I was baptized by Stan Webb when I was 11 at the Lafayette Church of Christ in Ballwin, Missouri. One of the first questions I had was what I was supposed to do when communion was passed. I got some really good advice. I was told that it was a time to remember what Jesus did and to think about forgiveness. For many years that is exactly what I did. I would think about Jesus dying for my sins. I would imagine him on the cross. I would ask him to forgive me. Those were very personal and healthy times.
But somewhere along the line my thinking has changed a bit on this. I am sure my thinking on a lot of things has changed since I was 11. I think it was Monte Cox in a missions class at Harding who first brought to my attention the context of 1 Corinthians 11 and that communion was a three party event. I had always thought it was so personal, so private, and just between myself and the Lord. But Dr. Cox opened my eyes to see that Paul’s view of communion was, well, communal.
Any communion presider worth his salt knows that when you read 1 Corinthians 11 at the table you start in verse 23 and end at verse 29. That is just what you do. Don’t start before verse 23 because then you are in some discussion about divisions and not the Supper. Don’t go past 29 because then you have to try to explain how our physical illness might be coming from improperly taking the supper and the judgment that results.
But if you take the time to go back to 11:17 and read through 11:34 you find some really nice bookends that form parentheses around Paul’s recalling of the events at Jesus’ institution of the Supper. What you find is a church divided. They were angry with one another, jealous of each other, and were constantly trying to get ahead of others in the church. Paul tells us the Lord’s Supper is not just taken if there is the right kind of bread, right kind of juice and taken separate and apart from the offering and just prior to the sermon. (Sidenote, I have heard far more people get upset over one cup or multiple or what kind of bread or juice it is than I have heard over the attitude in which it is taken…that just misses the point entirely). The Supper is taken or not taken based upon their attitudes toward each other, the third party…the community of faith that eats this meal together with the Lord. The Supper is only the Supper if it is taken communally, recognizing the personhood and value of all those who partake. If we take it with 100% proper form but hate our brother, hold grudges against the song leader or are angry about what was said in Bible class, chances are we are just stuffing our faces…well, as much as you can stuff with tiny pieces of bread and thimble sized cups of juice.