Celebrating the "Memorial" of Christís Death

Our Lordís Commandment to Observe His Death

Though our Lord as an obedient Jew celebrated numerous "holy conventions" he gave only one command to his disciples regarding the observance of his death. While celebrating the Passover by eating unleavened bread and drinking red wine, the Nazarene turned to his apostles and told them: "Keep doing this in remembrance of me." (Luke 22:19 NWT) Some decades later Paul was to write: "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 11:26 NWT) This simple celebration of partaking of bread and wine has been called "The Lordís Supper," or, "the Eucharist," or, "Memorial," or, "Holy Communion." But, what was the reason and background to this newly introduced emblematic supper?

Messiahís Death as a Sin Offering Foretold

The Prophets foretold a Jew would be killed by slow death involving his heart, hands and feet. This Jew is surrounded by violent oppressors, and some of them will cast lots on his clothing. Many scholars, including physicians, state that the inspired hymn of Psalm 22 describes a man dying on an executionerís stake or tree. Psalm 22:1, 6-10, 14-18 reads in part:

"My God, my God why have you forsaken me? ... In you our ancestors put their trust. ... I am a worm, not a man, scorn of mankind, contempt of the people: all who see me jeer at me, they sneer and wag their heads, Ďhe trusted to Yahweh, let Yahweh set him free! Let Him deliver him, as he took such delight in Him.í ... It was you who drew me from the womb and soothed me on my motherís breast. On you I was cast from my birth, from the womb I have belonged to you. Trouble is upon me, and no one to help me! Many bulls are encircling me. Lions ravening and roaring open their jaws at me. My strength is trickling away, my bones are all disjointed, my heart has turned to wax, melting inside me. My mouth is dry as earthenware, my tongue sticks to my jaw. you lay me down in the dust of death. A pack of dogs surrounds me, a gang of villains is closing in on me as if to hack off my hands and my feet. [Note: LXX: "they pierced my hands and my feet"] I can count every one of my bones, while they look on and gloat, they divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing." (New Jerusalem Bible)

This messianic Psalm was attributed to King David of Israel and was composed a thousand years before the torturous death of Jesus the Nazarene. The Gospel of Matthew records the Christ calling out at his death, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46) The Beloved Apostle reports how the soldiers handled the garments of the Nazarene: "Now when the soldiers had impaled Jesus, they took his outer garments and made four parts, for each soldier a part, and the inner garment. But the inner garment was without a seam, being woven from the top throughout its length. Therefore they said to one another: ĎLet us not tear it, but let us determine by lots over it whose it will be.í This was that the scripture might be fulfilled: ĎThey apportioned my outer garments among themselves, and upon my apparel they cast lots.í And so the soldiers really did these things." (John 19:23, 24 NWT)

A Sin Offering

Not only the manner of Messiahís death was foretold but the reason was made very clear. Seven hundred years before the death of Jesus, Isaiah foretold. This prophetically portrays a Jewish man rejected by his own people and records the foretold events from their standpoint:

"Like a sapling (Messiah) grew up before Him (Yahweh), like a root in arid ground. he had no form or charm to attract us (Jews), no beauty to win our hearts; he was despised, the lowest of men, a man of sorrows, familiar with suffering, one from whom, as it were, we (Jews) averted our gaze, despised, for whom we (Jews) had no regard. Yet ours were the sufferings he was bearing, [Note: "he was being pierced for" (NWT)] ours the sorrows he was carrying, while we thought of him as someone being punished and struck with affliction by God; whereas he was he was being wounded for our rebellions, crushed because of our guilt; the punishment reconciling us fell on him, and we have been healed by his bruises. ... Ill-treated and afflicted, he never opened his mouth, like a lamb led to the slaughter-house. ... Forcibly, after sentence, he was taken . . . cut off from the land of the living, at his having been struck for his peopleís (Jews) rebellion? he was given a grave with the wicked, and his tomb is with the rich. ... (Yahweh) gives his life as a sin offering. ... After the ordeal he has endured, he will see the light and be content. (Yahweh speaks): ĎBy his knowledge, the upright one, My servant will justify many by taking their guilt on himself. Hence I shall give him a portion with the many . . . for having exposed himself to death and for being counted as one of the rebellious, whereas he was bearing the sin of many and interceding for the rebellious.í" (Isaiah 53:1-12 NJB)

Phillip the missionary read and applied this prophecy to Jesus. (Acts 8:32, 33) Peter himself was to quote from these words and apply them to the Christ. (1 Peter 2:24) Peter also applies the sixteenth Psalm to the resurrection of Jesus. (Acts 2:24-34; Psalm 16:8-10) So, hundreds of years beforehand the prophets foretold the death of the Messiah as a Sin Offering, or Sin-bearer, to bring a "righteous standing to many."

