On April 11, 2017 after sundown (Nisan 14 on the Jewish calendar), the Watchtower will hold its annual Memorial service commemorating the death of Jesus Christ, also known as “The Lord’s Evening Meal.”
Bread and wine are passed to all attenders, much as in a church communion service. The big difference is that at almost all of the Kingdom Halls worldwide absolutely no one actually partakes of anything!
This all seems quite normal to Jehovah’s Witnesses, but the first time I experienced it, it seemed quite bizarre. Frankly, it still does.
It’s like being invited to a friend’s house for dinner, having a meal set before you, and then being told that the food and drink are reserved for people who won’t be coming and were never expected.
Why do they do it this way? Why are so few allowed to eat and drink?
The bread and wine symbolize the New Covenant for which Christ gave his body and blood, and in Watchtower theology, the New Covenant is only for Jehovah’s Witnesses who are members of the “anointed” heaven-bound class of 144,000 (Revelation 7:4; 14:1). The vast majority of Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t profess to be members of this class, so they aren’t allowed to partake.
Most of the “anointed” class has already died, so only about 18,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide partake. Since there are about 120,000 congregations in total, it’s easy to see why no one partakes at most of the Memorial gatherings.
The irony is that in the Watchtower’s New World Translation of the Bible, John 6:53-54 reads as follows: “So Jesus said to them: ‘Most truly I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in yourselves. He that feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has everlasting life, and I shall resurrect him at the last day.’”
The Watchtower argues that a person can “eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood” in a figurative way “by exercising faith in the redeeming power of Jesus’ flesh and blood laid down in sacrifice.”[i] They don’t see the connection between having faith in Christ’s sacrifice and “eating his flesh and drinking his blood.”
But when you see Jehovah’s Witnesses passing the bread and wine along without partaking of it, what are you to think but that they are testifying that they have never had the inward experience that ingesting the bread and wine symbolize, an experience that Jesus said is essential to having spiritual life inside us?
It is truly sad.
What attenders actually experience at the Memorial (besides participating in a “meal” at which no one eats or drinks) is a talk geared to non-Witnesses which explains the Watchtower understanding of God’s two-class plan of salvation, along with an invitation for them to participate in a “free home Bible study” at which they will be taught Watchtower doctrine with the goal of persuading them to become Jehovah’s Witnesses themselves.
For those who have prepared themselves to share the gospel with Witnesses and to raise questions about Watchtower doctrine, Memorial attendance is actually a great way to find Witnesses to talk to. (Incidentally, if I attend a Memorial, I don’t partake—their house, their rules. I want to share the gospel with Witnesses, not antagonize them.)
I have found that attending the Memorial provides a good opening for connecting with Jehovah’s Witnesses and for asking thought-provoking questions about the Watchtower’s two-class salvation system (the 144,000 heaven-bound “anointed” and the “other sheep” who hope to live forever on a paradise earth without ever being in the New Covenant).
Have you ever attended a Watchtower Memorial service? What were your impressions?
Share your thoughts in the comments.
[i] Reasoning from the Scriptures (1985), p. 268