First Mennonite Church
April 2, 2023
A Meal of Holy Communion
Text: 1Corinthians 11:17-34
Oftentimes, conflicts originate around the table while families, friends, or co-work are eating together. In the Bible, food is what led the first human being to commit transgression against God. The fruit from the tree at the center of the Garden of Eden exerted a powerful and irresistible pull on Eve who took from it and shared it with Adam. Violating God’s prohibition about the fruit brought immediate consequences. Adam and Eve became aware of their nakedness and hid from God. God had to come asking, “Where are you?”
The Corinthian Church was brimming with all kinds of problems, some moral, others legal, and still yet other doctrinal, but in the end, all of these problems adversely affected the effectiveness and unity of their worship services.
Paul was also very straightforward in their practice of the Lord’s Supper. “Regarding this,” he says, “I have no praise for you, for your meetings have done more harm than good,” In the early days of the Church movement, the Lord’s Supper or the Lord’s Meal as it was called, was not simply partaking of a piece of bread and a sip of juice, as we now do it today. It was a complete meal and it was held every week. In that regard, everyone, especially the poor, was given the possibility of having a complete meal at least once a week. The powerful witness in these early Christian communities in eating together was that it erased all social stratification there was. The poor ate along with the rich. Men, women, and children sat alongside each other. Masters and servants ate at the same table. In those societies and cultures, sharing meals inclusively was unheard of. The church through its practices gave witness that it was a radical community.
However, in the Corinthian church, some well-to-do members of the church were arriving at the gathering place first. And they, with no regard for those who arrive late—usually the slaves and field hands of wealthy households, including of those who arrive early, eat the abundant and extravagant meals they had brought to celebrate the Lord’s Meal, supper, or banquet (GK. deipnon). Thus, Paul’s accusation is that some even get drunk, while others go hungry.
Paul in his usual appeal for ecclesiastical instruction, says that what follows is not only his personal opinion but something he received from the Lord. Paul’s teaching regarding the practice of the Holy Supper is something he once again reminds the Corinthians of. However, the words Paul uses include both a powerful warning as well a call to repentance.
As Paul puts it, Christians will always be reminded that at the Lord’s Supper not always will everyone participating in it be of one spirit or aware of its great significance. The phrase, “On the night he was betrayed,” reminds us that even at the time when Jesus instituted the practice of this holy meal, not everyone among his circle of close friends was there in spirit. Judas was physically present at the table, but his mind and soul were not. He had already sold out his soul, yet still, he was calculating his next moves and anticipating his reward. And despite Jesus knowing forehand everything Judas was about to do, Jesus gave Judas the bread and wine representing his body.
But Judas was not the only one who would fail Jesus. All of them did, even Peter who swore he would lay down his life if needed for the sake of Jesus. In fact, he not only deserted Jesus, but he also denied the Lord three times.
As we can see, the Holy Supper was offered not to saints, but to sinners. Today we participate only because of God’s unmerited invitation. We participate at the Lord’s Table not because we are good people and neither because we never fail. We participate because God’s unending grace continues to reach out to us through Christ his Son. He graciously calls us—the church, his body. We have been made members of the body of Christ. Therefore, to us is Paul’s word of warning: Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. So, please look around. Those you see beside you, behind you, in front of you are fellow brothers and sisters, members of the body of Christ.
When we take Communion, we acknowledge Christ’s sacrificial death for us, but we also offer ourselves in service to one another in the body of Christ. Amen.
Let us pray.