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Review

Former contributors to this series of articles have reverently and helpfully surveyed various facets of the sacred ordinance bequeathed to God's New Covenant people by our beloved Lord on the eve of His sacrificial death. In this concluding article we review briefly some of the lessons to be gathered from our present study of this heart-moving subject.

The Night of the Betrayal

The events of that memorable night, recorded in detail in the four Gospel narratives, brought our Lord to the climax of His earthly sojourn. It was the night of the great Paschal feast, the memorial of Israel's deliverance from Egypt an bondage, which for many centuries had foreshadowed the historic event which was now in process of fulfilment. Release from bondage worse by far than Israel's was about to be secured: "Our Passover ... even Christ" was ready for sacrifice.

The Passover was the foremost of the Temple sacrifices, the outstanding event of the Jewish year. It has been computed, from estimates given by the Jewish historian Joseph us, that this particular Passover was attended by upwards of two million Jews and proselytes. From far and near, bands of pilgrims poured into the city singing the Songs of Ascents. Jerusalem was in festive attire. Nearly every house offered free hospitality and thousands encamped in the surrounding hills. Admiring worshippers thronged the narrow streets making their way to Zion. On its ancient site on Mount Moriah the white-marble Temple, one of the wonders of the Roman world, dominated the scene in magnificent splendour. In its inner sanctuary the priests served in their courses among the holy vessels and gorgeous tapestries - "copies of the things in the heavens". Each morning and evening the sweet music of the Temple singers floated over the Temple courts to enchant the thronging multitudes. It was a captivating spectacle. But alas! the fair face of that famous city but concealed its treacherous heart. Within its walls the foulest crime in history was being planned. That night of Paschal jubilation was to become notorious in the history of redemption as "the night in which He was betrayed".

The sun was setting as a small group of men approached the festive city from the Mount of Olives. At their head was the One "who built the mountains, and raised the fruitful hills". Shepherding His little flock through the busy streets He led them to a guest-room on the upper storey of a house, placed at His disposal by an unnamed host. In that "large upper room furnished" Peter and John had already been busy preparing for the feast.

Our Lord's ministry in the Upper Room that night is the precious legacy of all who truly love the Saviour. In this study we are concerned mainly with the inauguration of the Remembrance. But all else that occurred is relevant and related to the symbolic ordinance which had its beginning there. As our Lord sat down among His apostles at the appointed hour His sense of the occasion is disclosed in His tender greeting, "With desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer" (Luke 22:15). These chosen men had seen and heard much that had filled them with astonishment and wonder. What now? must have been the query that sprang to their minds. It was indeed a momentous hour. In the seclusion of the Upper Room where that small group had gathered, the great King of the ages, Son of Man and Son of God, wrote 'finis' to all the ritual sacrifices of the Old Covenant. The Passover, along with all the rest, was to be at once fulfilled and superseded in the great Antitype. Henceforth one simple rite with bread and wine would serve "His own" to bring to their mind their adorable Redeemer "till He come".

It was customary during the Paschal feast for parts of the Hallel (Psa. 113-118) to be sung. Matthew and Mark record that before leaving the Upper Room our Lord and His apostles sang a hymn together. Whether the words they used were taken from the Hallel is not stated, but this is most likely. It was an impressive conclusion to the proceedings in the Upper Room, and no doubt a fragrant memory to the apostles. May we not reverently assume that for our Lord it was a precious anticipatory glimpse of a yet more glorious occasion when in the midst of the vast host of the redeemed He will join in that triumphant song of praise (Heb. 2:12)?

But now He must go forward to complete the work for which He came into the world. Leaving the Upper Room the Good Shepherd led His "little flock" out into the night. Down the Kidron valley they went and crossed the brook into the garden of Gethsemane. There

"The gentlest heart on earth

Must taste her sharpest woe,

The tender plant of heavenly birth

Hell's fiercest blast must know."

Prostrated, with blood-like sweat, the Saviour wrestled "lone with fears". The struggle over, the battle won, the cup accepted, He rose in calm majesty to meet the armed band which Judas had brought to arrest Him. After defending "His own" with words which paralyzed His adversaries, He then submitted. There was no struggle. Rough hands bound Him and He was led away. He was alone now; on His way as a lamb that is led to the slaughter. The mockery, the spitting, the scourging and all the vulgar brutality of the succeeding hours He endured with patient grace, until, at last

"... He reached the cross

Prepared to face the loss

Of all; to give His life,

Himself, in mortal strife;

To save poor man from death and hell,

Such was His love unquenchable."

One lesson emphasized in the opening article of this series in January last is that the Spirit of God through Paul made specific reference to the historic significance of the occasion when our Lord initiated the Remembrance: "The Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread (1 Cor. 11:23). As week by week we ponder the depth of meaning beneath this simple ordinance, memories of the night in which our Lord bequeathed it to us will inspire a more fervent response from subject hearts.

Bread and Wine

It has been observed that the materials chosen by our Lord for this new memorial were already at hand during the Paschal supper. They were in themselves of staple significance to man's physical well-being; products of the earth which is his present habitat. We can therefore appreciate our Lord's choice of them to illustrate God's provision for man's spiritual needs. It is required of those who participate in the ordinance that they discern the spiritual realities which lie behind the material symbols (1 Cor. 11:27-29).

