‘Keep Doing This’

The Annual Observance of the Lord’s Supper

Keep Doing What?

When someone whose authority we deeply respect tells us, “Keeping doing this,” we may take it as a strong suggestion or command. The words “keep doing this” are positive injunctions to continue a work, action, attitude, or even an observance of something important.

Our Lord himself gave over 60 commandments [one-tenth the size of the Law of Moses]. He often said, “keep doing this.” However, one case in particular now focuses our attention.

On the Hebrew date of Nisan 14 [mid-March to mid-April] when the Jewish Passover was observed, the Nazarene partook along with his apostles in that annual commemoration of Yehowah’s rescue of the Israelites from the tenth plague on Egypt around the beginning of the 15th Century BC. Jesus had kept such an observance from year to year since he was a child and so on this occasion it was about his 34th presence at the Passover. It was not regarding this Passover that Jesus said, “Keep doing this.” But, rather it was something that followed that evening supper of roasted lamb, unleavened bread, wine, and herbs.

The scholarly physician and historian Luke reports the occasion at Luke 22:19, “Then Jesus took bread and after he gave thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying: ‘This is my body given in your behalf. You continue to do this in my memorial.’" [NCMM] Or, as another version puts it, “keep doing this in remembrance of me.” [NWT; compare also Rotherham] The Greek verb suggests a continuing action that is to be repeated. Subsequent Christian history confirms this was the apostle’s understanding. [1 Corinthians 11:23ff]

So the apostles were to continue a practice or observance in memory of the death of Jesus Christ. No where in Scripture is there any command or description of an observance or celebration of Christ’s birth or resurrection. These were later added by the Roman Catholic Church and are now represented in Christmas and Easter - both derived from pagan festivals.

But, “keep doing” what? Paul calls it “the Lord’s Supper” and gives his own revealed description in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26: “For I received from the Lord that which I also passed along to you: that the Lord Jesus, in the night in which he was to be handed over, took a loaf and after giving thanks he broke it and said: ‘This is my body over you. Continue doing this in my remembrance.’ And just the same with the Cup, after having [the Passover] supper, saying, ‘This is the Cup of the New Covenant in my blood. Continue doing this, as often as you ever may drink it, in my remembrance.’ For as often as you may ever be eating the Loaf and be drinking the Cup you continue to announce the death of the Lord until he should arrive.” [NCMM]

So, over thirty years later - judging from Paul’s writings - the early disciples did “keep doing this” as an annual memorial of the death of Christ. Though there is no record of such an observance in the Acts of the Apostles we may assume, based on Paul’s instructions, that the small Christian churches did gather to memorialize the death of Jesus. And, this they would continue to do through the Gospel Age until the Return of Christ. Since he has not yet come in his visible parousia [presence/visit] it is in obedience to Jesus our Lord that we “keep doing this” as an announcement or commemoration of his death.

Though it is no where specifically stated that this was an annual observance there are two factors which strongly suggest it was, indeed, an anniversary. The apostles as Jewish men were well aware that the main Jewish festivals were observed annually on God-appointed dates - the Day of Atonement, the Festival of Booths, and Pentecost, as well as other observances added by the Jews. Without any additional words on Jesus’ part it seems likely that they would understood they were to now replace the Passover with the Lord’s Supper. And also, they would do this in the evening at the beginning of the day Nisan 14.

Secondly, the historical record of the Christian Church throughout two centuries indicates this practiced continued. The nickname “Fourteeners” was given to these Christians who observed the Lord’s Supper on Nisan 14. Since Nisan 14 on the Hebrew calendar falls on each day of the week in a 19-year cycle this “memorial” could occur - as does the Passover - on any date of the nearest full-moon to the spring equinox [March 21/22].

Memorial - Not a Family Observance

Unlike the Passover, the Lord’s Supper was not a family meal. The Israelites were commanded to gather as family groups to observe the Passover: Yahweh spoke to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying, "This month [later called Nisan] shall be to you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year to you. Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying, 'On the tenth day of this month, they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to their fathers' houses, a lamb for a household; and if the household be too little for a lamb, then he and his neighbor next to his house shall take one according to the number of the souls; according to what everyone can eat you shall make your count for the lamb.” [Exodus 12:1-4 WEB] Later this was somewhat limited to about twelve family members.

