The Memorial Supper

“This do in remembrance of me.” —Luke 22:19

AFTER sundown on the seventeenth of April, devoted followers of the Master in practically every civilized country of the earth will once more commemorate the death of Jesus, the Redeemer and Savior of the world. Jesus asked his disciples to do this, and those who love him and keep his commandments rejoice in the privilege of observing this simple ceremony; not alone because he asked them to do it, but also because they delight in every opportunity to focus their attention upon him, and to meditate upon the love of God that was so bountifully manifested by him.

While the Scriptures do not suggest that we celebrate either Jesus’ birth or his resurrection, they do enjoin the celebration of the memorial of his death, and we do so, not every week or every month, but properly once a year. The death of Jesus took place on the Passover, the day once a year when the Jews commemorated the slaying of the Passover lamb, following which the nation was delivered from its Egyptian bondage. To the Christian, the Memorial supper supplants the Passover supper, and therefore should be celebrated at the same time, and properly only once a year.

But do not misunderstand us. The Memorial supper is not the antitype of the former Passover celebration. Jesus himself was the antitypical Passover Lamb. Just as all Israel was delivered from Egyptian slavery following the slaying of the lamb the night before the Exodus, so all mankind will be delivered from slavery to sin and death as a result of Jesus’ death. But the ones immediately in danger on that original Passover night were the firstborn of Israel; so the first to be directly saved from death by the blood of Jesus, the antitypical Passover Lamb, are the “church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven.”—Heb. 12:23

The “church of the firstborn” is composed of all consecrated followers of the Master. That is why we are directly concerned with the request Jesus made that night in the upper room to commemorate his death. Yes, he was the “Lamb of God” who, through his death, became a propitiation, or satisfaction, for our sins, and also for the sins of the whole world. (I John 2:2) The Memorial therefore, is not a new way of celebrating the Passover supper, but a commemoration of the death of the real or antitypical Passover Lamb.

Sorrow and Joy

The Memorial supper is an occasion for both godly sorrow and sober joy. First and foremost it is a reminder of the suffering and death of Jesus. The fact that the sin of the world made it necessary for him to die should bring to our hearts with renewed force a sense of our own need of his redeeming blood, and also the terrible plight of the whole dying race, stung to death by sin. The Prophet Isaiah wrote that there was laid upon Jesus “the iniquity of us all.” No wonder he suffered!

It is an occasion for joy, nevertheless, because we have the assurance that the death of the Redeemer which we memorialize is a guarantee that in God’s due time all sin and’ death will be destroyed. When vaguely the disciples began to realize that Jesus was to be taken away from them, by death or otherwise, they were greatly troubled in their hearts, and he said to them, “A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world. And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.”—John 16:21,22

Jesus told his disciples that they would “weep and lament” because of his death, and they did. (John 16:20) When we gather for the Memorial supper we enter to some extent into their sorrow, and the sorrow of Jesus, for he suffered more than they. But, as with them, our sorrow is also turned into joy when we consider that, symbolically speaking, “a man has been born into the world.” Yes, the “travail” and bitter anguish of soul attending the sacrifice of the “Lamb of God,” ended in a glorious victory over death when God raised Jesus from the dead, and exalted him far above angels, principalities, and powers, and every name that is named, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow and every tongue should confess to the glory of God the Father.

We rejoice with joy unspeakable in the fact that Jesus was raised from the dead, for Paul informs us that he was the “firstfruits of them that slept.” (I Cor. 15:20) This means that there were to be afterfruits. Paul tells us about these also, for they shall all come forth, he declares, in their “own order: Christ, the firstfruits; afterward they that are [or become] Christ’s at [or during] his presence [mistranslated ‘coming’].”—I Cor. 15:23

Is it any wonder, then, that the Lord’s people gather for the Memorial supper with mixed feelings of sadness and rejoicing? Faith in the sure promises of God does not lift us out of our own weaknesses, nor close our eyes to the suffering with which we are surrounded. When Jesus stood beside the tomb of his beloved friend Lazarus, and had brought forcibly to his attention the sorrow and suffering of the world, he “wept.” Jesus knew the time was coming when there would be no more death, but this did not fully take away the bitterness of the present.

So it should be with us. But faith, nevertheless, in the glorious outcome of the divine plan for human redemption and restoration does give us joy. The sorrow of those first disciples was turned into joy when they realized that their Master had been raised from the dead and especially when they learned that his death was a necessary part of the divine plan for human salvation. The two to whom Jesus explained this as he walked with them on the road to Emmaus said, “Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the Scriptures?”—Luke 24:13-32

So today our hearts burn within us, for we too have learned the real significance of Jesus’ death—what it means to us, and to the whole world. We can only approximate the joy of those who saw and conversed with the Master after his resurrection, but we believe their testimony. We know that Jesus was not holden of death, and this turns our sorrow into joy.

