April 2, 2007– Tonight was the Jehovah’s Witnesses annual observance of “The Lord’s Evening Meal” or the “Memorial.” The Witnesses celebrate what most Christians refer to as communion only once a year. Before I describe the events of the evening, I’ll give a short summary of what happens at this ceremony.
Since this is the only religious holiday in which JWs participate, attendance at Kingdom Halls for this service is much like Christmas and Easter is for Christians. If you are associated with JWs in any way, and you could only make one meeting all year, this would be the meeting. Parking lots are filled and everyone is wearing their Sunday best. The service starts just after sunset.
A very respected man (an elder or someone of greater authority), will stand up in front of the audience and give a presentation that lasts approximately 45 minutes. The speaker will jump from verse to verse in the Bible attempting to prove that the only ones who are allowed to partake of the bread and wine are those of the anointed class, numbered at 144,000 members. Since there are a little more than 8,000 of them alive on earth today, and more than 16 million people in attendance at this event world-wide, the average Kingdom Hall does not have anyone who partakes of the emblems.
So basically someone will get up and speak about how important it is that JWs attend while emphasizing that practically no one will participate, pass the emblems around, watch everyone reject them, then go home. The obvious question arises, why attend in the first place? Before I answer that question, I’ll describe my evening.
This year a friend of mine, Jeff, attended with me. I drove over to his house to pick him up then we drove over to a local Kingdom Hall. Traffic was backed out onto the road from their parking lot and by the time we arrived, most of the parking places were taken. We found a couple of seats near the rear of the auditorium and sat down to wait for the service to begin. Since we were dressed business casual, it was not hard to guess that we were visitors. A couple of nice ladies to my left asked if we were visitors and let us borrow one of their song books.
The service opened in prayer and then the congregation sang one song. A Mr. Eric Mann gave the presentation tonight and used the same basic outline that I have heard every year for the last eight or so years that I have attended this annual meeting. Jeff and I took notes and followed every verse very closely. After Mr. Mann explained that the vast majority of people in attendance did not have the right to partake of the emblems, he asked, “So then, why are we here?”
He gave an illustration about receiving a wedding invitation that did not have your name on it. He thought it unreasonable for someone who received one of these invitations to refuse to go to the wedding just because their name was not on the invitation itself. He then said that it was necessary for us to come and honor those in the wedding even though we were not part of the wedding party. This illustration was meant to be understood that since Jesus instituted the new covenant with only the anointed (the wedding party), the rest of us could not participate in the memorial, but only observe. We should be happy for those who could participate just as those who attend a wedding and are not a part of the wedding party, still honor the bride and groom with their presence. I was glad for this illustration because it fit in perfectly with a question that I had already planned to ask of someone after the meeting.
After the speaker concluded, he invited another man up to pray for the bread which was about to be distributed. It is truly a sad thing to watch the plate get passed from person to person with no one partaking. I take this time to pray for those in the hall. I watch the plate move around the room and pray mostly for the children.
On a side note, I’ve been asked why I attend this meeting every year. The primary reason is that it is a wakeup call for me to see once again exactly how lost these people are. It helps me to emphasize on the fact that they are victims and not the enemy. Becky and I refer to this as the “Annual Rejection of Christ.” It is very sad to see people demonstrate in such a physical way that they are not part of the new covenant and hence do not have their sins forgiven.
After the bread is distributed, the wine is next. Another man prays for the wine before the cups are passed. This time I witnessed something I have never seen before. A 50+ year old, red haired, lady in a blue dress took a small sip from one of the wine cups. I looked up at the attendant and he could not help but to scowl down at her. You may be confused as to why this man scowled
Watchtower theology teaches that the door for the anointed was closed in 1935. You must have been a baptized JW by the year 1935 to be considered part of the anointed class. Since this lady was clearly not that old, he doubted her sincerity. JWs are taught that if one of the former 144,000 fell from the position because of sin, then another person would have to take their place. By taking the elements, this lady was claiming to have done that.
After the service, some JWs behind us asked what we thought of the service and wanted to know if we had anyone to help us study the Bible. I said I would be interested, but wanted to know if there was someone available who could answer some of my questions now. They called over a congregation elder and his wife, introduced us and then left. Mr. and Mrs. M. were very cordial, wanted to know what we thought of the service and what questions we had.
The first question I had was sort of a side question, but I felt led to ask it anyway. It was a good thing I followed the leading of the Holy Spirit because the question really caught him off guard. Mr. Mann had made a point out of saying that Jesus instituted the new covenant with His faithful 11 disciples. Judas had supposedly been dismissed before Jesus distributed the bread and wine. Mr. Mann used Luke 22: 19-20 as a reference which in the New World Translation which reads;
“Also, he took a loaf, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to them, saying:
‘This means my body which is to be given in YOUR behalf. Keep doing this in remembrance of me.’ Also, the cup in the same way after they had the evening meal, he saying: ‘This cup means the new covenant by virtue of my blood, which is to be poured out in YOUR behalf.’”
