I had the joy to participate in an online commemoration of the memorial of Christ’s death on Tuesday, March 22rd with 22 others living in four different countries.[i] I know that many of you chose to partake on the 23rd at your local Kingdom hall. Still others have decided to use April 22nd or 23rd based on the way the Jews track the occasion of the Passover. The important thing is we are all striving to obey the Lord’s command and to “keep doing this.”
For the past few months, my wife and I have been away from home. We’ve been living in a Spanish speaking country; temporary residents in every sense of the phrase. (1Pe 1:1) Because of this, no one would have missed me had I not gone to the memorial at the local Kingdom hall; so I had decided not to attend this year. Then something happened to change my mind.
Exiting my building one morning on the way to the local coffee shop, I ran into two very pleasant older brothers distributing the memorial invitation, “You Will Be with Me in Paradise”. I learned that their memorial was being held at a local conference center on the same block as my dwelling—a two-minute walk. Call their arrival at that precise moment in time serendipity or the leading of the spirit, as you like. Whatever it was, it got me to thinking and I came to realize that in my particular circumstances, I had been handed an opportunity to stand up and be counted.
There are two ways in which we can protest the conduct of the leadership of the organization without saying a word. One is to withhold our funding, and the other is by partaking.
However, there was an additional benefit to me for attending. I got a new perspective. What I have come to see, to believe, is that the Governing Body is really concerned about the growing number of partakers. Besides last and this week’s Watchtower study articles, you have the invitation itself. Does it focus on the heavenly reward? On being one with Christ? No, it focuses on the JW earthly reward for those who refuse to participate in the commemoration. This was driven home to me like never before when I observed the speaker being handed the bread and then the wine. He took it, then handed it back. A clear refusal to partake!
The talk explained the mechanism of the ransom, but not with a view to its primary focus—the gathering of the children of God through whom all creation finds happiness. (Ro 8:19-22) No, the focus was on the earthly hope per JW theology. Repeatedly, the speaker reminded the audience that only a tiny minority will partake, but for the rest of us, we are to simply observe. Thrice, he said, in so many words, that ‘probably none of you will be partaking tonight’. Much of the talk was about describing the JW vision of an earthly paradise. It was a sales pitch, plain and simple. “Don’t partake. Look at all you’d miss out on.” The speaker even tempted us with the thought of having “our dream house”, even if it took us “300 years to build.”
Unnoticed by most, if not all, was that every Scripture he used to support his idea of a paradise earth with kids frolicking with animals, and adults resting under their own vines and fig trees was taken from Isaiah. Isaiah preached a “good news” of restoration from Babylonish captivity—a return to the Jewish homeland. If this image of a paradise earth is truly the hope for 99% of all Christians, why do we have to go back to pre-Christian days to support it? Why is Judaic imagery needed? When Jesus gave us the good news of the Kingdom, why didn’t he speak of this earthly reward, at least to acknowledge that there was an alternative to the heavenly calling? These paradisaic descriptions and artist’s illustrations fairly litter our publications, yet where do we find them among the inspired writings of the first century Christians?
I think the Governing Body is getting a little desperate to keep the rank and file toeing the party line, so they’re renewing focus on the alternative hope they’ve been preaching since Judge Rutherford’s day.
Something both humorous and disturbing transpired when the emblems were passed. I was sitting in the front row of a section, so there was room to walk in front. Nevertheless, the servers simply stood at the end of the row and let each person pass the plate. When the brother next to me handed it off, I took a piece of bread and handed the plate to the fellow next to me. He must have been a newbie for he seemed flummoxed by what he was supposed to do having seen me take some bread. The server at the end of the line rushed over, perhaps worried that some unspeakable indignity was about to mar the occasion, took hold of the plate and quietly indicated that the man should simply pass it on, which he did.
This server left me alone however. It was too late. I already had the bread in hand. Perhaps seeing a senior Gringo led him to believe that I had “the right” to partake. However, they must have been uncertain, for when the wine was passed, the first server walked it down the line handing it to each person. He seemed somewhat hesitant to hand it to me at first, but I simply took it from him and drank.
After the meeting, the brother beside me—a kindly fellow about my age who hailed from the States—told me that I had flustered them because they weren’t expecting anyone to partake, and that I probably should have informed them in advance. Imagine! The purpose of passing the emblems to everyone is supposed to be to provide all the opportunity to partake should they choose. Why do the servers have to be informed ahead of time? So as not to give them a shock? Or is it to give them the opportunity to vet the partaker. The whole thing makes no sense.
It was evident to me that the brothers have an almost superstitious aversion to partaking, at least in the Latin American culture. This is nothing new. I recall one particular memorial when I was a young man preaching down here. An elderly lady, a first timer, tried to partake. As she reached for the emblem, there was a loud, collective gasp from everyone around her who was watching. Obviously embarrassed, the poor dear withdrew her hand and shrank into herself. One would have thought she had been about to commit some horrible blasphemy.
All of this made me wonder why we don’t simply ask those who wish to partake to sit at the front, like we do for baptismal candidates. That way if we find the front row empty, we can dispense with this meaningless ritual of passing the emblems in front of those who refuse to partake or are just plain afraid to, and go home. For that matter, why even hold a memorial if no one is going to partake? Would you lay out a feast, invite hundreds of people, knowing that not a single one of them will take even one bite, nor drink even one sip? How silly would that be?
While all of this is patently evident to me now, I too was once steeped in this mindset. I thought I was doing the right thing and praising my Lord by obediently refusing to partake. I dreamt of living forever on earth and frankly the thought of the heavenly reward seemed cold and uninviting. This made me realize what obstacles we are facing as we try to help our loved ones wake up to the truth as we have.
This got me to thinking about what our Christian hope really entails. To follow this topic, please check out this article: “Marketing the New World.”