“Keep Doing THIS in Remembrance of Me.” – Jesus, Luke 22:19 NWT Rbi8
When and how often should we commemorate the Lord’s Evening Meal in obedience to the words found at Luke 22:19?
Since the fourteenth day of the first lunar month of the year 33 CE, Christ’s brothers—those adopted by the merits of his sacrifice and their faith in its sin-atoning value as “sons of God” (Matt.5:9)—have endeavored to follow his simple, direct instructions: “Keep doing this in remembrance of me.” However, on that evening there was still a direct relationship between the Jewish Passover and this institution of a new covenant. But since the Law was a shadow of the things to come, since then questions persist as to whether some aspects of the Passover Law should be repeated in the commemoration of Jesus’ Last Supper. Should an observance of the Jewish Passover, or at least the part Jesus included in making a covenant be repeated each Nisan 14, and only then after sunset. Once the Apostle Paul concerned himself with bringing salvation to the people of the nations, he argued forcefully against keeping parts of the law as observances or rituals.
“16 Therefore let no man judge YOU in eating and drinking or in respect of a festival or of an observance of the new moon or of a sabbath; for those things are a shadow of the things to come, but the reality belongs to the Christ. “ (Colossians 2:16-17)”
We will look at the “When, What, and Where” of this subject in Part 1, beginning with the first passover prior to the institution of the Law Covenant. Part 2 will take up questions of “Who and Why.”
The Jewish system was an organized religion with highly structured procedures for obtaining temporary forgiveness of sins, consisting of periodic and annual rituals performed by a priesthood who inherited their duties by right of succession. However, the original Passover and release from bondage in Egypt happened before the Law Covenant came into existence some 50 days later. It was then formalized and accepted as a covenant obligation:
Jehovah now said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: 2 “This [Abib, later called Nisan] month will be the start of the months for YOU. It will be the first of the months of the year for YOU. 3 Speak to the entire assembly of Israel, saying, ‘On the tenth day of this month they are to take for themselves each one a sheep for the ancestral house, a sheep to a house. 4 But if the household proves to be too small for the sheep, then he and his neighbor close by must take it into his house according to the number of souls; YOU should compute each one proportionate to his eating as regards the sheep. 5 The sheep should prove to be sound, a male, a year old, for YOU. YOU may pick from the young rams or from the goats. 6 And it must continue under safeguard by YOU until the fourteenth day of this month, and the whole congregation of the assembly of Israel must slaughter it between the two evenings. 7 And they must take some of the blood and splash it upon the two doorposts and the upper part of the doorway belonging to the houses in which they will eat it. (Exodus 12:1-7)
Once the Law Covenant was established, provisions were made for travelers or those unclean on Nisan 14 to observe this ritual meal in the second month of the spring. Alien residents were required to eat this meal too. Those failing to eat it in either the first or second month were “to be cut off” from the people. (Nu 9:1-14)
How would the proper date for the Passover timing be determined?
This is a difficult problem that has challenged astronomers and priesthoods over the centuries. It required not only a specialized knowledge of astronomy, but required the authority belonging to Kings or Priests to declare a new month or a new year for the whole society and its business interests. The lunar cycle of the Hebrew calendar matches up 19 solar years with 235 new moons, seven more months than 19 years times twelve months, which is only 228 new moons. A year of 12 lunar months fell 11 days short after one solar year, 22 days by the second year, and 33 days, or more than a full month by the third year. This meant that a ruling king or priesthood were required to declare a “leap month” –adding a 13th month before the start of a new civil year in a September equinox (a second Elul before Tishri), or a sacred year in a March equinox (second Adar before Nisan), about every three years, or seven times across the 19 year cycle.
An additional complication came from the fact that a lunar month is on average 29.53 days. However, even though the moon moves with incredible precision 360 degrees through its elliptical orbit in 27.32 days , the moon must still cover more orbital distance to make up for the Earth’s advance around the sun, before a new moon is reached with a Sun-Moon-Earth alignment. This extra month portion of the ellipse is variable as to speed, depending on which portion of the ellipse is covered, taking a total of 29 days plus something between 6.5 and 20 hours for the new moon. Then an additional sunset or two at a selected location (Babylon or Jerusalem) was required before the new crescent became visible at sunset, marking the start of a new month by observation and official pronouncement.
Since the average is 29.53 days, about half the new months will last 29 days, and the other half 30. But which ones? The early Hebrew Priests relied upon a method of visual observation. But knowing the average, it was determined that regardless of observation, three consecutive months would never be all 29 days or all 30 days. A mix of both 29 and 30 days was required to keep near the average of 29.5 days, lest the accumulated errors exceeded a full day.