I asked Mr. M. if I understood this correctly, the idea that Judas was not present. He confirmed it and even spent a few minutes explaining what the speaker has said. I told him that I thought it interesting that Mr. Mann stopped at verse 20. Especially in light of the fact that verse 21 specifically states otherwise.
“But, look! the hand of my betrayer is with me at the table.
Mr. and Mrs. M. were troubled by the verse and were silent for a few moments before Mr. M. said that the betrayer was Satan. I have never heard that before. He didn’t look that confident and must have known that I was going to challenge the statement because the expression on his face was as if he was waiting for it. He tried to point out that there was a foot note near the word “betrayer” in his Bible and that somehow the note explained that the betrayer was Satan. He was really stretching because I checked the reference in my NWT when I got home and it doesn’t help his case at all.
At this time Jeff asked a question and made a good point. He asked how long it had been that Satan was Jesus’ enemy. When the JW agreed that it had been thousands of years, Jeff asked how Satan could be called a betrayer. Borrowing a line from a Michael Card song, he said that only a friend could betray. Since Satan had been an enemy for so long, why would he be called a betrayer? This stumped both of them. They understood the point and agreed that it didn’t make sense in this context. I then asked them to read on and look at verse 22.
Because the Son of man is going his way according to what is marked out; all the same, woe to that man through whom he is betrayed!”
I was glad that Mr. M read the verse out loud. I asked, “Woe to that what through whom he is betrayed?” He replied, “Man. Woe to that man.” I asked how this could possibly be speaking of Satan. Mr. and Mrs. M. admitted the difficulty in understanding this and said they would have to do some research to answer our questions.
I decided that it was best to move on in our discussion and get to the main question that I wanted to ask. It is neat to see how God arranges things because I was able to use the lady who partook of the bread and wine as a transition of getting to my question. I asked what the difference was between her and everyone else in the room who did not partake. Mr. M. said that there was no real difference only that she professed to have a heavenly calling and everyone else felt they were to live on the earth forever.
From my years of study about JWs and from Mr. Mann’s comments, I knew there was much more to it than that. The speaker said that the anointed would reign with Christ as kings and priests. I made mention of that and pointed out that she as a “king and priest” would reign over him some day. He looked like he wasn’t real comfortable with that thought and even doubted her profession, much like the attendant who glared at her after she partook. This struck me as odd. The speaker said that we can’t participate, but that we should all share in the joy of the anointed who can participate. Then, when one finally does partake, no one believes her.
In light of the fact that no one else takes the emblems, I wanted to know why we were all here. I made reference to the speaker asking the very same question. Mr. M gave me pretty much the same answer as the speaker, but that did not suffice. I wanted to know more and I wanted the JWs to think about things from a different perspective. I told Mr. M. that for the sake of argument, let’s assume that Judas was not at the table when Jesus instituted the new covenant. He was happy to accept that presupposition. I then asked;
“If Jesus made the covenant with only the anointed, and only the anointed were present at the table, then why are the rest of us here?”
He wasn’t following me.
“Jesus invited the anointed to join Him in the new covenant, correct?”
“There was no one else present, right?”
“So only the anointed were invited?”
“Yes, that sounds right.”
“So where is our invitation to be here?” The anointed have a scriptural invitation to be at the table. Can you point to a place in scripture where anyone other than the anointed were at the table celebrating this annual event?
Mr. and Mrs. M. were starting to see my point.
“The speaker gave an illustration of having a wedding invitation that did not have your name on it, but showing up to the wedding anyway because you knew you were invited. Where is our invitation?”
Mr. M. explained that during the first century there were no other Christians except the anointed. Since that was the case, there is no invitation for the great crowd to attend.
“Mr. M. this is where I have the problem understanding your view. We are encouraged to attend this event out of honor and respect for those who can participate, but we have no invitation to be here in the first place. What do you call someone who shows up at a wedding they were not invited to?”
“A wedding crasher.”
“Exactly. How is crashing a wedding being respectful and honoring those whose wedding it is?”
“Yes, I see your point.”
That is a huge thing to hear a JW say. Both Mr. and Mrs. M. saw my point and had no answer. Mr. M. said that he would have to look into the matter for me and that these were good questions. We exchanged phone numbers and agreed to get together after he has had some time to research the subject.
He has yet to call, but if he does not call by the 5th, I will give him a call to see how his research is going. Please pray for this couple. I have heard countless stories about JWs who have left the Watchtower and have become Christians because of a simple question that started to bring down the whole house of cards.