Kingdom Hopes Shattered

The disciples believed that Jesus had come to establish the long-promised kingdom of God. For more than six centuries Israel had been under the domination of foreign powers and was a vassal state to Rome when Jesus came. They believed that the Messiah would change this; that by his kingdom power the Jewish nation would be liberated. This is one reason they were so bitterly disappointed when Jesus was crucified. Their hopes were dashed. For the time being they were not even sure that Jesus was the Messiah. “We trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel,” two of them said to Jesus on the road to Emmaus.—Luke 24:21

But their faith was quickly restored when they were convinced that Jesus had been raised from the dead, and their joy knew no bounds when they learned that his death was a part of God’s plan of redemption, and had been foretold by the holy prophets. But now they could see no further reason why the kingdom should not immediately be established, especially since Jesus had told them that “all power” had been given to him both in heaven and in earth. So the last time Jesus appeared to them before his ascension they made bold to ask, “Wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?”—Acts 1:6

They had learned much about the divine plan since Jesus was raised from the dead, but there was still “more to follow.” It had not yet been revealed to them that the foretold sufferings of Christ were not completed on Calvary; that these sufferings would continue for an entire age, experienced by the members of his mystical body. This they did not comprehend until it was revealed by the Holy Spirit which came upon them at Pentecost. Millions of professed followers of Jesus since have not learned this great truth, and have imagined that his kingdom reign began at Pentecost.

It has been a great blessing to many at this end of the age to have this mystery of the kingdom unfolded to them; for now we know why the world has not yet been converted, and why there has not been peace on earth and good will among men. The reason is that the “sufferings of Christ” have been continuing.

The disciples were informed about this even while Jesus was with them in the flesh, but they did not comprehend its meaning. They were concerned with sharing the honors of his kingdom. One wanted to sit on his right hand and the other on his left hand in the kingdom. But Jesus said, “Ye know not what ye ask.” Then he added, “Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”—Matt. 20:22

He was simply saying to them that in order to share the glory of his kingdom they would first of all have to suffer and die with him. On another occasion he said, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” (Matt. 16:24) This also was an invitation to share in his suffering and death.

Later Paul described this privilege of discipleship as being “planted together in the likeness of his death. (Rom. 6:5) Peter wrote, “For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow in his steps.” (I Pet. 2:21) Paul also wrote, “For unto us it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake.”—Phil. 1:29

“Unto us it is given … to suffer for his sake.” This means that it is a privilege to suffer with Christ. Do we consider it so? The Memorial supper is an occasion to remind ourselves that this is indeed the highest favor that has ever been offered to human beings; for the promise is that if we suffer with Jesus, we shall also reign with him. Just as Jesus was raised from the dead to be the “King of kings,” so all those who suffer and die with him are brought forth in the “first resurrection” “to live and reign with Christ a thousand years.”—Rev. 19:16; 20:4,6

Glorious prospect!

The “Bread” and the “Cup”

Jesus’ death on behalf of both the church and the world, his suffering, our privilege of suffering with him and being raised to glory to reign with him, and finally the deliverance of all mankind from the thraldom of sin and death—all these thoughts are in our hearts as we partake of the Memorial supper—the “bread” and the “cup.”

Jesus and his disciples had evidently finished eating the typical Passover supper in the upper room on that memorable night, when he took bread, broke it, gave it to his disciples and said, “This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me.” Then he handed them the “cup” containing “fruit of the vine,” and said, “This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.”—Luke 22:17-20

Matthew and Mark give a slightly different wording of this brief ceremony, but the thought is the same. The broken bread was thereafter to represent Jesus’ broken body, and the “cup” his shed blood. Our partaking of these emblems signifies our acceptance of the divine provision for life made for us through the redemptive work of Christ, and the recognition that this provision was likewise made for all mankind.

But to the consecrated followers of Jesus there is a still further significance in our partaking of these emblems. Paul suggested it when he wrote, “The bread which we break, is it not the communion [Greek, partnership] of the body of Christ? the cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion [Greek, partnership] of the blood of Christ?” (I Cor. 10:16) The thought is that when we partake of the Memorial we also symbolize our own participation in the suffering and death of Jesus. What a thought! And how appropriate a time it is to renew our consecration to be dead with Christ, and to receive an increase in our “rejoicing in hope”—the “hope of glory.”

Jesus explained that this blood was the blood of the “new testament,” or covenant. The “old” covenant was the one which was made with Israel at Mt. Sinai, when Moses served as mediator. Paul explained that that commandment, or covenant, which was “ordained to [give] life,” the people of Israel found to be “unto death.” (Rom. 7:10) This was not because anything was lacking in the covenant, or in the Law of the covenant. The fault was in the people. Being sinners, and imperfect, they could not meet the perfect requirements of the Law which constituted the basis of that “old” covenant.

