Q: Every year we make a special effort to invite people to the Memorial, and then we have to explain to them why they should not partake. All they do is sit and watch as the emblems are being passed. In our congregation we don’t have anyone who partakes. Frankly I find it embarrassing to have to explain that I invited them only to watch a ceremony. What’s the big deal about being present at the Memorial if we don’t partake?
A: You would be surprised how many of the brothers and sister actually share your sentiment about inviting their Bible students, or return visits, or even total strangers to the Memorial. A few years ago a sister in my congregation confided that deep down inside she believed that everyone should partake at the Memorial, and even though she had always explained to those she invited that only a few “anointed” partake (which, by the way, made her feel hypocritical), there was often someone who didn’t understand and partook anyways, to her embarrassment. But she also was of the opinion that the Society can do no wrong — that either Jehovah will correct it in time, or if not, then it must be acceptable to him.
There would be no confusion at all about the matter if we could point to a Scripture that actually says that only a few chosen ones should eat of the loaf and drink of the cup, as it is explained in every Memorial talk. But such a Scripture does not exist! Our observance of the Memorial is entirely based on our interpretation of the “new covenant” (based on J. F. Rutherford’s teaching), which includes the “little flock,” but exempts the “great crowd.” Interestingly, the 2004 Watchtower says: ”Like Timothy, true Christians today are keeping their senses by rejecting human reasoning and by accepting only Scriptural authority for their doctrinal beliefs.” (The Watchtower 3/1/2004 p. 6) Our manner of celebrating the Memorial is based entirely on “human reasoning,” while we reject any “Scriptural authority.” (John 4:23; Matt. 15:9)
Let’s look at an example on how “human reasoning” has caused such confusion in regards to a simple directive that Jesus gave his disciples, namely, to “keep doing this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19) The apostle Paul explains why we celebrate the Memorial: “For 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 24 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.’ 25 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.’ 26 For as often as you eat this loaf and drink this cup, you keep proclaiming the death of the Lord, until he arrives.” (1 Cor. 11:23-26, NWT)
Why do we come together once a year to celebrate the Memorial? According to Paul, ”you keep proclaiming the death of the Lord.” And until when do we proclaim the death of the Lord? “Until he arrives.”
Is Paul’s explanation too deep to understand? (1 Cor. 2:10) Evidently some believe it is open to interpretation. Note how easily the “Scriptural authority” of Paul can be rejected by “human reasoning.” The Watchtower, March 15, 2010, explains things this way, under the subheading, Who Should Partake:
”Paul also helps us to understand that those with an earthly hope do not partake of the Memorial emblems. He said to anointed Christians: ‘For 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) When does the Lord ‘arrive’? When he comes to take the last of his anointed bride class to their heavenly home. (John 14:2, 3) Clearly, the annual observance of the Lord’s Evening Meal is not to continue endlessly. ‘The remaining ones’ of the woman’s seed yet on earth will continue to partake of this meal until all of them have received their heavenly reward. (Rev. 12:17) If, though, those who will live forever on earth were entitled to partake of the emblems, then this Memorial meal would need to continue forever.” —w10 3/15 p. 27 par. 16 One Flock, One Shepherd.
Please consider: Where does “Paul help us to understand that those with an earthly hope do not partake of the Memorial emblems”? Paul makes no mention of “an earthly hope,” or of two separate distinct classes of Christians. Neither does he forbid anyone from partaking of the evening meal. Human reasoning, which true Christians reject, is responsible for restricting the partaking of the “Memorial meal” to “anointed Christians.” And until when do we proclaim the death of the Lord by observing the Memorial? Paul says: “Until he arrives.” The Watchtower, on the other hand, answers: Until “he comes to take the last of his anointed bride class to their heavenly home.” It is human reasoning that has changed the meaning of the Memorial, from “proclaiming the death of the Lord until he arrives” to “his anointed bride class [going] to their heavenly home.” Incredibly, it is no longer about Jesus’ arrival, but anointed ones leaving!
You may wonder why anyone would teach something so obviously contrary, when Paul’s explanation is brief and concise. There is a reason for the difference! If we indeed “keep proclaiming the death of the Lord until he arrives,” and we are taught that he already arrived in 1914, then why are we still celebrating the Memorial? For that reason, the attention has shifted away from Jesus and been directed instead to the “anointed Christians,” for some of them are at least still with us. The Memorial observance has in reality become a celebration about themselves. Now, how is anyone going to explain that sort of reasoning to their Bible students? And another thing: If the Memorial continues to be celebrated “until all of the remaining ones’ of the woman’s seed yet on earth have received their heavenly reward,” will there be an announcement made at that time that henceforth the Memorial will no longer be celebrated? What about the many congregations today who have no “remaining ones of the woman’s seed” in attendance (which is about 1 anointed for every 10 congregations)? Why do such congregations still observe the Memorial when it is claimed that the observance will no longer exist after the last one has disappeared?
