The Lord’s Evening Meal—How Observed?
SHEDDING light on the observance of the Lord’s Evening Meal, the Christian apostle Paul writes: “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.’ For as often as you eat this loaf and drink this cup, you keep proclaiming the death of the Lord, until he arrives.”—1 Corinthians 11:23-26.
As Paul says, Jesus instituted the Lord’s Evening Meal “in the night in which [Jesus] was going to be handed over” by Judas Iscariot to the Jewish religious leaders who pressured the Romans to impale Christ. That meal took place late on Thursday evening, March 31, 33 C.E. Jesus died on a torture stake on Friday afternoon, April 1. Because the days of the Jewish calendar ran from the evening of one day to that of the next, both the Lord’s Evening Meal and the death of Jesus Christ took place on the same day—Nisan 14, 33 C.E.
Partakers of the bread and the wine were to “keep doing this” in remembrance of Jesus. According to another rendition, Jesus said: “Do this as a memorial of me.” (1 Corinthians 11:24, The Jerusalem Bible) The Lord’s Evening Meal is also called the Memorial of Christ’s death.
Why Commemorate Jesus’ Death?
The answer lies in what that death is linked with. Jesus died as the foremost upholder of Jehovah’s sovereignty. He thus proved Satan to be a liar for charging that humans serve God only with selfish motives. (Job 2:1-5; Proverbs 27:11) By means of his death as a perfect human, Jesus also ‘gave his soul a ransom in exchange for many.’ (Matthew 20:28) When Adam sinned against God, he forfeited perfect human life and its prospects. But “God loved the world [of mankind] 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.
The death of Jesus Christ is thus linked with the two greatest expressions of love—the great love that Jehovah showed for mankind in giving his Son and the self-sacrificing love that Jesus showed for humankind by willingly giving up his human life. The Memorial of Jesus’ death magnifies these two expressions of love. Since we are recipients of this love, should we not show our gratitude for it? One way to do so is by being present for the observance of the Lord’s Evening Meal.
Significance of the Bread and the Wine
When instituting the Lord’s Evening Meal, Jesus used a loaf of bread and a cup of red wine as emblems, or symbols. Jesus took a loaf, and “after giving thanks, he broke it and said: ‘This [bread] means my body which is in your behalf.’” (1 Corinthians 11:24) The loaf had to be broken to be distributed and eaten because it was a relatively brittle loaf made of flour and water without leaven, or yeast. In the Scriptures, leaven symbolizes sin. (Matthew 16:11, 12; 1 Corinthians 5:6, 7) Jesus was not sinful. His perfect human body therefore served as a suitable ransom sacrifice for mankind. (1 John 2:1, 2) How appropriate that the bread used to represent Christ’s sinless fleshly body be unleavened!
Jesus also gave thanks for the cup of unadulterated red wine and said: “This cup means the new covenant by virtue of my blood.” (1 Corinthians 11:25) The red wine in the cup represents Jesus’ blood. Even as the blood of sacrificed bulls and goats validated the Law covenant between God and the nation of Israel in 1513 B.C.E., so Jesus’ blood poured out in death made the new covenant valid.
Who Are to Partake?
To identify who properly partake of the Memorial emblems, we need to understand what the new covenant is about and who are party to it. The Bible states: “‘Look! There are days coming,’ is the utterance of Jehovah, ‘and I will conclude with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah a new covenant . . . I will put my law within them, in their heart I shall write it. And I will become their God, and they themselves will become my people. . . . I shall forgive their error, and their sin I shall remember no more.’”—Jeremiah 31:31-34.
The new covenant makes possible a special kind of relationship with Jehovah God. By means of this covenant, a certain group of individuals become his people and he becomes their God. Jehovah’s law is written within them, in their heart, and even those outside the fold of physically circumcised Jews can come into the new covenant relationship with God. (Romans 2:29) The Bible writer Luke speaks of God’s purpose to ‘turn His attention to the nations to take out of them a people for his name.’ (Acts 15:14) According to 1 Peter 2:10, they “were once not a people, but are now God’s people.” The Scriptures refer to them as “the Israel of God,” that is, spiritual Israel. (Galatians 6:16; 2 Corinthians 1:21) The new covenant, then, is a covenant between Jehovah God and spiritual Israel.
