I Corinthians 11:17-32
Now in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, to begin with, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you; and to some extent I believe it. Indeed, there have to be factions among you, for only so will it become clear who among you are genuine. When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord’s supper. For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk. What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What should I say to you? Should I commend you? In this matter I do not commend you!
For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body,[c] eat and drink judgment against themselves. For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined[e] so that we may not be condemned along with the world.
The ancient Greeks were very social and created opportunities to come together on a regular basis. People would often gather for a daily meal as a way to provide for all in the community by sharing food and fellowship. The early Christians called this meal the Agape or “Love Feast” and it was a time of sharing, eating and growing as a community. However, according to our text, the Corinthians had lost sight of this purpose, for although everyone was gathered to eat their Agape meals, the more prosperous ones had begun to separate themselves from the others during mealtime. In his letter to them, Paul reprimands them because some of the people “[go] ahead with [their] own supper” while others go hungry and still others get drunk (verse 21). The purpose of learning who God is and building God’s community was lost partly due to social and economic differences.
So Paul offers a reminder and an encouragement to the Corinthians about why they are called into community in the first place. In those days, the Lord’s Supper was not an observance set apart in a sanctuary for the followers of Christ, but rather a regular meal in a common place where ALL should have access, space and freedom to interact. Also, the Lord’s Supper was not meant only for those in the community with more money or food. It was the meal when ALL were welcome to participate in proclaiming “the Lord’s death until he comes” and when the church community could grow deeply and widely.
This is the only place in Paul’s letters where he writes about the Lord’s Supper. In a strange way, we can better understand the societal divisions the early church experienced because of the insights Paul shared about the Lord’s Supper. This text also tells us we are not so different from those early Christians, who also struggled with divisiveness and segregation along societal and economic lines. Like the Corinthians, we are prone to segregate ourselves by even ordinary decisions like where we eat, where we shop or where we live. But God calls us into community, and the church is the one place where all are called to gather, regardless of how much is in our bank account or clothes closet. The beauty of Christian community is in its belief in the equality of ALL, its recognition that ALL are God’s creation and ALL have gifts to contribute that help build the body of saints.
Most of us are familiar with the concept of the “body of Christ” as referenced in Romans 12:4-6. This metaphor provides us a great mental picture of how we interact with God (as the head) and each other (as the body). But it is also important to note how our understanding of who God is would be incomplete without community. In his book Christian Doctrine, Shirley Guthrie writes, “How can I know the forgiveness, love, and help of God in Christ are real if I do not experience them through the community of people who are God’s people? How can I be a Christian if I do not participate in the life and work of the community gathered and empowered by God’s Spirit to share with others the forgiveness, love, and help they themselves have received?” Each of us falls short, but each of us has gifts to be shared. When we gather in Christian community, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are a witness to God’s work and love to each other and to all of God’s creation.