In contrast, the Lord’s Supper is not an observance by individuals or family groups, but rather by congregations. Paul gives such instructions to the Corinthians who were observing the Lord’s Supper unworthily: “Therefore, when you assemble together to the very same place, it is not appropriate for you to eat the Lord’s Supper. For some persons take their own supper beforehand. So, one person is really hungry, while another has had too much to drink. Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or, do you despise the assembly of the God, and shame those who have nothing? What should I tell you? Shall I praise you? In this matter I cannot praise you. … And so, my brothers, when you do assembly together [to partake of the Lord’s Supper] wait for one another. If anyone is hungry, let them eat at home.” [1 Corinthians 11:20-22, 33, 34 NCMM] Compare also 1 Corinthians 11:17, 18 where Paul is discussing a congregational meeting.

It is possible, giving the size of the city of Corinth, that Christians did not meet in private homes but in a larger facility that could serve as a church. So, those individual Saints in that city did not celebrate the Lord’s Supper in the individual homes as separate families, but rather at one common meeting place. Why?

The Eucharist and Church Unity

Though the focus and emphasis of the Lord’s Supper - also called the Eucharist from the prayer of blessing Jesus offered - is on the death of Christ, there is something else symbolized by this congregational meeting - unity. Paul has already discussed the Memorial in the context of unity earlier in First Corinthians. Note this in 1 Corinthians 10:16, 17, “The Cup of the blessing that we are blessing, is it not the blood of the Christ? The Loaf which we are breaking, is it not a sharing of the body of the Christ? Because [there is] one Loaf, we many are one Body, for all of us are partaking from the one Loaf.” [NCMM] By all local Saints meeting together in one place as a congregation, in partaking of the emblems at the Lord’s Supper, they demonstrate their common unity and like-mindedness.

During the more than 1,500 years of the Passover celebration, Jewish men were commanded to come to Jerusalem to observe certain festivals. And, this on the pain of death if they deliberately failed in so doing. This required some Jews to travel great distances. It is for this reason that there were so many Jewish men still in Jerusalem fifty days after the Passover on the festival of Pentecost [meaning, Fifty]. [Compare Acts chapter 2.] On these occasions the inhabitants of Jerusalem could swell into the millions. When the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and its temple in 70 AD over one million Jews were slaughtered and 100,000 take captive.

In modern times, some Christians who are willing and able also journey far to meet at least once a year with their brothers and sisters. In so doing they demonstrate their common unity and love for the Nazarene community. If Jews could travel from distant lands as those described in Acts 2:8-11 in order to be present for Pentecost, how much more so would spiritual Jews [Romans 2:28, 29; 9:6] be willing to make arrangements to travel to meet in a larger Christian fellowship. Certainly great encouragement is mutually shared when this happens.

A Worthy Celebration

Demons and Unworthiness

Paul writes of certain dangers regarding the Lord’s Supper. First, this celebration cannot have any taint of pagan demonic practices. For Paul commands: “Consider fleshly Israel: Are not those who are eating the sacrifices sharers with the Altar? What, then, am I saying? That the thing sacrificed to an idol is anything? Or, that an idol is anything? [What I am saying is] that what the non-Jews are sacrificing they are sacrificing to demons and not to God. [Deuteronomy 32:17] But, I do not want you to become sharers with the demons. It is not possible for you to be drinking YHWH’s Cup and also a cup of demons. It is not possible for you to be partaking of YHWH’s Table [Malachi 1:7] and also a table of demons. Or, ‘are we inciting the LORD to jealousy?’ [Deuteronomy 32:21] Are we stronger than Him?” [1 Corinthians 10:19-21 NCMM]

As in the first century Church, over the following centuries certain elements traceable to pagan Gentile worship crept into the Lord’s Supper. These ranged from changing the timing, the dates, the manner, and even some of the doctrines became “teachings of demons.” [1 Timothy 4:1-3] Indeed, in most of modern-day Christendom the Lord’s death is not celebrated at all, it having been replaced by Christmas and Easter. [Do research on the origins of these annual holidays in any encyclopedia.] Many of those who do observe “Communion” [meaning, sharing] do so using emblems other than after the Lord’s example. For example, many churches will not use the red wine Jesus used, but rather grape juice. Additionally, and perhaps most unworthy of the Lord’s Supper, is to see in Jesus God Himself as a plural triune deity.

