Ok, sorry it has been so long between the first section and this next one. This is an important issue, and I needed some extra time to work some things out. Plus life just catches me off guard sometimes. But it’s alright now. I’m taking a break from my first-person narratives to bring you the long-awaited 2nd half of the discussion I started about a month ago.
Alright, so we’ve sped through Luke, looking more closely at the meals which Jesus shared with those desiring to follow him. These were meals of celebration, community, covenant renewal. And the Last Supper was the climax of such meals which actually instigated a new covenant instead of renewing the old one.
And after all this through the life of Jesus, we see in Acts that these meals were shared quite frequently among the believers. These meals were also in celebration of the new covenant and the resulting community which those who choose to follow Christ share with God, Christ, the Spirit, and each other.
So now, after looking at the Luke-Acts, let’s turn to the other passage most commonly referenced and misunderstood concerning instructions on the Lord’s Supper — 1 Corinthians 10 and 11.
Let’s start in 10:14-22, bearing in mind that this passage is dealing more with the issue of meat sacrificed to idols than instructions on the Lord’s Supper, but Paul raises some interesting points.
In verse 18 Paul compares the Lord’s Supper with the fellowship offering which was under the old law. Of the three types of offerings neither the burnt offering (which was completely consumed by fire from the altar) nor the sin offering (which was completely consumed save for the portion of meat which the priest could take for themselves to eat) were comparable to the sacrifice of Jesus, nor our meal which we share together under his command. The fellowship offering was taken to the altar and singed. The priest was allowed to take his fair share of it and then the rest was taken back to the community of family and friends to eat in celebration of God’s love and forgiveness toward his covenant people. (Leviticus 1-7)
But also notice that while these offerings were sacrificed at the altar, that is not where the celebration took place, obviously. The celebration came at the table. Paul says here that those who eat the sacrifices are sharers in the altar, and I believe that those who eat of the Lord’s Supper are partakers in Christ’s altar, the cross, for Paul says in 11:26 that by eating this meal we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. But Paul then goes on to say in 10:21 that we are partakers in the table of the Lord. And the table theme throughout the New Testament is one of joy, celebration, and renewal.
So, some principles from this passage in chapter 10:
- The Lord’s Supper is compared to the fellowship meals which the Jews ate together in celebration.
- We are partakers in the table, not the altar. At the altar we find death, gloom, sadness, guilt, unworthiness. At the table we encounter life, joy, celebration, forgiveness, and acceptance.
- It seems like too many Christians are eating the meal as if it were Friday, not Sunday.
And finally, I would like to take a closer look at the issues which Paul is addressing in chapter 11. The beginning of this chapter is the start to a lengthy discussion on order in the assembled body of believers. I believe that this simple fact has a lot to do with the way much of the material in 11-14 is interpreted. Let’s especially keep this in mind when Paul reaches his discussion on order in the Lord’s Supper (11:17-34). I’m not able to go in depth with every individual verse along the way, but I hope to hit some of the highlights.
What was happening in Corinth was that as the church would assemble, they would have pot-luck style meals to share together, ending off with the Lord’s Supper. However, the upper class citizens would be able to gather earlier than the lower class simply because they didn’t have to do as much work, if any at all. Everyone brought to the table whatever they could bring to share with others. The richer folks might bring meats, wines, and other fancy foods. The peasants might only be able to bring a few carrots or loaves of bread. But since the richer folks were arriving earlier, they also began to eat before the others could arrive. So the poor were stuck with what meager food they could bring, and the rich were getting full and drunk. They were not waiting on each other and treating each other like family, much less like the body of Christ.
So with this context in mind, let’s reexamine some of the verses which many have ripped from their original context and twisted to fit their views on how things should be done. It seems to me that what Paul is saying in this passage is that the Lord’s Supper is meant to be a shared experience with all believers, and none is to be left out. I see nothing in this section about a quite time of individual self-evaluation and introspection, sitting silently while a trayful of crackers is passed to you. This is what many people have done in order to comply with Paul’s words about taking the meal in a “worthy” manner (11:27) and “judging the body rightly.” (11:29)
First of all, let’s contextualize what unworthy manner Paul is talking about. It goes back to what Paul was just talking about – taking advantage of the less fortunate of the church and looking out solely for one’s own interests. If you don’t care about the communal aspect of “Communion”, then you are taking it in an “unworthy manner” just as Paul describes in 11:19-22.
Then, I have also heard that we should be focused on the body of Christ which was sacrificed for us on the cross, and I agree with that to an extent, but again, we are taking the meal on Sunday, not Friday. Also, the group of believers is referred to as the body of Christ, which makes more sense in the context of ch. 11 & 12. It is the body of believers that we are to be judging rightly. We should care about the needs of our brothers and look out for the interest of our sisters. Paul is simply saying in these verses that if the Christians at Corinth were going to share a meal together, they should do so in a way that includes everyone so that all may have an equal share of the meal, including the Lord’s Supper at the end.
Paul ends by telling them to wait for each other, and if anyone is really so hungry that he cannot possibly wait, then he should eat at home before coming. Paul is stressing the community and fellowship behind Communion. Without that community orientation, the meal is nothing more than some bread and wine. But as we gather together in God’s name, then the meal is transformed into to flesh and blood of the covenant.
Honestly, from Paul’s discussion on the meal as a communal event, I feel that we are just as wrong to sit silently in our pews, blocking out the rest of the world, including our brothers and sisters right next to us, as we assume the common eyes-down-Bible-opened-introspection position. It is not supposed to be some individual experience like we have turned it into. I feel like we have seen what happened in Corinth and have gone to the polar opposite in order to avoid making those same mistakes. Ironically, we have become even more individualistic and selfish in our taking of the Lord’s Supper as the Corinthians were.
These are just some thoughts. If you see what I’m talking about and it makes sense, please do something about it. Let’s try and be consistent when we look to scripture for a model of how to do church. Let’s break out of our tradition of individualism and see the light and joy that comes from sharing a fellowship meal with those whom we are closest to.
I saw your comment on Russ’ blog. These are good points about the Lord’s Supper. I believe communion is an event that has been coveted as sacred by churches but has become extremely based on tradition. How do you suggest we “do something about it?” >>I hope to read more on this from you!