Why Do Jehovah’s Witnesses Observe the Lord’s Supper Differently From the Way Other Religions Do?
We adhere strictly to the Bible in our observance of the Lord’s Evening Meal, which is also known as “the Lord’s supper,” the Last Supper, and the Memorial of Jesus’ death. (1 Corinthians 11:20; King James Version) In contrast, many beliefs and practices of other denominations in connection with this observance are not based on the Bible.
The purpose of the Lord’s Evening Meal is to remember Jesus, showing our gratitude for his sacrifice in our behalf. (Matthew 20:28; 1 Corinthians 11:24) The observance is not a sacrament, or a religious practice that imparts merit such as grace or the forgiveness of sins. a The Bible teaches that our sins can be forgiven, not by a religious rite, but only through faith in Jesus.—Romans 3:25; 1 John 2:1, 2.
Jesus commanded his disciples to commemorate the Lord’s Evening Meal, but he did not specifically say how often. (Luke 22:19) Some feel that it should be observed monthly, while others observe it weekly, daily, several times each day, or as often as a person feels is appropriate. b However, here are some factors that should be considered.
Jesus instituted the Lord’s Evening Meal on the date of the Jewish Passover, and he died later that same day. (Matthew 26:1, 2) This was no coincidence. The Scriptures compare Jesus’ sacrifice to that of the Passover lamb. (1 Corinthians 5:7, 8) The Passover was observed once each year. (Exodus 12:1-6; Leviticus 23:5) Likewise, the Memorial of Jesus’ death was observed once each year by the early Christians, c and Jehovah’s Witnesses follow that Bible-based pattern.
Date and time
The pattern established by Jesus helps determine not only the frequency but also the date and time of the Memorial. He introduced the observance after sundown on Nisan 14, 33 C.E., according to the Bible’s lunar calendar. (Matthew 26:18-20, 26) We continue to observe the Memorial on this date each year, following the practice of early Christians. d
Although Nisan 14, 33 C.E. was a Friday, the anniversary of that date might fall on a different day of the week each year. We determine the date that Nisan 14 falls each year using the same method as was used in the time of Jesus, rather than applying the method used for the modern Jewish calendar. e
Bread and wine
For the new observance, Jesus used unleavened bread and red wine that were left over from the Passover meal. (Matthew 26:26-28) Following his example, we use bread without leaven or added ingredients and plain red wine, not grape juice or wine that has been sweetened, fortified, or spiced.
Some denominations use bread with leavening or yeast, but leaven is often used in the Bible as a symbol of sin and corruption. (Luke 12:1; 1 Corinthians 5:6-8; Galatians 5:7-9) Thus, only bread free from leaven and other additives can be a fitting symbol for Christ’s sinless body. (1 Peter 2:22) Another practice not supported by the Bible is that of substituting unfermented grape juice for wine. Some churches do so because of their unscriptural prohibition against consuming alcohol.—1 Timothy 5:23.
Emblems, not literal flesh and blood
The unleavened bread and red wine served at the Memorial are emblems, or symbols, of Christ’s flesh and blood. They are not miraculously changed into or mixed with his literal flesh and blood, as some feel. Consider the Scriptural basis for this understanding.
If Jesus had commanded his disciples to drink his blood, he would have been telling them to break God’s law against consuming blood. (Genesis 9:4; Acts 15:28, 29) Yet this could not be, for Jesus would never instruct others to violate God’s law regarding the sacredness of blood.—John 8:28, 29.
If the apostles had been literally drinking Jesus’ blood, he would not have said that his blood “is to be poured out,” indicating that his sacrifice was yet to occur.—Matthew 26:28.
Jesus’ sacrifice took place “once for all time.” (Hebrews 9:25, 26) However, if the bread and wine were changed into his flesh and blood during the Lord’s Evening Meal, then those partaking would be repeating that sacrifice.
Jesus said: “Keep doing this in remembrance of me,” not “in sacrifice of me.”—1 Corinthians 11:24.
Those who believe in transubstantiation, that the bread and wine become Jesus’ literal body and blood, base this doctrine on the wording of certain Bible verses. For example, in many Bible translations, Jesus is recorded as saying of the wine: “This is my blood.” (Matthew 26:28) However, Jesus’ words can also be translated as: “This means my blood,” “This represents my blood,” or “This signifies my blood.” f As he had often done, Jesus was teaching by using a metaphor.—Matthew 13:34, 35.
When Jehovah’s Witnesses observe the Lord’s Evening Meal, only a small fraction of us partake of the bread and wine. Why is that so?
Jesus’ shed blood established “a new covenant” that replaced the covenant between Jehovah God and the ancient nation of Israel. (Hebrews 8:10-13) Those who are in that new covenant partake of the Memorial emblems. It includes, not all Christians, but only “those who have been called” in a special way by God. (Hebrews 9:15; Luke 22:20) These ones will rule in heaven with Christ, and the Bible says that just 144,000 people receive that privilege.—Luke 22:28-30; Revelation 5:9, 10; 14:1, 3.
In contrast to the “little flock” of those called to rule with Christ, the vast majority of us hope to be part of “a great crowd” who will gain everlasting life on earth. (Luke 12:32; Revelation 7:9, 10) While those of us with an earthly hope do not partake of the Memorial emblems, we do join in expressing thanks for the sacrifice that Jesus made in our behalf.—1 John 2:2.
a McClintock and Strong’s Cyclopedia, Volume IX, page 212, states: “The term sacrament is not found in the N[ew] T[estament]; neither is the Greek word μυστήριον [my·steʹri·on] in any instance applied to either baptism or the Lord’s supper, or any other outward observance.”
b Some Bible translations use the term “as often as” in reference to the Lord’s Evening Meal, and that phrase has been interpreted to indicate how often the meal should be commemorated. However, the correct sense of the original-language term in this context is “whenever” or “every time.”—1 Corinthians 11:25, 26; New International Version; Good News Translation.
c See The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Volume IV, pages 43-44, and McClintock and Strong’s Cyclopedia, Volume VIII, page 836.
d See The New Cambridge History of the Bible, Volume 1, page 841.
e The modern Jewish calendar determines the beginning of the month of Nisan by the astronomical new moon, but that technique was not used in the first century. Instead, the month began when the new moon was first visible in Jerusalem, which can be a day or more after the moment of the astronomical new moon. This difference is one reason why the date on which Jehovah’s Witnesses observe the Memorial does not always coincide with the date used by modern Jews for the Passover.
f See A New Translation of the Bible, by James Moffatt; The New Testament—A Translation in the Language of the People, by Charles B. Williams; and The Original New Testament, by Hugh J. Schonfield.