When we gathered during the summer and fall of 2020 to take communion in the Harrington’s back yard, we took a look at 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 from three different angles: Unity, Taking Communion in a Worthy Manner, and Remembrance. This series of blog posts are an attempt to allow those who missed the service to still interact with the teaching, just like they would if we were posting an audio file online at a later date. If you would like to read the passage for yourself, it is available at the bottom of this post.
The first way that we looked at this passage was to look at it through the lens of Unity.
Throughout this letter to the church in Corinth, Paul has banged out a very steady rhythm that the Christians at Corinth should work incredibly hard to maintain Unity instead of being divided over anything. And so when it came to considering Communion, or as Paul called it, the Lord’s Supper, he continued to drum this same beat. Divisions in the Body of Christ are Bad, and Unity in the Body of Christ is Good.
In verses 18-21, Paul doesn’t just declare these two ideas, he mocks the Corinthians using a passive aggressive tone that my grandmother would have be proud of:
19 No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval.
Paul says that when Communion is conducted in a way that creates division between different parts of the church, that this meal no longer constitutes the Lord’s Supper… but is instead something else entirely.
The divisions that Paul was taking on in Corinth stemmed from social and economic class differences between the members of the church. Verse 22 talks about some of the church owning homes to eat and drink in, while other have nothing. I think this points to a group of people who own property and to those who work the property. Those who were of the land owning class would eat and have their fill before those who were working the fields had a chance to come in from the work of the day.
Paul calls out this division between the “Haves” and the “Have-nots” in his day as completely dishonoring to the ideas that the Lord’s Supper is supposed to represent: unity between all of those who are partaking in this meal. Today we are faced with other separations: the color of our skin, our work schedules, how we are reacting to SARS-CoV-2 and the accompanying disease COVID-19, our political affiliations, the cities in which we live and play, and some divisions are even as basic as through what lens we read the Bible. No matter what may divide us, it looks as if Paul would plainly ask us to consider that Communion should symbolize the Unity that should break through any ultimately superficial division that exists within the family of God because there was one life, one sacrifice, one spirit, one God that brought us all together.
In the end Paul made the very applicable comments, “you should all eat together,” and, “anyone who is hungry should eat something at home.” (v33-34) I remember growing up thinking that the bread and juice were a snack time in the middle of the service, just like how we had snack time in the middle of the day at preschool and Kindergarten. But, this meal is not to be used as a means of gaining nutrition for those who are partaking in it, rather it should epitomize the nature of the unity we are share in Christ. Christians have often individualized this symbolic meal, we have especially fallen into this habit at Grafted… but I am very excited to be able to participate in a different kind of communion today.
Today we are going to all make sure that we have the elements that we need, some bread product and some juice product, and then we will together take in the symbolic body and blood of Jesus.
Does anyone need either of the elements? Please send up a representative from your family unit if you do one at a time. Everyone ready?
The body of Christ broken for you. Everyone please eat some of your bread.
The Blood of Christ, shed for the forgiveness of your sins. Everyone please drink some of your juice.
Please pray with me and I will invite Steven and Yana to please come up and lead us in a song of response…
1 Corinthians 11:17-34 NIV
17 In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. 18 In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. 19 No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. 20 So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, 21 for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk. 22 Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? Certainly not in this matter!
23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
27 So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. 29 For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. 30 That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. 31 But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment. 32 Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world.
33 So then, my brothers and sisters, when you gather to eat, you should all eat together. 34 Anyone who is hungry should eat something at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment.
And when I come I will give further directions.