IN 1870 a small group in Pittsburgh (Allegheny), Pennsylvania, U.S.A., began searching the Scriptures. Led by Charles Taze Russell, they studied the subject of Christ’s ransom and soon realized its central place in Jehovah’s purpose. How thrilled they were to learn that the ransom opens up the way to salvation, even for those who had not yet heard of Jesus! They appreciatively felt moved to commemorate Jesus’ death each year in remembrance of him.
Brother Russell went on to publish Zion’s Watch Tower, which championed the doctrine of the ransom as a foremost expression of God’s love. The Watch Tower called the time of the Memorial of Christ’s death “a very precious season” and urged readers to commemorate it either in Pittsburgh or elsewhere in private groups. “Even if there be but two or three of like precious faith”
Each year, more and more came to Pittsburgh for the Memorial. “Warm hearts here will make you welcome,” stated the invitation. Indeed, local Bible Students willingly housed and fed their spiritual brothers and sisters. In 1886, “A General Meeting” took place for several days during the Memorial season. “Come,” urged the Watch Tower, “with your own heart overflowing with love for the Master and for his brethren and for his truth.”
For several years, the Bible Students in Pittsburgh hosted conventions for believers in the ransom who came there for the Memorial. As the ranks of the Bible Students grew, so did the number and size of Memorial gatherings worldwide. Ray Bopp of the Chicago ecclesia (congregation) recalled that in the 1910’s, it took several hours to pass the emblems among the hundreds of attendees because almost all were partakers.
What emblems were used? Although noting that Jesus had used wine during the Lord’s Supper, for a time the Watch Tower recommended instead the juice of fresh grapes or cooked raisins, so as not to tempt those “weak in the flesh.” However, wine was provided for those who felt that “fermented wine was meant to be used.” The Bible Students later understood that unadulterated red wine is the proper symbol of Jesus’ blood.
Memorializing Jesus’ death afforded an opportunity for serious reflection. In some congregations, however, a mournful atmosphere prevailed, and when the program concluded, all left barely saying a word. The 1934 book Jehovah, though, said that the Memorial should be held, not “in sorrow” over Jesus’ painful death, but “in joy” over his rulership as King since 1914.
The year 1935 marked a dramatic change that affected future Memorial observances, for the meaning of the “great multitude” (KJ), or “great crowd,” of Revelation 7:9 was clarified. Until then, Jehovah’s servants had viewed this group as consecrated Christians who were less zealous. Now this vast throng was identified as faithful worshippers who hope to live on a paradise earth. Following this clarification and after some careful self-examination, Russell Poggensee acknowledged: “The heavenly hope had not been awakened within me by Jehovah through his holy spirit.” Brother Poggensee
During this “very precious season,” special preaching campaigns provided a fine way for all to show appreciation for the ransom. A 1932 Bulletin urged Christians not to be “Memorial saints,” ones who were partakers but not “actual workers,” preaching the message of truth. In 1934, the Bulletin called for “auxiliaries,” asking: “Will there be 1,000 enrolled by Memorial time?” Regarding the anointed, the Informant commented: “Their joy can be complete only by sharing in the Kingdom witness.” In time, the same would be true of those with the earthly hope. *
To all of Jehovah’s people, the Memorial is the most sacred night of the year. They observe it even under difficult circumstances. In 1930, Pearl English and her sister, Ora, walked some 50 miles (80 km) to attend the Memorial. While in solitary confinement in a prison in China, missionary Harold King wrote poems and songs about the Memorial and made the emblems from black currants and rice. From Eastern Europe to Central America to Africa, courageous Christians have braved wartime conditions or bans to commemorate Jesus’ death. No matter where we are or what our situation is, we gather together to honor Jehovah God and Jesus Christ during the precious Memorial season.
^ par. 10 The Bulletin was later called Informant, now Our Kingdom Ministry.