This year, Jehovah’s Witnesses will memorialize the death of our Lord, Jesus Christ, on April 15, 2022, after sundown. It marks the anniversary of the courageous and noble end of the matchless earthly sojourn of the Son of God/Son of Man. On this night, he laid down his life that we may live, and live no more for self, but for others – demonstrating a love greater than all others ‘that he should surrender his soul in behalf of his friends.’ (John 15:13)
While it is a solemn and holy night, it is also a joyous night. For though we memorialize his death, we also celebrate his life and the way he lived it. Yes, it is his courageous consecrated life that provides to each of us the “way” to the Father – our own salvation. Amen.
As we all know, the first Memorial coincided with the Jewish Passover celebration. As part of the Passover, a plate of special foods and herbs is passed around and four cups of wine are passed commemorating the four main stages of the Exodus. Jesus began the evening in the customary way. He passed the special foods and herbs and the wine, but during one passing, he added something different:
“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.”
– Luke 22:19-20
Each Memorial, we focus on the significance of the emblems of bread and wine. And they are important to be sure. However, in John’s account, he focused on something different. Let us spend the remainder of the evening with John.
After each passing of the cup, it is customary for the host to rise and wash his hands. At this point in the meal, Jesus again did something different. John tells us that Jesus:
“. . . got up from the evening meal and laid aside his outer garments. And, taking a towel, he girded himself. After that he put water into a basin and started to wash the feet of the disciples and to dry them off with the towel with which he was girded. And so he came to Simon Peter. He said to him: “Lord, are you washing my feet?” In answer Jesus said to him: “What I am doing you do not understand at present, but you will understand after these things.” Peter said to him: “You will certainly never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him: “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
– John 13:4-8
Jesus proceeded to wash the feet of all twelve, including Judas Iscariot, as a illustration of the meaning of the new commandment he was about to give them. The account goes on:
“When, now, he had washed their feet and had put his outer garments on and laid himself down at the table again, he said to them: “Do you know what I have done to you? You address me, ‘Teacher,’ and, ‘Lord,’ and you speak rightly, for I am such. Therefore, if I, although Lord and Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash the feet of one another. For I set the pattern for you, that, just as I did to you, you should do also. Most truly I say to you, A slave is not greater than his master, nor is one that is sent forth greater than the one that sent him. If you know these things, happy you are if you do them.”
– John 13:12-17
The apostles saw the way of service in Jesus’ life and were blessed to have served courageously along side him. Apparently, on this night, however, they had fallen into their usual practice of arguing over who was the greatest. Jesus was giving them an object lesson in humility and service to one another. And we, as spectators of Jesus’ life and of this momentous evening, are likewise blessed to mentally observe this illustration. We can take this lesson as a model of behavior toward one another – not to complain about who is and who is not greater than the other, but to recognize that we are all brothers with equal standing before God. With the completion of the meal, and after Judas Iscariot has left (John 13:30), Jesus plainly stated the new commandment that he had just demonstrated:
“Hence when he had gone out, Jesus said: “Now the Son of man is glorified, and God is glorified in connection with him. And God will himself glorify him, and he will glorify him immediately. Little children, I am with you a little longer. You will look for me; and just as I said to the Jews, ‘Where I go you cannot come,’ I say also to you at present. I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another; just as I have loved you that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love among yourselves.”
– John 13:31-35
He further counseled them:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Exercise faith in God, exercise faith also in me. In the house of my Father there are many abodes. Otherwise, I would have told you, because I am going my way to prepare a place for you. Also, if I go my way and prepare a place for you, I am coming again and will receive you home to myself, that where I am you also may be. And where I am going you know the way.”
– John 14:1-4
Yes, brothers, we know the way. Jesus is “the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through him.’ (John 14:6) We must therefore, imitate the love, the faith and the life of Jesus, so that we, too, can go our ‘way’ to the Father where Jesus himself has prepared places for us.
Jesus continued that evening with encouragement and counsel. He said: if we love him, we will observe his commandments; that he would be sending the spirit of truth; that he is the True Vine and we must remain in union with him; that we must keep on bearing much fruit; that we must love one another; that we can ask the Father anything in his name and it will be given; that he had conquered the world, and many other things. He concluded with a prayer for the Father’s watch care, and then embarked on that fateful evening that would temporarily end his historic and unique earthly life. (John 14-17)
Jesus requested that we keep this supper “in remembrance of him.” When we do, we should first look back, not only on the manner of his death, but upon his life in the flesh, how he loved us and how he faced every obstacle thrown at him with dignity and humility. We should recall that he indeed was once with mankind, and then, by faith, discern that we shall all some time sup with him in the Father's eternal kingdom. This is the new Passover which he left with us, even the memory of his powerful life, the word of eternal truth, his love for us, and the outpouring of his Spirit of Truth upon all flesh.
We need not mourn as the rest, but to rejoice to be able to share in the life of our great Teacher and older Brother by being of service to one another, uplifting one another, loving one another, embracing one another, and welcoming one another into the Kingdom of our Father and of his Lord.
This night, as you go out, see in the eyes of each of our brothers the spirit of our Lord. And do unto them as we would do unto the Christ. And not just this day, but every day we are privileged to breathe this earthly air, until the day we join our Lord at the ‘table’ in his Kingdom.