Passover

This whole idea of a sacrifice as a sin-offering was dramatically portrayed in the deliverance of the he from Egypt. Exodus chapter 12 records the historical events when Yahweh delivered His people from slavery. The splashing of the blood of a sacrificed lamb on the door posts was to point forward to a greater Passover Lamb. (John 1:29, 36; Acts 8:32; Revelation 5:6)

Peter alludes to this "lamb" of the Passover when he writes: "For you know that the price of your ransom from the futile way of life handed down from your ancestors was paid, not in anything perishable like silver or gold, but in precious blood as of a blameless and spotless lamb, Christ." (1 Peter 1:19 NJB) Paul does the same: "For our Passover as been sacrificed, that is, Christ; let us keep the feast, then with none of the old yeast and no leavening of evil and wickedness, but only the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth." (1 Corinthians 5:7, 8 NJB)

Beginning around the year 1513 BCE the Jews were to celebrate annually this deliverance by keeping the Passover as commanded by Yahweh:

"íOn the tenth day of this month they are to take for themselves each one a sheep for the ancestral house, a sheep to a house. ... And it must continue under safeguard by you until the fourteenth day of this month [Nisan 14], and the whole congregation of the assembly of Israel must slaughter it between the two evenings. [from sunset to dark] ... And they must eat the flesh on this night. They should eat it roasted with fire and with unfermented cakes along with bitter greens. ... And you must keep the festival of unfermented cakes [Passover], because on this very day I must bring your armies out from the land of Egypt. And you must keep this day throughout your generations as a statute to time indefinite.í ... And it must occur that when you come into the land that Jehovah will give you, just as he has stated, then you must keep this service. And it must occur that when your sons say to you, 'What does this service mean to you?' then you must say, 'It is the sacrifice of the Passover to Jehovah, who passed over the houses of the sons of Israel in Egypt when he plagued the Egyptians, but he delivered our houses.'" (Exodus 12:3, 6, 8, 17, 25-27 NWT)

So, for over 1,500 years the Jews kept this memorial Passover until the arrival of the Messiah. As an obedient Jew Jesus the Nazarene kept this feast and the night of his arrest he said to his disciples: "I have greatly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer." (Luke 22:14, 15 NWT) So, this was about the 1,546th observance of the Passover as God had commanded Moses. How fitting an occasion for the Nazarene to introduce another emblematic meal to take the place of the Passover.

Keep Doing this as a Memorial of Me

Three Gospels record the institution of the Lordís Supper. Combining all three accounts they read: "As they continued eating, Jesus took a loaf and, after saying a blessing, he broke it and, giving it to the disciples, he said: ĎTake, eat. This means my body which is given in your behalf. Keep doing this in remembrance of me.í Also, he took the cup -- in the same way after they had the evening meal -- having given thanks (eucharistesas), he gave it to them, saying: ĎDrink out of it, all of you; for this cup means the new covenant, my blood of the covenant, which is to be poured out in behalf of many for forgiveness of sins." (Matthew 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:19, 20)

Showing this command to commemorate the death of Jesus Christ was still an ongoing celebration decades later, Paul wrote: "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 and, after giving thanks, he broke it and said: ĎThis means my body which is in your behalf. Keep doing this in remembrance of me.í he did likewise respecting the cup also, after he had the evening meal, saying: ĎThis cup means the new covenant by virtue of my blood. Keep doing this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.í 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 NWT)

In First Corinthians chapter eleven Paul deals with certain divisive matters within the congregation. Possibly the Corinthians decided to make the Lordís Supper something a little more elaborate with considerable drinking, for Paul says, "When you come together to eat (the Lordís Supper), wait for one another. If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home." (1 Corinthians 11:33, 34 NWT) So, it is difficult to see this simple celebration as something like an agape feast. (Jude 12 = agapais) But, when and how often should the Lordís Supper be celebrated?

"As Often as You Do It"

Paul himself gives no details on the question of when and how often to keep the Memorial or Eucharist. It is likely the tradition was so well fixed by custom that he did not need to discuss these matters. Today various churches celebrate "communion" daily, weekly on Sundays, or once a month, as on the first Sunday of each month. Others keep the Memorial annually on Nisan 14. The date is determined generally by the full moon nearest the Spring equinox on or near the Jewish Passover.

Given the setting of the original emblematic meal instituted by Jesus as well as the Jewish custom to celebrate religious festivals yearly, it would seem the Christian "Passover" might well have been annually also. There is nothing in the Christian Bible to indicate this but there is a strong early tradition which indicates the first Christians annually kept Nisan 14 as the proper evening for the Lordís Supper.