When our Lord handed the bread and wine to His apostles no change had taken place in their properties. The words, "This is My body" and, "This is My blood", could not mean that the bread and wine had become His actual body and blood. He spoke figuratively, and used material substances to convey spiritual truth. And what a profound message the symbols carry! The unchanging facts of our faith are effectively demonstrated every time we use the bread and wine of the Remembrance. They remind us that all our New Covenant blessings are firmly based on the incarnation and atoning death of God's beloved Son.

"This do..."

The order of the Remembrance service is clearly laid down in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26. A loaf is to be taken and thanks offered to God; it is then to be broken and eaten. The words, "In like manner also the cup", imply a corresponding procedure. A cup of wine is to be taken, and thanks given. The wine is then to be poured out and all assembled are to drink of it. Each of these acts has symbolic significance, but the Remembrance consists in performing them in sequence. In total, spiritually apprehended, they are a vivid portrayal of the ineffable Person by whom we have been redeemed.

The command, "This do... ", could well be used as a spiritual barometer by which to measure the devotion of the disciple to His absent Lord. Circumstances, of course, may hinder, but attendance at the Remembrance, whenever possible, will be a 'must' to the loyal-hearted disciple. In His Upper Room discourse the Master gave to His disciples the crucial test of their love for Him: "If ye love Me, ye will keep My commandments" (John 14:15). Sad indeed when "This do loses its appeal! So often it is the signal of waning love, an early stage in spiritual declension.

"...in remembrance of ME"

These are the words, eloquent in their tenderness, which define the distinctive purpose of this simple rite. "ME": all else in the ordinance is subsidiary. While it embodies a precious reminder of our deliverance from the fearful bondage of sin, its primary purpose is to focus the minds and hearts of God's people on the blessed Person who secured that deliverance for them. Words used in another context by a departed co-worker could also apply here:

"But of all that weight of bliss

Which Christ's poorness brought us,

We shall treasure none like this -

'Twas Himself that bought us."

It therefore follows that the ordinance will become more and more meaningful to the disciple as he grows in the grace and knowledge of his Saviour and Lord. If there is spiritual lethargy and the Remembrance is observed from sheer force of habit it becomes a mere formality. Hence the warnings in 1 Corinthians 11:28-31. Yet every encouragement is given to self-examination and participation. Our Lord foresaw the many subtle pressures and discouragements to which "His own" would be subjected in a world that knows Him not. The need for such an unalterable memorial to our absent Lord is abundantly confirmed in the experience of God's pilgrim people. It ensures that we draw aside from our cares and anxieties so that we can "consider Him" by using the means He designed for this purpose. It is an exercise which is not tarnished by repetition; it is always fresh in its appeal. There are exhaustless riches of wisdom and knowledge to be explored as week by week we muse on our incomparable Lord "in whom dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily" (Col. 2:9).

"In the Church"

Reference has already been made in this series of articles to the place of the Remembrance in the spiritual exercises of churches of God. Readers are referred to the helpful articles in the March and June issues of this magazine for fuller treatment of this matter. We note here that the ordinance is a corporate act which can be kept only when the church is '~in congregation" (1 Cor. 11 :18,RVM) on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7), and that it gives a unique character to that gathering. it is clear from 1 Corinthians, chapters 11-14, that other spiritual exercises have their proper place on that occasion. There is the offering of praise to God (14:16,17) and opportunity for the exercise of gifts for the edification of the church (14:26). The Remembrance, being the chief cause for which God's people come together, is evidently designed to set the tone of the gathering and for this reason we conclude that it should have first place. It thus becomes the focal point of the worship of the church and is associated with the offering up of spiritual sacrifices by a holy priesthood (1 Pet. 2:5). Having rendered to God the praise and worship due to Him the Holy Spirit may lead in ministry of the word for the edification of the church.

It is hardly necessary to add that these proceedings should be conducted with the reverence and awe becoming the occasion. "let all things be done unto edifying ... Let all things be done decently and in order" (1 Cor. 14:16,40).

In the early centuries A.D. certain pagan ideas and ceremonies were incorporated into the observance in Christendom of the Breaking of the Bread. Needless to say these had no divine sanction. They bear no relation whatever to the "This do" authorized by our Lord in the Upper Room on the night of His betrayal. To tamper with His instructions is no less than sacrilege. Worse still, what was committed to the people of God as a heart-moving ordinance became a fearful weapon in the hands of a sacerdotal priesthood. We examined these divergences when writing on Transubstantiation (Needed Truth, Vol.79, pp.163-167). Readers are referred to that article for more detailed treatment of this part of the subject.

The simplicity and purity of the ordinance as designed by our Lord and taught and practised by His apostles should surely be guarded as a sacred trust. Colourful vestments and vivid ceremonies may appeal to the senses of the natural man. But the loyal-hearted disciple treasures above all the Master's loving appeal, "This do in remembrance of ME".