On the Frequency of the Lord's Supper

Português

The following is an excerpt from a message sent to a person who inquired about the frequency of the celebration of the death of Christ (the Lord's Supper). We believe that the points may be of some help to others who are wondering about that.

 

I appreciated your latest letter. As you have found, t he Memorial, as celebrated by Witnesses, converts an expression of faith (in Christ's ransom sacrifice on the part of all Christians) into a means primarily for advancing an organization's teaching and restricting Jesus' words, “Do this [that is, take of the wine and unleavened bread] in remembrance of me” to a comparatively tiny group of persons.

If one reads John 6:32-59 it seems quite clear that bread and wine are used Biblically to symbolize things in which everyone hoping to gain life must share, that both emblems refer to the ransom sacrifice, God's provision through Christ for attaining life everlasting made available for all persons. By his later use of these emblems at the final supper, God's Son established a means for expressing through figurative emblems the faith each of us has in the ransom sacrifice he provided, as well making acknowledgment of the community of brotherhood we hold with all others having that faith.

So, in our discussions we focus on the fact that Christ instituted the occasion as a means for remembering him and for expressing faith in his ransom sacrifice. He said nothing about two classes, one class partaking and the other not. (Compare 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; John 6:47-58) Paul's words about partaking "unworthily" had to do with the manner and attitude some in Corinth were showing on the occasion and did not in anyway indicate that participation was restricted to a particular "class" of Christians. (1 Corinthians 11:17-22, 27-34) Recognizing that eating the bread and drinking the wine simply represents faith in the ransom sacrifice Christ provided, from which all Christians benefit, almost all in attendance at our gatherings usually partake. It is so much more meaningful than the rather empty ceremony typical of Kingdom Hall celebrations.

In our celebration, we gather in the evening for a regular meal and then follow this with a commemorating of the Lord's evening meal, which we generally do while still sitting around the dinner table. It is informal but enjoyable and meaningful. I think of the fact that even the Passover was not celebrated at the temple (though each family's lamb was sacrificed there) but was held in homes, something that was true of early Christian's commemorating of the Lord's evening meal. The simplicity, accessibility, and every-day nature of the emblems Christ employed also seem notable. They had nothing of the unusual or exotic or "special," since they were common items on the daily table, not some kind of special "sabbath" food. Similarly Christ's ransom sacrifice is open to all, and our partaking of his "body" and "blood" is not something done on Sundays but an everyday, all-day matter, carried out by showing faith in our ordinary, daily affairs of life.

As regards the time for celebrating the Lord's evening meal, we have customarily celebrated the meal on the date of the Jewish passover, but not as viewing that as a require date. It would seem that the important thing is the celebrating of the meal, not the precise day. We really have no way of knowing what day Jesus would recognize today as the "correct" date corresponding to Passover.

Actually, there really is not much Biblical proof that Christians celebrated it only on a yearly basis. The apostle Paul quotes Jesus as saying, "Keep doing this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." (1 Corinthians 11:25) As a Witness, I used to try to explain away the expression "often" by referring to Hebrews 9:25, where the word "often" appears again in the English New World Translation, used there in connection with the high priest's entry into the Most Holy, which took place once a year on atonement day. But a person familiar with Greek pointed out to me that in the Greek original two different words are used for the "often" in 1 Corinthians and that at Hebrews 9. The one in Hebrews 9 means essentially "a number of times" but that in 1 Corinthians is much more indefinite (or broader and looser), and has the sense of "whenever." He also pointed out that it is generally believed that Paul arrived first in Corinth about 50 A.D. and the account in Acts shows he spent a minimum of eighteen months there (Acts 18:11), possibly longer (Acts 18:18), so he left there in late 51 or early 52 A.D. His first letter to Corinthians is believed to have been written about the spring of 55 A.D. In that letter he rebukes them for their conduct in connection with the Lord's evening meal (chapter 11:17-22), showing that some were viewing it as if it were an ordinary meal and giving no true significance to the emblems. If the celebration of the meal was done only once a year it seems incredible that, after having celebrated it only four or five times at the most (from 50 to 55 A.D.), and perhaps only three times since Paul's departure, they could possibly slip so quickly into such an attitude. A once-a-year celebration would have made the event an unusual, uncommon one. On the other hand if they were celebrating it not on an annual basis but more often, they might have celebrated it dozens or scores of times in those few years. That would more reasonably explain how some had come to take the attitude that Paul rebukes. Some suggest that when Christians had their agapes or gatherings of fellowship that they kept the Lord's evening meal along with their regular meal. Nothing dogmatic can be stated.

I can see why persons who are gathering together at some other time of the year and who may not be seeing each other for some time (perhaps coming from different, even distant, locations) might wish to celebrate the meal at such occasion. (When I was in Germany two years ago, three brothers were there from Sweden (including Carl Olof Jonsson) and they expressed the wish to share in the Lord's evening meal with me. We did that in my hotel room.

I do think there is some validity at least to a view expressed that for a time after a major event takes place, the memory of the event itself is vivid. As time goes on, it is the effect of the event that is more enduring. I am sure that in the years following Jesus' crucifixion and death the celebrating of the Lord's evening meal had a special poignancy, the memory of what had transpired being yet fresh in their minds, the intense attitudes that produced the execution of their Lord still surrounding them and felt very acutely. Though those basic attitudes exist today, and the gravity of the historical act has never diminished, I think that it is true that today we think more of the effects of what he accomplished by his death. It is true that the Memorial celebration focuses on those effects. But I can see that people back then might feel a greater or more intense motivation for holding that celebration with perhaps some degree of frequency than might be true now. Those are just thoughts, for whatever they are worth...

Best wishes,

Ray[mond Franz]