In view of the foregoing, some are wondering why they would want to attend the Memorial celebration in their congregation. According to Paul, it is to “proclaim the death of the Lord.” That is a compelling reason to be present. And the occasion is not meant to be a mere ritual. Jesus’ death has great meaning for all of us who exercise faith in him. He suffered and died to make possible the forgiveness of our sins, and to reconcile us to God, whereby we become God’s sons and daughters and he our heavenly Father. (Rom. 5:6-11; 1 Cor. 15:22; 2 Cor. 6:17,18) Peter states: “He himself bore our sins in his own body upon the stake, in order that we might be done with sins and live to righteousness.” (1 Peter 2:24) And the apostle John further explains: “My little children, I am writing you 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. And by this we have the knowledge that we have come to know him, namely, if we continue observing his commandments. He that says: ‘I have come to know him,’ and yet is not observing his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in this [person]. But whoever does observe his word, truthfully in this [person] the love of God has been made perfect. By this we have the knowledge that we are in union with him. He that says he remains in union with him is under obligation himself also to go on walking just as that one walked.” (1 John 2:1-6)
Jesus suffered and died to buy back for us what Adam lost in his rebellion against God. (Rom. 5:1,2, 6-10; 2 Cor. 6:17,18) We need to meditate on what that means for us personally. Therefore, in obedience to Jesus’ command, we gather together with our brothers and sisters on the evening of the Memorial (which has replaced the Jewish Passover), to reflect with deep appreciation on God’s loving provision of the ransom; and that it has opened for us the way to everlasting life. (John 3:16) We do this, not by rejecting the bread and the wine, but by partaking of the loaf and drinking of the cup, as Paul explains. (John 6:47-51) As already noted, since there is no Scriptural prohibition against partaking, no one has the authority to teach otherwise. The bread and the wine symbolize the flesh and the blood of Jesus, as Jesus indicated when he told the Jews: “Most truly I say to you, Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in yourselves. 54 He that feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has everlasting life, and I shall resurrect him at the last day; 55 for my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 He that feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood remains in union with me, and I in union with him. 57 Just as the living Father sent me forth and I live because of the Father, he also that feeds on me, even that one will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. It is not as when your forefathers ate and yet died. He that feeds on this bread will live forever.” (John 6:53-58)
But there is something that is of even greater importance than observing the Memorial of Christ’s death, and that is: We must listen and obey Jesus! Jesus said: “He that exercises faith in the Son has everlasting life; he that disobeys the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God remains upon him.” (John 3:36) To observe the Memorial and yet fail to obey Jesus is missing the purpose of the occasion! Jesus said: “If you observe my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have observed the commandments of the Father and remain in his love. You are my friends if you do what I am commanding you.” (John 15:10, 14) Jehovah tells us that “to obey is better than a sacrifice.” (1 Sam. 15:22) And king Solomon wrote: “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil.” Solomon should have heeded his own wise words! (Eccl. 5:1, ESV; Prov. 21:2,3)
If a person is present at the Memorial, and yet he is guilty of a serious sin, he should first repent and seek God’s forgiveness before even considering eating of the loaf and drinking of the cup. Such a person should listen attentively and consider the seriousness of his situation, because Jesus’ sacrificial death does not cover unrepentant sinners. Paul warns: “For if we practice sin willfully after having received the accurate knowledge of the truth, there is no longer any sacrifice for sins left, 27 but there is a certain fearful expectation of judgment and there is a fiery jealousy that is going to consume those in opposition. 28 Any man that has disregarded the law of Moses dies without compassion, upon the testimony of two or three. 29 Of how much more severe a punishment, do you think, will the man be counted worthy who has trampled upon the Son of God and who has esteemed as of ordinary value the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and who has outraged the spirit of undeserved kindness with contempt?” (Heb. 10:26-29) Some in the Corinth congregation were “esteeming as of ordinary value the blood of the covenant” of which they were partaking. That is why Paul found it necessary to counsel them: “Consequently whoever eats the loaf or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will be guilty respecting the body and the blood of the Lord. First let a man approve himself after scrutiny, and thus let him eat of the loaf and drink of the cup. For he that eats and drinks eats and drinks judgment against himself if he does not discern the body.” (1 Cor. 11:27-30)