Paul will later write to the Corinthians about Christian separateness from that which is pagan and satanic. In 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 Paul commands: “[Corinthians], do not become unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or, what communion between light and darkness? Also, what harmony between Christ and Belial? Or, what portion between a believer and an unbeliever? Also, what agreement between God’s Divine Habitat and idols? We are the Living God’s Divine Habitat! Just as the God said: ‘I shall indwell in them, and I shall walk among them, and I shall be their God, and they shall be my People.’ [Leviticus 26:11] ‘As a result, all of you come out from among them, and all of you determine the boundaries,’ says YHWH, ‘and do not continue to touch the unclean thing [Isaiah 52:11] … then I shall take all of you in [Ezekiel 20:41] … and I shall be a Father to all of you, and all of you will be sons and daughters to me,’ [2 Samuel 7:14] says YHWH Almighty.’” [NCMM]

Though some Christians feel they can share communion at the Lord’s Supper with some church groups who might fit the above description, others feel they cannot. Some such individuals and families may be unable to travel to gather with Saints elsewhere. They can properly and worthily observe the Memorial by purchasing a red wine such as a chianti, zinfindel, or cabernet. And they can make the unleavened bread out of flour and water into something like a fluffy pancake baked in the oven. They can follow the simple outlined provided by Paul in 1 Corinthians chapter 11. Some may wish to read certain portions of the Bible, such as Psalm 22 or Isaiah 53. Others find the reading of portions of John 13-17 to be in harmony with the Memorial, as the Nazarene spoke these words the same evening. Psalm 116-118 were included in the hymns that concluded the Passover meal and these make for good reading.

Using Passover as something of a pattern, remarks can be made to explain “what this means”? [See Exodus 12:26]

Sectarianism and Unworthiness

Another reason Paul gives that could cause the Lord’s Supper to be observed in an unworthy manner is disunity. Paul writes just before mentioning the Lord’s Supper: “However, in giving you the following instructions I do not praise you. Because it is actually not for the better, but for the worse, that you meet together. For first of all when you assemble for meeting I hear that schisms exist in your midst. In part I believe this. Now there is a necessity that opinionated heresies exist in your midst that those approved may also become manifest among you.” [1 Corinthians 11:17-19 NCMM]

Paul has already urged the Corinthians to strive for unity of thought. At the beginning of his letter to the church in Corinth, he exhorted: “I strongly encourage all of you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, in order that you all continue saying the same thing and not have any schisms among you. Continue to remain harmoniously joined together with the same thinking and opinion.” [1 Corinthians 1:10 NCMM] Every effort should be made so that Friends of the Nazarene [John 14:15] be like-minded in their beliefs and understanding of the fundamental teachings of the Bible.

Paul does not commend the church that meets with its membership divided into personal or doctrinal schisms. They should all be able to speak and think the same. This can be achieved by a mature study of the Bible and a willingness to wait until some matters are more clearly understood.

The Poor and Unworthiness

Another matter that can make the celebration of the Lord’s Supper unworthy is rich Christians shaming their poor brothers. Paul also writes on this in the context of the Memorial: “Therefore, when you assemble together to the very same place, it is not appropriate for you to eat the Lord’s Supper. For some persons take their own supper beforehand. So, one person is really hungry, while another has had too much to drink. Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or, do you despise the assembly of the God, and shame those who have nothing? What should I tell you? Shall I praise you? In this matter I cannot praise you.” [1 Corinthians 11:20-22 NCMM]

Possibly some rich Corinthian Christians [1 Corinthians 4:8] were meeting among one another and having big meals with considerable drinking. Thus, when they showed up for the Lord’s Supper they were well-fed and drunk, while their poor brothers and sisters were hungry. Such an attitude shows that some Christians have completely forgotten the Master they claim to follow. In more modern times, something similar can happen after the Memorial: well-to-do brothers and sisters go out to a fine restaurant or to one of their homes for eating and drinking, while the poor disciple is unable to do this.

