Our Sunday service is properly a memorial. It is not a sacrifice, but it memorializes a sacrifice. It is not a sacrament, that is, an act which mechanically appropriates grace to the doer. Rather, it is simply a memorial, a means of remembering the act that conferred grace upon us:
“Do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me” (1Cor 11:25).
If we are to live up to the New Testament pattern, we must be a family gathered around a table, partaking of a meal and in so doing remembering an absent member. It is an uncomplicated act, an act of loving companionship, of warmth and familiarity, not of pomp and ceremony.
We do not break bread and drink wine in order to assert any superiority over outsiders. We do not break bread and drink wine as a substitute for the rigorous discipline of service to God in its many features, to which the Truth calls us. Neither do we break bread and drink wine to encourage personal feelings of self-righteousness or complacency. (We must beware, because frequent repetition, instead of fostering memory, can in fact encourage forgetfulness of the principles involved.)
Purely and simply, we partake of these emblems in order to remember: first, God’s love; second, Christ’s sacrifice; and third, our duty.
There are two absolutely essential aspects of worship: baptism and the memorial supper. Baptism is the process by which the believer is “born” into his new, spiritual family. And the Breaking of Bread is the perpetuation of that family life begun at baptism, by the repeated affirmation of the believer’s membership in the marvelous family of God.
Why are there two different emblems? The obvious answer is that the bread represents Christ’s body and the wine his blood. But that answer seems somewhat inadequate since either one alone might symbolize, almost as well as both together, his sacrificial death. Is there some further distinction?
In part it is this: the bread represents the strength of our Lord’s life, a life totally dedicated to the will of the Father. The wine more aptly represents his death, the blood willingly poured out as a climax to his life’s work.
The bread was broken and passed to each disciple. Each disciple drank a portion from the cup. But we must not suppose that this dividing up of the emblems implies, in any sense, that Christ can be divided among us, or that we in any sense partake of only a portion of the blessings involved. All the blessings belong to every individual among us. The bread must be broken in order that many can share it; there is just no other way to accomplish the practical object of providing each brother and sister a portion to eat. But the body that the bread represents, Christ’s multitudinous spiritual body, cannot be broken; it is one:
“Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body” (1Cor10:17).
And the body is united, “held together” or “knit together” in love with the Head, which is Christ himself (Col 2:2,19).
The component parts of the Memorial Meeting
It may be profitable to consider, item by item, the component parts of the Memorial Meeting, as to the significance of each:
- First of all, in keeping with Habakkuk 2:20, we should enter the meeting room and take our seats, as much as possible, in a spirit of quietness and meditation. Now is the time for serious thought, preparation and self-examination. Despite the ordinariness of the surroundings, if that is the case, we are nevertheless coming into the very presence of God. As for being late, when it is avoidable: This is not just wrong because we have the potential of disturbing our brothers and sisters, but also (and especially) because it is an appointment with God. Is this important? Consider the parable of the virgins in Matthew 25:1-13: the foolish virgins, not being prepared ahead of time, came late to the marriage feast to find the door shut against them.
- General appearance and dress: In this, as in many areas of our life in the Truth, no hard-and-fast rules can (or should) be imposed. But surely we can be governed by intelligence and common sense. How would we dress for a special occasion such as meeting some important human dignitary? How would we behave at such a meeting? Let us answer such questions for ourselves, and then realize, with wonder and awe, that on Sundays we are going to meet the Lord of the Universe and His Son!
- The presiding brother: Presiding is perhaps the most important duty of all, more important to the memorial meeting as a whole than exhorting. The presiding brother’s is the first voice to be heard; it is his duty to set and maintain the tone of the meeting. By his presence, attitude, and words he brings unity and continuity to the whole service. His duty is also to introduce the central feature of the whole worship service, the partaking of the emblems. This should require preparation (and prayer) at home, even before coming to the meeting. Our minds are drawn to that first Memorial Meeting, in the upper room in Jerusalem, where Jesus was the first presiding brother, conveying a pervasive calm and confidence to his brethren, by which he demonstrated to them God’s presence and God’s love.
