Proclaiming Community in Communion

Two Sundays ago I was on vacation with my family and had the chance to worship at another church. It is always good to be able to step away and see how other churches do things and be reminded that the Church of God is much bigger than what I experience.

It happened to be a Sunday that the church was celebrating communion and one of the pastors was describing the sacrament and what we were about to do. What he said next was not wrong, but it gave me pause. As I said, it wasn’t wrong, but it was problematic because he didn’t follow it up with more. He said that what we were going to do was an intensely personal act between us and God. But he spoke nothing about how communion involves community.

When we take of the Lord’s Supper it is not merely a individualized, personal encounter with God. It is an act of the body and it is an act that emphasizes the body and how we are made one. God has taken away all that divided by the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. What divided us from God is taken away, but also what divided people.

When we take communion, as it says in 1 Corinthians 11, “we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” By our actions we proclaim what that death did and what it represented. That’s why Paul criticizes the church in Corinth because their practice was not uniting the community, it was dividing it. If communion should proclaim the truth of the gospel, it can’t privilege the rich over the poor as they were doing. Nor should it focus entirely on the individual. There is that component, and we all should examine ourselves before taking of the sacrament, but there is more. Christ died to make us–collectively–his church. He is our head and we are his body. If we are not remembering that good news in communion, how then can our actions proclaim it?

The next time you celebrate the Lord’s Supper, be intentional to look around you at the other sisters and brothers to whom Jesus Christ has united us. You can certainly bow your head in private reflection, but know that this meal is thankfully more than about you and God, but it is a celebration that in Jesus the church is brought together and united. As we focus on the “foolish” act of our Lord on the cross, giving his body and blood for us, we proclaim his death–a death that brings us into fellowship with God and other believers.

What Does it Mean to Take Communion in an “Unworthy Manner”?

Lord's Supper

We read some strong words of warning in 1 Corinthians 11 about the way in which we approach the Lord’s Table and take communion. We are told:

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.

But what does it mean to eat the bread or drink the cup in an unworthy manner?

Paul writes in a style that often circles back around to a previous point. A great example is 1 Corinthians 1:17-2:2, in which he begins with his preaching of the cross–not his own wisdom, and returns to that same exact point. In this chapter he writes that the Corinthian community is splitting into factions when they have come to eat the Lord’s Supper. Some are going hungry, others are getting drunk, and because of that they really aren’t celebrating the sacrament (11:17-22). He then reminds them of the tradition that he has received and has passed on to them, giving us a picture of what happened “on the night when [Jesus] was betrayed…” (11:23-26). Then Paul returns to the point that preceded the words of institution (11:27-34). Paul critiques, puts forth communion as it should be, then goes back to critique. We might prefer to order this passage with the two critiques together, and then conclude with verses 23-26. In fact, reading it that way would make perfect sense. And in so doing it helps us to make sense of this “unworthy manner.” It is the same issue present in the earlier critique. Ken Bailey writes:

The key lies in the comparisons between sections A (11:17-22) and C (11:27-34). In section A the Corinthians had broken up into quarreling groups. Rich people came early, ate all the food and got drunk. The poor (who had to work) came later, found nothing to eat, remained hungry and were humiliated by being left out. The “church of God” (the entire Christian community) was “despised” in the process. This outrageous activity was clearly the “unworthy manner” that Paul was talking about. When this happened, the Corinthians were “guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.” This was more than “disrespect for the elements,” although that was no doubt a part of what Paul was saying. Rather, such outrageous behavior was criminal activity against “the body” of Christ, this is, against the community what was his body.1

  1. Ken Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes. 322. ↩

The (too?) Familiar Words of 1 Corinthians 11

How often have we heard the words spoken before the Lord’s Supper? And like with anything that becomes familiar, how often are they overlooked?

This week we come upon the words of institution for the sacrament of communion. These are words passed on to Paul that he has then given to the church. In choosing what the memory verses would be, I thought this would give us a good opportunity to memorize and study anew these words. Maybe memorizing them will be easy for some, since they are familiar. But even though we know the words, memorizing them is another story.

It’s the difference between hearing a song on the radio and being able to sing along and having no music playing and being able to sit down and write the lyrics. To be able to produce on our own these great words will help us to appreciate what can so easily be neglected.

Memory Verse for 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 for iPhone