When the typical covenant was inaugurated, the “book [of the Law] and all the people” were sprinkled with blood of oxen and goats—blood which had previously been gathered in basins. Associated also with that “old” or Law Covenant were the typical sacrificial services of the Tabernacle, and later, of the Temple. Every year there was a Day of Atonement on which a bullock and a goat were slain, and their blood taken into the Most Holy of the Tabernacle and sprinkled upon the Mercy Seat. But this was merely typical, for as Paul explains, the “blood of bulls and of goats” could not actually “take away sins.”—Heb. 10:4

All the blood associated with that covenant pointed forward to the blood of Christ. That is why he speaks of his blood being the blood of the New Covenant. This New Covenant is promised by God in Jeremiah 31:31-34. In this promise we are informed that the covenant will be made “with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah.” The two preceding verses (29,30) in the chapter identify the time in the divine plan when this New Covenant will be inaugurated. “In those days,” the prophet writes, “they shall say no more, The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children’s teeth are set on edge. But every one shall die for his own iniquity: every man that eateth the sour grape, his teeth shall be set on edge.”

Now we are living in the time when all are dying because of Adam’s transgression. By heredity, sin and death have been passed on from one generation to another. But that will be changed when the “times of restitution” begin. Those who obey at that time will not die. However, as Peter stated, “The soul that will not hear that Prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people.” (Acts 3:19-23) And it will be then that the promised New Covenant will become effective as the channel of life-giving blessings to all who willingly come under its terms.

But there has been an entire age set aside in the plan of God for the preparation of that covenant, and particularly of its servants, or “ministers.” (II Cor. 3:6) Jesus is to be the Mediator of that New Covenant, and his faithful footstep followers will be co-mediators. They will attain this high position through faithfulness in laying down their lives in sacrifice, being “planted together in the likeness of his death.”—Rom. 6:5

These have nothing of merit of their own to sacrifice, because they are members of a sin-cursed and dying race. Their sacrifice is acceptable only through the merit of Christ’s blood. Blood, in the Scriptures, represents life, and Paul wrote, “The life which I now live … I live by the faith of the Son of God.” (Gal. 2:20) This is true of all of us. All the life we have was secured through the atoning blood of Christ. We have no “blood” of our own to shed that is meritorious. It is only through his blood that we are able to “present” our bodies “a living sacrifice.”—Rom. 12:1

Since it is the blood of Christ which thus makes it possible for his followers to qualify to be associated with him as ministers of the New Covenant, how appropriate that he should refer to it as the blood of the covenant. By inviting us to “drink” of the “cup” which represents his blood, Jesus thus invited us to participate with him in that glorious future work of “making” the New Covenant.

Here, then, is another cause for joy as we partake of the Memorial emblems, for it will help to remind us of the high station to which we have been called—a position so high that we could never attain it through our own worthiness. But how wonderful the arrangement through the “blood,” which first takes away our own condemnation, and then enables us to become joint-sacrificers with our Redeemer, to have a partnership in his blood!

Now that we are living in the very end of the age, there will not be many more opportunities to celebrate the Memorial. Jesus said that he would not drink of the cup again with his disciples until he drank it anew with them in the kingdom. Perhaps he is already doing that with the risen saints; but those on this side of the veil will continue to partake with the same thoughts in mind as on previous years; conscious, nevertheless, that the time is short, and of how “thin” is the intervening veil between the “feet of him” and those who already are “caught up” to be with the Lord in the spiritual phase of his kingdom.

A rich blessing results from meeting with others of like precious faith to partake of the Memorial supper, but those who are isolated need not feel that they are deprived of the privilege of complying with the Master’s request to do this in remembrance of him. Perhaps there is only your own family, or possibly you are entirely alone in the truth in your vicinity. Even so, you can observe the Memorial on the evening of the seventeenth of April, conscious of the fact that as you do so, thousands of others, individually and in groups, are at the same time bringing Christ into their hearts with renewed meaning, and strengthening their determination to be his faithful followers, even unto death.

In the upper room that night when Jesus instituted the Memorial supper, the very air must have been charged with tenseness. Tragedy was about to strike! Jesus identified his betrayer, who left to make the final arrangements for betraying his Master. The remaining eleven all loved Jesus, and Peter avowed that he would die for him, meaning every word. Little did they understand what the next few hours held in store for them, and for their Master. But Jesus knew.

And Jesus knows today what is in store for his people on this side of the veil. With the majority these are days of comparative quiet, but not for all. Even now, many of our brethren are suffering hard trials and difficult experiences. Many are beyond our reach, except by prayer. Perhaps our knowledge that these are passing through the fires of affliction will help the rest of us this year to capture a little more realistically the feelings of Jesus and his disciples on that night when he was betrayed. If so, the Memorial in 1981 will go down in memory as one which helped us more than ever to understand, yes, even to feel, the communion of suffering in which it is our privilege to share. This, in turn, will cause us to lean a little harder on the Lord, that we may be sustained, and to pray more fervently on behalf of our brethren everywhere.

May the “joy of the Lord” which gives us strength continue to fill our hearts and lives as daily we endeavor more faithfully to follow in the footsteps of him who loved us and died for us!

Dawn Bible Students Association
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