Friday, April 10, 2009

Revenge of the Kingdom Hall - A Lord's Evening Meal Memorial Service

My friend Daniel couldn't make it--something came up with his internship--and so my mother and I went there. Took about 20 minutes to get there from here, and we arrived just a few minutes before the start of everything. It looked very full at first, but then I realized that it was because barely anyone was seated yet; everybody was milling around socializing in the aisles and behind the seats.

One of the first people we ran into was Mephibosheth, whom I hadn't seen in ages. After some brief chit-chat, I spied Shem about halfway across the room, but before we could get there, we ran into a few more JWs who wanted to welcome us, and then Uriah caught up. After a minute or so of conversation, in which he promised to forward me an video clip he'd mentioned receiving from the JW whom we'd just met.

Anyway, the two of us sat by the wall, about 2/3 of the way back. A woman in the row in front of us (let's call her "Atarah"; she'll resurface in the narrative) passed us a large copy of Sing Praises to Jehovah, while a woman in our own row passed over a New World Translation; I'd forgotten mine at home because I hadn't thought I'd need it.

The service began with, after an introductory prayer, a song: #87 in the songbook, "The Lord's Evening Meal" (lyrics here). Then began the beginning of the "talk" (which is the term preferred by JWs to "sermon" or "message"), delivered by a Witness whom I'll call "Gideon". It was, at least at first, rather unobjectionable. Gideon began by hearkening back to the original Passover, and between this and the language in the song, one couldn't possibly forget how Quartodeciman the JWs are. The talk proceeded to raise the question of why Christ had to die, and thus went back to the story of Adam and the Fall in order to set the stage for Christ's death. Eventually, however, Gideon got to the issue of the 144,000. It was interesting to see the rather loose pastiche of Scripture texts that got connected to 'show' the distinction between the elite class--Gideon remarked that one could expect them to be extremely devout followers of Christ, and said that they knew who they were based on the testimony of holy spirit--and the rest of us there. Thus, he explained that the new covenant is solely for those 144,000 who have the "heavenly hope", although Jehovah likewise loves all those who have the "earthly hope". The emblems, however, are exclusively for the anointed class. (And I'm pretty sure that Gideon made a bit of a boo-boo while talking about the emblems; I think he said that the unleavened bread is appropriate for symbolizing Christ's body, which is "sinful and pure", whereas he was supposed to say "sinless and pure".) Gideon eventually turned to the issue of what we can do to please God, first addressing those who aren't baptised Witnesses (Bible study!!) and then those who are at that point. The talk ended with an announcement that was eventually drafted by folks back at HQ, basically thanking us all for being there and inviting us to consider a home Bible study.

(If you go here and scroll down to geevee's post, you can see an old outline for the 2003 memorial talk; looking it over, that's essentially the same talk that Gideon delivered.)

During the talk, it came time for the passing of the emblems. Since the seating area of the Kingdom Hall has three sections of seats with two aisles, four JWs (including Uriah and Shem) walked from the front to the back, passing the emblems much as some churches might do the offering plate. First came the plate of unleavened bread, which was passed from hand to hand from the aisle to the edge of the section and then back. Second came the clear glass of red wine. No one partook--after all, as Gideon noted in his talk, as of last year fewer than 0.05% of attendees at these memorial services are of the 144,000. I may not be an insider, so perhaps its unfair for me to pass this judgment, but I know that the spiritual significance struck me as significantly less than in churches in which people actually partake of the eucharist.

The service finally concluded with a last song and a closing prayer. The final song was #105 from the songbook, "Hail God's Firstborn" (lyrics here). There were a few places in which I had to simply keep silent, such as the reference in the first verse to Jesus being created ("Let's hail Jehovah's firstborn, / God's heir he has been made, / who since he was created, / his Father's voice obeyed").

After the service ended, we got greeted by a number of other folks, but mostly got to talking to Atarah... who turned out to be Uriah's wife! Better yet, she and my mother grew up together. mother hadn't recognized her, but Atarah recognized my mother immediately, so they got to talking for a while, and Atarah jokingly offered me the dirt on my mom for a fee. And then another JW came up to my mother and said she recognized her, too--from K-Mart, where she hasn't worked in 18 years! Meanwhile, Uriah and I got to chatting about how there must've been something weird in the water where they grew up. It was a fun, long conversation. Uriah got a laugh out of me on a few occasions:
  • He figured 13 years ago, when he became a JW, that there'd be at most 18 years 'til the end of the world... because by that time, those dratted teenagers with the funny clothes would be old enough to be in charge of things.
  • He doesn't like to think about his family history, because "if you go back a few generations they're Mennonites, and that's just embarassing".
Anyway, we ended up being some of the last people to leave, such that there were some people coming in as we were going out. (Two congregations in the area have to share a single Kingdom Hall, so they hold two Lord's Evening Meal memorial services on Nisan 14th; I was at the earlier one.) And that, in essence, is my account.

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