The Third Century Christian historian Eusebeias records a division which developed regarding Easter: "It was at that stage (189 AD) that a controversy of great significance took place, because all the Asian dioceses thought in accordance with ancient tradition they ought to observe the fourteenth day of the lunar month (Nisan 14,the day of the Passover full moon) as the beginning of the Paschal festival -- the day on which the Jews had been commanded to sacrifice the lamb: on that day, no matter which day of the week it might be. ... All of these kept the fourteenth day of the month as the beginning of the Paschal festival, in accordance with the Gospel. ... Anicetus could not persuade Polycarp not to keep the day (Nisan 14), since he had always kept it with John (the apostle) of our Lord and the other apostles with whom he had been familiar. ... We may point out to you they keep the feat on the same day (Nisan 14) as we do, for se send letters to them and they to us, to ensure that we keep the holy in harmony and at the same time." (The HISTORY OF The CHURCH, Eusebius, pp -229-234)

M'Clintock and Strong agree: "The churches of Asia Minor celebrated the death of the Lord on the day corresponding to the 14th of the month Nisan, on which day, according to the opinion of the whole ancient Church, the crucifixion took place." Historian J. L. von Mosheim wrote: "The Christians of Asia Minor were accustomed to celebrate this sacred feast, commemorative of the institution of the Lord's supper, and the death of Jesus Christ, at the same time when the Jews ate their Paschal lamb, namely on the evening of the fourteenth day of the first month [Nisan]. . . . They considered the example of Christ possessing the force of law." Therefore, the evidence seems to strongly favor an anniversary on Nisan 14. This date is calculated by the full moon nearest the Spring equinox, March 21 and generally agrees with the Jewish Passover.

ďUntil He ArrivesĒ

However "often" the Lordís Supper was to be kept, the commemorative meal should continue on the part of Nazarene Saints "until Christ arrives" in his foretold Parousia. If Christ had returned already, then the Supper should cease. Since the King has not returned, Christians ought to continue to observe the death of Jesus by keeping the Lordís Supper.

Second Century Description

Justin Martyr Chapter LXV.-Administration of the Sacraments

"But, we, after we have thus washed him who has been convinced and has assented to our teaching, bring him to the place where those who are called brethren are assembled, in order that we may offer hearty prayers in common for ourselves and for the baptized [illuminated] person, and for all others in every place, that we may be counted worthy, now that we have learned the truth, by our works also to be found good citizens and keepers of the commandments, so that we may be saved with an everlasting salvation. Having ended the prayers, we salute one another with a kiss. There is then brought to the president of the brethren bread and a cup of wine, and he talking them, gives praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son, and offers thanks at considerable length for our being counted worthy to receive these things at His hands. And when he has concluded the prayers and thanksgiving, all the people present express their assent by saying Amen. This word Amen answers in the Hebrew language -- so be it. And when the president has given thanks, and all the people have expressed their assent, those who are called by us deacons give to each of those present to partake of the bread and wine over which the thanksgiving was pronounced, and to those who are absent they carry away a portion.

Chapter LXVI.-Of the Eucharist.

"And this food is called among us the Eucharist, of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, and both flesh and blood for our salvation. ... For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, said, ĎThis do ye in remembrance of Me, this is My body; and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, he said, ĎThis is My bloodí; and gave it to them alone."

Gathering to Eat the Lordís Supper

Paul knew Jesus had instituted the emblematic meal after sundown on the Jewish Passover, Nisan 14. Therefore, Paul calls it deipnon or "supper," that is, a meal held in the evening, even as Jesus had done. (1 Corinthians 11:20 KJV, NEB) Paul stresses the simplicity of the affair in his description and warning to the Corinthians. It is not a physical "meal" but a spiritual one in which the "partaker" communes or shares with fellow Saints and with God. Paul had written earlier: "The blessing-cup which we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ; and the loaf of bread which we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? And as there is one loaf, so we, although there are many of us, are one single body, for we all share in the one loaf." he calls this "the Cup of the Lord" and the "Lordís table." (1 Corinthians 10:16-22 NJB)

Today, indeed, "there are many of us." This "us" is now divided into schisms and heresies even as it was in Corinth. In the introduction of his letter, Paul had stated the problem which existed then as well as today: "But, brothers, I am encouraging you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to speak the same thing and not have schisms among you but make adjustments in the same mind and in the very same opinion. ... The Christ has been divided." (1 Corinthians 1:10, 13 NCMM) In the same context of the Lordís Supper Paul mentions this problem of sectarianism and the reason for it: "When you do gather in meeting it is not for the better but for the worse. First, when you do gather for meeting I hear schisms [divisions, cliques, factions] exist among you. ... For it is binding there must be heresies [sects, differing groups, divisions] so those approved among you may be manifest." (1 Corinthians 11:17-19 NCMM)