Originally, a simple observation of the maturity of crops of barley and wheat or the young lambs serve to determine whether to start a new year with the month of Nisan, or to add a second Adar, the twelve month being repeated as V’Adar, the 13th month. The Passover was immediately followed by a seven-day festival of unfermented barley cakes. Barley and wheat planted at the beginning of the winter season matured at different rates. The spring lambs and the barley had to be ready for the Passover slaughter and the making of the unleavened cakes by mid-Nisan, and the wheat 50 days later for the second festival of the year, the waving of new wheat or loaves. Therefore, since crops grow based on solar years which are longer than lunar years, the priests would have to periodically add a thirteen month, delaying the beginning of the year by 29 or 30 days. Fifty days after the Passover: “And you will carry on your festival of weeks with the first ripe fruits of the wheat harvest.” (Exodus 34:22)
Since Christians acknowledge that Jesus did fulfill the Law, the question arises as to whether “Keep doing this” included repeating annually on Nisan 14 elements of the Passover. Did it require an evening meal, or was it to be observed only after sunset on the 14th day of Nisan?
The Scriptures relating to Jesus’ becoming the Passover Lamb are all in the Jewish context of scriptural reasoning. Jesus is called “our Passover and sacrificial lamb?” (1 Cor 5:7; John 1:29; 2 Tim 3:16; Ro 15:4) Linked to the Passover, Jesus is identified as “the Lamb of God” and “the Lamb that was slaughtered.”—John 1:29; Revelation 5:12; Acts 8:32.
Was Jesus telling us to repeat this ritual on Nisan 14 only?
Given the above, is there a rule or Bible command requiring Christians to observe the annual Passover, now dressed up as the Lord’s Evening Meal? Paul argues, never may that be so in a literal sense:
“Clear away the old leaven so that you may be a new batch, inasmuch as you are free from ferment. For, indeed, Christ our Passover lamb has been sacrificed. 8 So, then, let us keep the festival, not with old leaven, nor with leaven of badness and wickedness, but with unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” (1 Corinthians 5:7, 8)
Jesus, in his office as high priest in the manner of Melchizedek, made his sacrifice once for all time:
“However, when Christ came as a high priest of the good things that have already taken place, he passed through the greater and more perfect tent not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. 12 He entered into the holy place, not with the blood of goats and of young bulls, but with his own blood, once for all time, and obtained an everlasting deliverance for us. 13 For if the blood of goats and of bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who have been defiled sanctifies for the cleansing of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of the Christ, who through an everlasting spirit offered himself without blemish to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works so that we may render sacred service to the living God?” (Hebrews 9:11-14)
If we attempt to link the memorial of his death and sacrifice to an annual re-observance of the Passover, then we return to the things of the law, but without benefits of a priesthood to administer the rites:
O senseless Ga·laʹtians! Who has brought you under this evil influence, you who had Jesus Christ openly portrayed before you as nailed to the stake? 2 This one thing I want to ask you: Did you receive the spirit through works of law or because of faith in what you heard? 3 Are you so senseless? After starting on a spiritual course, are you finishing on a fleshly course? (Galatians 3:1, 2)
This is not to argue that it is wrong to celebrate the Memorial of the ransom sacrifice on the evening of Nisan 14, but to highlight some of the Pharisaical problems of trying to adhere strictly to that date and that date alone, when we no longer have an ecclesiastical authority like the Jewish Sanhedrin Court to set the calendar dates. Nevertheless, across nearly 2000 years, what other groups have made a Nisan 14 ritual the only annual occasion for “Keep doing this?”
Is there Bible evidence to answer the question: Did the first-century congregations link the partaking of the memorial emblems to an annual ritual performed only on Nisan 14? Until the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, there was still a Jewish priesthood to set the New Year month of Nisan. By this era, Rabbi Gamaliel had learned the astronomical technology and mathematics of the Babylonians, and could project by tables and calculation the patterns of the orbits of sun and moon, including eclipses. However, after 70 CE this knowledge was scattered or lost, not to be formalized again until Rabbi Hillel II (320-385 CE as Nasi of the Sanhedrin), established a masterful perpetual calendar to last until the Messiah’s coming. That calendar has been used by Jews ever since, without the need for re-setting.
However, that calendar is not followed by Jehovah’s Witnesses, whose observation of the annual memorial is according to their own judgment, issued presently by the Governing Body through to 2019. Thus it frequently happens that Jews celebrate Passover either a month before or a month after Jehovah’s Witnesses. Additionally, the setting of the first day of the month is not synchronized in method between Jews and Jehovah’s Witnesses, so that when the events happen in the same month, there is variation as to the 14th day of the month. For example, in 2016 the Jews observed the Passover a month later. This year in 2017, they will have their Nisan 14 seder on April 10th, the day before Jehovah’s Witnesses.
