followers: “Keep doing this in remembrance of me.” At the Memorial, we commemorate Jesus’ death, a death that upheld Jehovah’s sovereignty. As we have noted, at this communion meal, the bread signifies Christ’s sacrificed human body and the wine his shed blood. Yet, very few partake of the emblematic bread and wine. Why is this so? Does the Memorial have real meaning for the millions who are not partakers? Indeed, what should the Lord’s Evening Meal mean to you?
See Volume 2, page 271, of Insight on the Scriptures, published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
What Are Your Answers?
• Why did Jesus institute the Lord’s Evening Meal?
• How often should the Memorial be observed?
• What is the significance of the unleavened Memorial bread?
• What does the Memorial wine represent?
[Picture on page 15]
Jesus instituted the Lord’s Evening Meal