Paulís statement that sects or schisms (heresies) must exist to manifest the approved echoes the Nazarene parable of the Wheat and the Tares. (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43) According to Jesus his own "kingdom" was to become divided by wheat and weeds. These "sons of the Kingdom" and "sons of the Devil" are to "grow together" (syn-auxanenethai) until the angelic harvest upon the Parousia or Return of the Master. Thus, throughout the centuries, the millenniums, within the "kingdom of the Son" the Lordís Super has been observed even as the Jews observed the Passover. However, this Holy Eucharist has been celebrated in ways which reflect this disunity. How can Nazarene Saints at this time "partake" (1 Corinthians 10:21 KJV, RSV) in a manner which the Lord would approve?

Partaking Worthily

Paul includes such an exhortation in the context of his discussion on the proper way to observe the Lordís Supper. There is a worthy and unworthy way to partake. To partake worthily Paul exhorts a certain disposition and attitude: "Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will be guilty regarding the Body and the Blood of the Lord. But, let each person examine self and then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For the person eating and drinking without discerning the Body eats and drinks self-judgment." (1 Corinthians 11:27, 28 RSV) It seems clear that this self examination has to do with a proper regard for what the emblems symbolize: the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus. So, we come back to faith as the main criteria of a worthy celebration.

Regarding the attitude of the forerunners of modern Baptists, the Anabaptists, one historian wrote concerning their attitude toward the Lordís Supper: "To them it was the most solemn act in which a Christian can participate, involving the renewal of the believer's covenant to devote his life unreservedly to Christ's service." (R. J. Smithson)

No doubt such a celebration in commemoration of our Lordís death may include hymns (Matthew 26:30) and prayers of blessing along with the partaking of unleavened bread and red wine. The night of Jesusí last Passover he spoke at length with his disciples. (John chapters 13-17)

There could be nothing wrong with a talk which dealt with the meaning of the Lordís Supper as well as subjects like those chosen by the Nazarene: humble service, love, separation from the world, and unity. On the other hand, if one is alone then one may wish to read Psalms 22 and 116-118 (the subject of the Passover hymns) or Isaiah 53 and John 13-17. Prayerful meditations which arouse deep faith in the Sin-offering of Christ will enhance the spiritual atmosphere of this sacred moment.

Contemplating on what the Sin-offering of the Christ has done and will do for you should provide an intense spiritual evening. By the grace of the Father through His Son your sins have been forgiven. (Romans 5:1, 2, 6, 9, 10, 16-19; Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 2:13; 3:13) The burden of guilt has been lifted and your conscience cleansed. (Acts 2:38; Hebrews 9:11, 12, 14, 15, 24, 26, 28; 10:1-3, 14, 19-22) As a result of your repentance, conversion and faith you stand before the Throne of Grace in that same state Adam enjoyed before the Fall --- in that same condition as the Son rose from the baptismal waters. A transcendental "peace" settled on you as you came to have "no consciousness of sins anymore." your hearts were "sprinkled from a wicked conscience and (your) bodies bathed with clean water."

With this cleansed and perfected state a breathtaking hope has settled down on your regenerated heart and mind. As Paul writes: "you may receive that inner illumination of the spirit so that you may know what is the hope which His call to you inspires." (Ephesians 1:18 PME, WEY; compare also Romans 8:24, 25; Colossians 1:5, 27; 4:4; 1 Peter 1:3, 4, 13) This "one hope" (Ephesians 4:4) of a heavenly inheritance contains within itself the over-powering and awesome prospect of seeing our God as well as His Son. (1 John 3:2, 3; Revelation 22:4) During the Lordís Supper meditate on this glorious hope and discern within the loaf and the cup the power of His grace and the depth of Christís love.

The Jews generally celebrated the Passover as family groups. So, whether to celebrate alone, with a small group, or among a larger Christian association it is a personal decision. But let each one "discern the Body" in these emblems by faith. Let each saint prayerfully examine or scrutinize his own Christian character, the depth of his faith, and the godly works which come from such faith. The God of our Lord Jesus bless your genuine hearts and the loving spirit you show during this holy season. Amen.

[NOTE: If you wish to celebrate the Memorial with the Friends of the Nazarene in southern California please call [909] 925-9140 as space is limited. See ANNOUNCEMENTS in the March issue of Friends for other locations in the world.]

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Nazarene Commentary 2000© by Mark Heber Miller

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