- Music and singing: This can become something of an ordeal in some meetings, when those who play and those who sing may be very aware of their inadequacies. So it must be remembered that our hymns are not important as a display of technical skill, but only for the spiritual quality of the worship itself. It is entirely possible to sing (and play) in the spirit that Jesus condemned:“These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (Matt 15:8). In short, the words and their message must always be the motivating principle in our hymns.
- Bible readings: The crucial point to recognize here, as in every Bible reading, is that God is speaking to us: “This is what the LORD says: ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me? Where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being?’ declares the LORD. ‘This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word’ ” (Isa 66:1,2). As with prayers, there should be no unnecessary movements, no interruptions, and no noise. Whether we speak to God (in prayers and hymns) or God speaks to us (in Bible readings), we are dealing with divine communications.
- Collection: Although we were not redeemed by corruptible things such as silver and gold, we cannot escape from their use in the service of God. It is our privilege to consecrate what we have of this world’s goods to the service of the Giver of all things. In our day there is the need for money and resources in God’s service. There is the rent or purchase of a meeting room or hall; there are the poor, the elderly, the children and young people to whom we have special responsibility. The word must be preached, and the meetings advertised; there are the funds collected centrally for special causes and special occasions. How do we give? How much do we give? We should give willingly, as though giving were — which it is — a service to Christ personally. How much? That depends on the giver. Two factors govern how much we give: our ability to give (income), and our spirit (generous or otherwise). Typically, Christadelphians downplay this aspect of worship. But our own low-key system should not be an excuse for minimum contributions. Our financial contribution is one means of showing our heavenly Father how much we value His love.
- Prayers: Public prayers should be relevant (i.e., related to the object at hand, whether an opening prayer, prayer on behalf of others, thanks for bread or wine, etc.) and not repetitious. Prayers should be fresh and spontaneous, if possible. Prayers are best when offered in common, everyday language — not archaic, artificial ‘Sunday only’ speech. If we are not sure, the pattern of Jesus in what is commonly called “the Lord’s prayer” will surely give us direction.
- The exhortation is not primarily a Bible exposition; it need not be particularly technical. Neither is it the best place to teach, or to teach again, the first principles. Instead, it is primarily an introduction to the emblems of bread and wine, and therefore an aid to remembrance and self-examination. An exhortation should emphasize God’s holiness and purity and love, and the awesome responsibility of our calling to serve Him. It should not discourage, but rather encourage and comfort (which is the primary meaning of the Greek word translated “exhort”). It should, above all else, show us Christ. Wherever our thoughts and words take us as we contemplate God’s message, there we will find Christ: the central character in the Bible. If the exhortation has done its work, we will leave the Memorial Meeting feeling and acting as though we have been changed for the better: “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).
- The spirit of the occasion: The memorials themselves have been sufficiently discussed above, as to their significance. In “proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes” (1Cor 11:26), our Memorial Meeting is like a funeral. In attending a funeral we are showing respect for the dead, and for the occasion. We are also recognizing, for ourselves as well, the solemnity of both life and death, and how, in our daily lives, we come in contact with eternal things. “Ask not for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”Surely, if we grasp this fact, we need not worry that we will forget to examine ourselves. This is, of course, an extraordinary funeral, for the one who was dead is now alive, gloriously and eternally so! The natural seriousness of the occasion should be tempered by the joy of this realization. What a promise for us there is in our Lord’s words: “I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matt 26:29). The serving brothers at the Memorial Meeting are thus — at the same time — pallbearers at a funeral, and forerunners of an immortal king, who will come in his glory to reign from his throne. Observe pallbearers at a state funeral, as well as those who attend monarchs on state occasions, for some sense of the dignity required in such a job.
- Conclusion: After a final hymn and prayer, a brief musical interlude closes the meeting. This is not a convenient background to cover the noise of shuffling feet and whispers about lunch plans. Rather, it is a final quiet moment to gather together the threads of thoughts from the worship, and to prepare to face the rest of the day and the week to follow — being sure that Christ is going with us as we leave the meeting.
Remember, our service can be beautiful and holy even without the external trappings of an expensive building and a large congregation. Christ on a mountainside, or in a secluded room with a dozen friends, could lead the most holy of services. And so it may still be:
“For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” (Matt 18:20).