When we observe the Memorial of Jesus’ death, then we are also “under obligation to go on walking just as that one walked.” That is what the apostle John tells us. (1 John 2:6) Do you take it to heart? That is also why Jesus directed us in the first place to remember his death; to remind us on a regular basis of the importance for us to obey him. We might say that the Memorial is an annual reminder for us to “go on walking just as Jesus walked.” If we fail to obey Jesus, and we prove rebellious as in the case of the nation of Israel, then the Memorial has become an empty ritual, and Jesus’ death will be of no benefit to us; and we will become guilty of eating and drinking judgment against ourselves. Jesus said: “He that has my commandments and observes them, that one is he who loves me. In turn he that loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and will plainly show myself to him.” (John 14:21; Matt. 7:21-23) Jesus’ primary commandment to his disciples is that “you love one another just as I have loved you.” It is this love that identifies us as his true disciples. (John 13:34,35) This love is not like the “love” of this world. (John 14:27-31) It is expressed in positive action, it is self-sacrificing; it is the love that Jehovah and Jesus have for us. (John 10:11; 15:12,13; 1 Cor. 13:1-7) Without this genuine and identifying love, especially toward those “related to us in the faith,” the Memorial lacks meaning. (Gal. 6:10) Can you imagine, there are brothers and sisters in the same congregation attending the Memorial, and yet they refuse to even talk to each other. What does the Memorial mean to them? (Compare 1 John 4:16-21)
For that matter, why would anyone want to attend the Memorial if he has no appreciation for the significance of the occasion? Just being present does not benefit a person, unless he discerns the meaning. (Rom. 2:4) With that in mind, why would we invite just any person to our Memorial celebration? Could you imagine the early Christians inviting all their Roman, Greek, and Jewish unbelieving neighbors to the Lord’s Evening Meal? Would that not have been evidence of a lack of proper appreciation or understanding of the event, as Paul had to counsel the Corinthian congregation? Since the Memorial has, for the most part, become a celebration for and about the anointed remnant, and their claim of being the only ones in the new covenant with Jesus, it becomes clear as to why they would want to have as many observers as possible present at their self-serving celebration, as the invited guests simply sit and look on. And as you noted, this becomes more and more embarrassing to explain, especially for the nine out of ten congregations who don’t even have one partaker.
The Watchtower of June 15, 1987, noted that the previous year, in 1986, “It was appreciated that both the remnant and the “great crowd” must figuratively partake of Jesus’ flesh and blood by accepting his sacrifice in order to be in harmony with him.—John 6:53-56.” (w87 6/15 p. 19 par. 13) (Bold mine) How do both, the remnant and the great crowd, figuratively partake of Jesus’ flesh and blood?
The newly released book in 1986, Worldwide Security Under the “Prince of Peace,” explained how those who are in the new covenant partake at the Lord’s evening meal merely in a figurative way, saying: “The sacrificial death of the Mediator of the new covenant, Jesus Christ, is remembered every year by Jehovah’s Witnesses on the anniversary of ‘the Lord’s evening meal.’ The unleavened bread partaken of by those in the new covenant during that ‘evening meal’ symbolizes the perfect flesh of the Mediator, and the wine symbolizes the pure, uncontaminated blood that, according to the Scriptures, contained the very life value of the Mediator. (1 Corinthians 11:20-26; Leviticus 17:11) When those in the new covenant partake of the Memorial cup of wine at ‘the Lord’s evening meal,’ it is only in a figurative way that they are drinking blood, that of the Mediator of the new covenant. It is also in a symbolic way that they eat his flesh when they partake of the Memorial loaf of unleavened bread. By doing this, symbolically speaking, they demonstrate their faith in the ransom sacrifice of the Son of God, the Redeemer of all mankind.”—Worldwide Security [ws] chap. 12 p. 104, pars. 13-14 (Bold added)
Since it was acknowledged back in 1986 that the remnant and the great crowd “must figuratively partake of Jesus’ flesh and blood” (symbolized by the bread and the wine) it clearly indicates that the Society has understood for the past 27 years that everyone, the remnant and the great crowd, should partake at the Memorial. (Matt. 26:26-28; Rev. 7:9, 13-15) Then why is the great crowd, until the present time, still waiting to be encouraged to “demonstrate their faith in the ransom sacrifice of the Son of God” by “figuratively partaking of Jesus’ symbolic flesh and blood each year at the Lord’s evening meal,” thereby showing that they too accept his sacrifice and are “in harmony with him”? (Gal. 3:26) Jesus commanded his followers to “keep doing this in remembrance of me”! (Luke 22:19,20; Acts 5:29) As the apostle Paul explains, the Memorial is not about who has what hope—whether in heaven or on earth—but about “proclaiming the death of the Lord, until he arrives.” (1 Cor. 11:23-26; Eph. 4:4-6)