The Agora
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Memorial meeting, significance

Our Sunday service is properly a memorial. It is not a sacrifice, as the "Catholic" church insists; neither is it a "sacrament", that is, an act which mechanically appropriates grace to the doer. It is simply a memorial, a means of remembrance:

"This do, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me" (1Co 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. (Especially on this last we must beware, because frequent repetition, instead of fostering memory, can in fact encourage forgetfulness of the true principles.)

But, 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 "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 convey, almost as well as both together, the sense of sacrificial death. Is there some further distinction?

Perhaps 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 apportioning out 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 blessing belongs to every individual among us. The bread must be broken in order that many can share it -- there just is no other way to accomplish the practical object of providing for each brother and sister to eat of it. But the body, which the bread represents -- Christ's spiritual, multitudinous body -- cannot be broken; it is one! "For we being many are one bread, and one body" (1Co 10:17). And the body is "knit together" in love with the Head, which is Christ himself (Col 2:2,19).

The component parts

It may be profitable to consider, item by item, the component parts of the Memorial Meeting, as to the significance of each:

1. First of all, in keeping with Hab 2:20, we 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 and 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 it has 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 Mat 25: the foolish virgins, not being prepared ahead of time, came late to the marriage feast, to find the door shut against them!

2. 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? And how would we behave at such a meeting? Let us answer such questions for ourselves, and then realize, with wonder and awe, that we are going on Sunday morning to "meet" the Lord of the Universe and His Son!

3. The presiding brother: Presiding is perhaps the most important duty of all, more important to the memorial meeting than even 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; and by his presence, attitude, and words to give 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 an all-pervasive calm and confidence to his brethren, by which he demonstrated to them God's presence and God's love.

4. Music and singing: This can become something of an ordeal in small meetings, when those who play and those who sing may be all too 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 which Jesus condemned: "These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me" (Mat 15:8).

In short, the words and their message must always be the motivating principle in our hymns.

5. Reading of Scripture: 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).
Just 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!

6. 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. Indeed, there is something satisfying in the thought that the world's monies can be put to other-worldly uses. 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 remains the need for money and materials for the service of our God. 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, 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 and without grudging as though giving were, as indeed it is, a service to Christ personally. How much? That depends upon the giver. There is a twin gauge: our ability to give (our means and income) and our spirit (our liberality or otherwise).

Some churches use tithes by which to bring in the money they need: others employ businessmen with a flair for touching people's hearts and pockets and find their annual income increased by many thousands of dollars. We do none of these things and, perhaps, rightly so. But our own system of giving should not be an excuse for minimum contributions. The left hand may not know what the right hand is doing, but the Lord knows nevertheless.

7. Prayers: Public prayers should be relevant (ie, 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; in common, everyday language -- not stilted, artificial "Sunday only" speech. When all else fails, the pattern of Jesus in what is commonly called "the Lord's prayer" will surely set us on the right road again.

8. The exhortation: The exhortation is not primarily a Bible study talk -- so it should not be particularly technical or detailed. Neither is it the best place to teach, or re-teach, the first principles of our faith. 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" (Act 4:13).
9. The memorials themselves have been sufficiently discussed above, as to their importance and significance. Let it be merely added that in "showing the death of Christ", our service on Sunday morning is in a sense a funeral. In attending a "funeral" we are showing respect for the dead (in this case, one who was dead, but is now alive, gloriously and eternally alive!), and for the occasion. And we are recognizing, for ourselves as well, the solemnity of both life and death, and how, in our daily lives, we can 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.

10. 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 place of 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 mountain side, or in a secluded room, with no more than a dozen friends, could lead the holiest of all services. And so it may still be:

"For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them" (Mat 18:20).
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