Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Communion - The Body of Christ (Part 3)

Songs, sung; sermon, preached; Scripture, read; prayer, prayed. Soft instrumental music is played and an ambiance of silence is created. It is time for the congregation to partake of the body and blood of our Lord. We grab a morsel of bread and a swig of juice from a tray, then bow our heads to meditate on Christ's body. In silence, we think back to that dark day two thousand years ago when Christ was crucified.

But what if "recognizing the body of the Lord" is more than a contemplation of Christ's physical body? What if it is a recognition of his body, the Church, as well? What if "remembrance" is less a retrospective reflection and more a present participation? What if "proclaiming the Lord's death until he comes" means we echo his self-emptying humility?  How would this change the way we take Communion?

The clearest reference to the Lord's Supper outside the Gospels is found in 1 Corinthians 11. The Corinthian church was a diverse group made up of men and women, rich and poor, strong and weak, Jew and Gentile. This diversity often (sadly) led to division.

The Corinthians argued about church leaders (1 Cor. 1:10-12, 3:1-9), marriage (1 Cor. 7), whether or not to eat food sacrificed to idols (1 Cor. 8, 10:14-33), financial support of missionaries (1 Cor. 9), and spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12, 14:1-25).  Sandwiched in between Paul's specific instructions concerning these divisions is the text about the Lord's Supper.

In the early church, the Lord's Supper was eaten as part of a larger meal sometimes referred to as the love feast. The flexible schedules of rich Christians allowed them to arrive early with an ample supply of food and start eating. By the time the poor, working class arrived, most of the food was gone.

I want to encourage you to reread 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 with this context in mind. Then, I would love for you to come back here and share your thoughts.


  1. Yes indeed, Breann. I agree all the way. The warnings are related to not waiting for eachother, all related to us being one loaf. They are not about "having your heart right." Show me that person! All the saints are right because of the work of Christ and the sin the Corinthians are being seriously warned about is related to their living out a blasphemous contradiction.

    Can people who receive radical mercy get drunk at the Lord's Supper while others are thirsty? Can they be gluttonous while others (slaves, as you said)go hungry? Not without consequence.

    The previous passage (which is almost entirely ignored by most of us, sadly) also relates to whether or not men or God will be glorified in the meeting-- whose glory be shown off? This, likewise, is about the same kind of thing in a way. It's about God receiving glory and recipients of God's mercy reacting in something close to a consistent way at the community's defining meal/gathering.

    Well said.

  2. I enjoyed reading your thoughts, S.D. Thanks for pointing us back to beginning of chapter 11. Too often we divide the text into section headings and miss the overall thought of the apostle or flow of the narrative.

    It is, as you say, a matter of glory. (I think of Lewis' definition of glory as fame in the sense of acceptance by God.) Who do we get acceptance from (God or man)? And how do we go about getting it (faith or works)? If we have any glory at all, it is only because of Christ's work on our behalf.

    The Lord's Supper is a picture of our acceptance/kinship in God's family because of the work of Christ. But the Corinthians distorted this picture by using this meal as yet another means of showing division. They were still drawing lines based on one's position or wealth.

    So how does this relate to our churches today? The reason I wrote this blog post was because of a fear I've observed in our congregation. It's the fear that if we don't confess all of our past week's sins, if we don't bow our heads and block out all distractions, if we don't get our hearts just right, than we are somehow unworthy to partake of the Lord's Supper. We are still basing our acceptance on our work.

    As the leader of children's church, I don't want to plant this same fear in the kids of our congregation. But, I don't want them to approach the Lord's Supper with flippancy or irreverence, either. I'm trying to get at the heart of the meal and figure out the form the Lord's Supper should take in our classroom.

  3. Well said, Breann. And you are so right that these letters to the Corinthians have SO much to do with division, party spirit. "Were you baptized into Paul?" I have seen (and believed/embraced) the very thing you are concerned about. A very important point.

    Thanks, Breann.