On his last night with his disciples, Jesus himself also made a different covenant with them. “I make a covenant with you,” he told them, “just as my Father has made a covenant with me, for a kingdom.” (Luke 22:29) This is the Kingdom covenant. The number of imperfect humans taken into the Kingdom covenant is 144,000. After being resurrected to heaven, they will rule with Christ as kings and priests. (Revelation 5:9, 10; 14:1-4) Thus, those in the new covenant with Jehovah God are also in the Kingdom covenant with Jesus Christ. They are the only ones who rightly partake of the emblems of the Lord’s Evening Meal.
How do those entitled to partake of the Memorial emblems know that they are in a unique relationship with God and are joint heirs with Christ? Paul explains: “The [holy] spirit itself bears witness with our spirit [our mental disposition] 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.”—Romans 8:16, 17.
By means of his holy spirit, or active force, God anoints the joint heirs of Christ. This makes them certain that they are Kingdom heirs. It creates within anointed Christians a heavenly hope. They view as directed to them all that the Bible says about heavenly life. Moreover, they are willing to sacrifice all earthly ties, including life on earth and all human relationships. Although spirit-anointed Christians realize that life in the earthly Paradise would be wonderful, this is not their hope. (Luke 23:43) Not because of false religious views but as a result of the action of God’s spirit, they have an unchangeable heavenly hope and therefore rightly partake of the Memorial emblems.
Suppose a person is not absolutely sure that he is in the new covenant and the Kingdom covenant. What if he also lacks the witness of God’s spirit that he is a joint heir with Christ? Then it would be wrong for him to partake of the Memorial emblems. Indeed, God would be displeased if a person knowingly represented himself as one called to be a heavenly king and priest when he did not really have such a calling.—Romans 9:16; Revelation 22:5.
Observe It How Often?
Should Jesus’ death be commemorated weekly or perhaps even daily? Well, Christ instituted the Lord’s Evening Meal and was unjustly put to death on Passover Day. Held only once a year, on Nisan 14, the Passover commemorated Israel’s deliverance from Egyptian bondage. (Exodus 12:6, 14; Leviticus 23:5) So the death of “Christ our passover” should be memorialized only once each year, not weekly or daily. (1 Corinthians 5:7) In observing the Lord’s Evening Meal, Christians follow the same procedure as Jesus did when he instituted it.
What, then, is meant by Paul’s words: “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) In this text Paul used a word meaning “every time that,” or “whenever.” Thus, he was saying that whenever anointed Christians partook of the emblems, they would proclaim their faith in Jesus’ ransom sacrifice.
Anointed Christians would commemorate Christ’s death “until he arrives.” This observance would continue until Jesus’ arrival to receive his anointed followers into heaven by a resurrection to spirit life during his “presence.” (1 Thessalonians 4:14-17) This harmonizes with Christ’s 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.
What Meaning for You?
Is it necessary to partake of the Memorial emblems in order to be covered by Jesus’ sacrifice and receive everlasting life on earth? No. Nothing in the Bible suggests that after they are resurrected on earth, such God-fearing people as Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Joseph, Moses, and David will ever partake of these emblems. Yet, they and all others desiring endless life on the earth will have to exercise faith in God and Christ and in Jehovah’s provision of Jesus’ ransom sacrifice. (John 3:36; 14:1) For everlasting life, you too must exercise such faith. Your presence at the annual observance of Christ’s death serves as a reminder of that great sacrifice and should deepen your gratitude for it.
The apostle John emphasized the importance of Jesus’ sacrifice when he said: “I am writing you [fellow anointed ones] these things that you may not commit a sin. And yet, if anyone does commit a sin, we have a helper with the Father, Jesus Christ, a righteous one. And he is a propitiatory sacrifice for our sins, yet not for ours only but also for the whole world’s.” (1 John 2:1, 2) Anointed ones can say that Jesus’ sacrifice is a propitiatory cover for their sins. But it is also a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, making everlasting life possible for obedient mankind!
Will you be present on April 4, 2004, to commemorate Jesus’ death? This observance will be held worldwide by Jehovah’s Witnesses at their meeting places. If you attend, you will benefit from listening to a very important Bible discourse. You will be reminded of how much Jehovah God and Jesus Christ have done for us. It will also be spiritually rewarding to assemble with those who have deep regard for God and Christ and for Jesus’ ransom sacrifice. The occasion may well strengthen your desire to be a recipient of God’s undeserved kindness, leading to life everlasting. Let nothing stand in your way. Be on hand for this heartwarming observance that honors and pleases our heavenly Father, Jehovah God.
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The death of Jesus is linked with the two greatest expressions of love
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The unleavened bread and the wine are fitting symbols of Jesus’ sinless body and his shed blood