One of our primary ways of remembering Jesus is done in the Lord’s Supper. Even more central to worship than our preaching is the Supper. During the Lord’s Supper it is not unusual to read sections of 1 Corinthians 11. Paul begins the chapter by talking about problems that have arisen during the Corinthians’ partaking of the supper.
- There are divisions among them (11:18)
- They are not waiting on each other (11:21)
- They fill themselves while others are hungry (11:21)
From there Paul reminds them of the core focus of the supper. It is done as a unified body remembering Christ. When we take the bread we are to remember the “body” of Christ. When we take the cup we do it “in remembrance” of Christ. “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” It cannot be done with divisions. It cannot be done hastily without regard for each other. In many Churches of Christ the way we have kept this from happening is to individualize and privatize it so much that we don’t even have an awareness of each other during the supper to have fights and disagreements. We don’t have enough bread in the plate or juice in the cup to fill ourselves or get drunk on it. But we may take it while holding a grudge against another Christian. It is to be done as the body of Christ, the church, in unity.
Paul concludes by emphasizing the need for unity during the supper, “Therefore 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. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.” – 1 Cor 11:27-29
We have often read those verses believing we are to be very individually reflective during the supper remembering Christ’s body as he died and rose again. Because of that it has become quiet, sombre and between us as individuals and God. That is not the picture Paul paints of the supper. He says we are to discern the body. That is, we are to recognize each other in our Christian unity as we remember our Lord. In the very next chapter Paul elaborates on what the body of Christ is by writing, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” – 1 Cor 11:27
In all their quarrels and selfishness they were eating and drinking the right things but not in the right spirit or attitude. To discern the body of Christ is to be cognizant of each other and to remember Christ as a unified community because we are the people of God! Regardless of socioeconomic status and regardless of who brought what to the table it is taken together and each person gets to partake. It was not meant to be a time of individual reflection but a time of sharing around the table what Christ means to us. It is hard not to talk when sitting around the table.
I am not certain how to connect their culture and practice with ours but I do think it is worthwhile to consider it. One thing I try to do is to recognize those who are around me as we partake of the Lord’s Supper. As I remember Christ I also remember those who are seated near me and I thank God for them. Maybe that is a start. John Mark Hicks’ Come to the Table offers some practical suggestions for implemting some changes to reclaim some of the Lord’s Supper ideals of Paul and the early church. I have often wondered what it would be like to have the supper after the rest of worship and to adjurn to the fellowship hall to partake around tables and break bread together and share the meal and our stories of what Christ has done in our lives with each other.
What suggestions do you have or things have you tried to reclaim the ideal of taking the supper as the body?