A study of comparison between the Jehovah’s Witnesses Memorial Date and the Jewish Passover Nisan 14 date reveals that only about 50% of the years have a common agreements as to Nisan 14. Based on analysis of the two schedules for Nisan 14 (the Jews from Hillel II in the 4th Century CE and Jehovah’s Witnesses from Yearbook records), it can be determined the Witnesses restarted the 19 year cycle in 2011, whereas the Jews did so in 2016*. Thus in the Witness 5th, 6th, 13th,14th, 16th and 17th years, there is no agreement with the Jewish Calendar on the number of months from Nisan to Nisan. The rest of the mismatches are based on disagreements as to whether the prior month has 29 or 30 days, a perpetual problem solved by Hillel, but not by Witnesses.
Therefore, as a simple matter of calendar fact, Jehovah’s Witnesses claim to follow the Jewish Calendar and to reject the Greek Metonic cycle, which adds an extra month to the 3rd, 6th, 8th, 11th, 14th, 17th and 19th years in the 19 year cycle. In reality they do the opposite, not even strictly following their published instructions for setting the Memorial. See “When and How to Celebrate Memorial”, WT 2/1/1948 p. 39 where under “Determining the Time” (p. 41) the instruction is given for the 1948 and future Memorials:
“Since the temple at Jerusalem is no more, the agricultural celebration of the firstfruits of the barley harvest on Nisan 16 is no longer kept there. It is not required to be kept any longer, because Christ Jesus has become the “first fruits of them that slept”, on Nisan 16, or Sunday morning, April 5, A.D. 33 (1 Cor. 15:20) Hence the determining of when to begin the month Nisan does not depend on the ripeness of the barley harvest in Palestine. It can annually be determined by the spring equinox and the moon.”
Ironically, the Memorial was observed in 1948 on March 25th, a date that found Jews celebrating the Festival of Purim in their 13th month of V’Adar. Jewish Passover that year was observed a month later on April 23rd.
Returning to the question of when and how often the emblems were partaken of, the Scriptures show that in the days of the Apostles, a custom of “love feasts” had developed as part of the sharing of goods among the Christians (Jude 1:12.) These evidently were not linked to the calendar or a determination of Nisan 14. When the Apostle Paul admonishes the Corinthians, it is in this context:
“When therefore you assemble, it is not according to what is appropriate for the day of our Lord [Sunday, the day Jesus was resurrected] that you eat and drink.” (1Co 11:20 Aramaic Bible in Plain English)
He then provides instructions for the partaking of the emblems, not with meals at home, but with the congregation:
“Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. 27Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. 28Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” (1Co 11: 25b-28 NRSV)
These instructions do not specify a once-a-year observance. Verse 26 states: “As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”
Therefore, while it is certainly appropriate to attempt to celebrate this on an estimated date for Nisan 14 each year, there is no specified means to determine that date accurately for the setting of Nisan 1, either as to the month or day. Neither is there reference to the setting of the sun at Jerusalem, or any other location on earth.
In summary, Christians need to realize that Christ gave this command to the whole congregation. Until the failure of predictions of the Lord’s return in 1925, there was no knowledge of any non-anointed class. Only after 1935 were “Jonadabs” invited to attend and observe as non-partakers. This will be examined in Part 2.
Today there is no way to create an alternate Jewish calendar, apart from the one used by Jews since the Fourth Century CE. Therefore, those who attend should not believe that they are actually following the Jewish Calendar. They are merely following the often erroneous dictates of human leaders.
Therefore, let us be open to joining together as spirit sons of God as our circumstances permit, so that we may “keep doing this in remembrance” of Christ’s ransom sacrifice, until the day we do it with the Lord in the Kingdom of the Heavens. The key is a communion with the Lord—whether on the Lord’s day or not—is a communion with his flesh and blood as he ordered, and not a ritual repetition of the Passover based on the so-called Jewish Calendar.
- * Calculation detail: the Metonic pattern of 3,6,8,11,14,17 & 19 for the intercalary 13-month years in the 19 year cycle produces only one group of three consecutive periods of 3 years until a leap month: the years from 8 to 11, 11 to 14 and 14 to 17. If a Memorial date is about 11 days earlier than the prior year, it ends a year with 12 lunar months – a normal year. If the date falls about 29 or 30 days after the prior year, it contains 13 months. So by examination of the published dates, one can identify the grouping of 3 consecutive 3-year spaces between the leap months. This pattern allows one to identify the 8th, 11th and 14th year in the 19 year cycle. Since the Governing Body has never acknowledged acceptance of this method, they never saw the need to synchronize with the actual Jewish calendar. In so many words, they know more about the Jewish Calendar than Hillel II, who got his knowledge from Gamaliel.