Jesus taught that when one had enough to spread a feast such a disciple should get into the habit of inviting the poor. [Luke 14:13, 14] Perhaps those with a surplus could invite a needy family and avoid any economic sectarianism?

An Unworthy Attitude

Finally, Paul writes that the whole attitude and understanding of the partaker of the Lord’s Supper may do so unworthily if these be wrong. Note his caution: “And so whoever may be eating the Loaf and drinking the Cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be held responsible regarding the Body and the Blood of the Lord. Let a person approve oneself individually, and then from the Loaf be eating and from the Cup be drinking. For the one eating and drinking is eating and drinking judgment if not discriminating the Body. Because of this many among you are weak and sick, and a sufficient number of you are asleep. But, if we approve ourselves it is not likely that we will be condemned. However, if being judged we are disciplined by the Lord, so that we should not be condemned together with the social order of humanity.” [1 Corinthians 11:28-32 NCMM]

Such self-examined unworthiness, Paul says, is a failure to discern or discriminate the Body of Christ in the emblems at the Lord’s Supper. Of course, those who were influenced by Greek philosophy, and thought the body and flesh of Christ only a phantom illusion, would not discern Christ’s true body. This was his body of flesh and blood that he sacrificed on the executioner’s stake. If one approached Memorial with either a wrong attitude or a failure to understand the Lord’s sacrifice, there is considerable danger. In this regard the words of Paul to the Hebrew Christians has a bearing: “For our sinning willingly after we receive the heightened knowledge of the Truth leaves no sacrifice regarding sins. But rather some fearful expectation of condemnation, ‘a fiery zeal’ [Isaiah 26:11 LXX] ‘ready to consume the rebellious.’ [Deuteronomy 17:6] Any person who disregards the Law of Moses dies without compassion upon ‘the testimony of two or three.’ [Deuteronomy 19:15] How much worse do you think the punishment will be upon the person who has trampled underfoot the Son of the God? Who has esteemed the ‘blood of the covenant’ [Exodus 24:8]] -- in which he was sanctified -- as something common, [and thus] outrageously scorned the pneuma of unmerited favor? For we realize the One who said: ‘Vengeance is mine. I will repay.’ [Deuteronomy 32:35] And, again: ‘YHWH will judge His People.’ [Deuteronomy 32:26] 31 It is a dreadful matter to fall into the hands of a Living God.” [Hebrews 10:26-30 NCMM]

Our approach to the Lord’s Supper will surely be one of sober meditation with deep appreciation for what our Lord did for us. Peter expresses this proper appraisal: “And so when you call upon the Father - ‘who judges impartially each person’s work’ [Deuteronomy 10:17; Psalm 62:12] - conduct yourself in fear during this period of your alien sojourn, realizing that you were liberated from a futile [form of] conduct handed down from your forefathers -- by means of a ransom -- not with the corruptible gold or silver -but rather with the precious blood of an unblemished and spotless Lamb - Christ’s. Indeed, he was foreknown before the founding of the human social order, but was made visible for your sakes at ‘the time of the end’ [Daniel 9:26; 11:40] - those who by means of [Christ] believe in God, the One who raised him up from the dead, giving [Christ] glory, so that your faith and hope would be in God.” [1 Peter 1:17-21 NCMM]

May the Table and Cup of Yehowah Be Blessed

With all of these thoughts in mind let us prepare our attitude well in advance of the next Memorial. We approach the “table of Jehovah” and drink of the “Cup of Jehovah” free of pagan, demonic forms of worship and beliefs. Let prayer mold the heart and mind so that we may partake in a worthy manner. Let our studies strengthen our faith in His “eternal purpose” and increase our love for others. Surely, the Lord’s Supper is a divinely blessed observance, and so let us join together with one unified heart and mind as we listen to Paul’s words: “The Cup of the blessing that we are blessing, is it not the blood of the Christ? The Loaf which we are breaking, is it not a sharing of the body of the Christ? Because [there is] one Loaf, we many are one Body, for all of us are partaking from the one Loaf.” [1 Corinthians 10:16, 17 NCMM]

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Nazarene Commentary 2000© by Mark Heber Miller

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