Last night we looked at another very common part of Christian life–celebrating the Lord’s Supper (or, as we also call it, “taking communion”). Here are the notes:
First, read 1 Corinthians 11:17-34. This is a passage in a letter Paul wrote to one of the early Christian communities which Paul had founded. This church, in the Greek city of Corinth, was experiencing a lot of problems, and Paul uses the letter to correct the issues. One of the places they were having problems was in the way they were taking communion. Listening in to the corrections
1. Understand what you’re doing. (v.23-26)
Jesus told us to do this. We are doing it to remember him (v.24)
We are remembering that his body was broken and his blood was shed. (v.24-25) The bread “signifies” his body. The wine or juice in the cup “signifies” his blood. When we do this, what we’re supposed to be thinking about is him—and specifically, his death.
We are proclaiming that Jesus died. (v.26) Even more than simply remembering it in our own minds, it is to be a kind of memorial or a monument—not a monument built in stone, but one that’s carried all around the world, one that crosses all human borders, and lasts for all history, because it’s a practice—it’s something his people do whenever they’re together. “They declare the good news of their salvation that makes them all one.” (That’s from Gordon Fee’s commentary on this verse.)
We are sharing the bread and the cup to show that we share in a common life and family. (See 1 Corinthians 10:16-17). It is the blood of Jesus, and his broken body, which enabled this koinonia—this fellowship, this sharing, this common life. When he died, he gave us a share in his body by inviting us to “participate in the meaning and benefits of his death.” (Gordon Fee)
2. Let the understanding of what you’re doing when you take this bread and the cup impact the way you think about your participation in church life, in general.
3. Don’t be ok with bringing the old divisions that exist outside of new life in Christ into the remembrance of the Lord’s body and blood. (v.17-22). In the time Paul was writing, most churches met in large houses—the houses of rich people. Taking communion was part of their regular worship gathering, and they typically did it as part of a larger meal. What Paul is addressing seems to be a situation where rich people would bring more and better food, and poor people might only have the bread and wine. Paul says this situation, brought right into middle the time of remembering that Lord, was a major flaw in their gatherings.
His point wasn’t that all Christians had to have the same kind of houses, or eat the same food all the time (you see this in verse 22) but that when they came together to worship they were celebrating their new oneness that they found in Jesus—one family no longer defined by the old boundaries. As it was, the way they were handling their gatherings didn’t celebrate that unity, instead it created divisions based on the old, economic categories—divisions that were right out in the open when they were together, with some people filling themselves up on food and drink during the meal time and some people staying hungry.
We might stop and think here—whenever we’re together as Christians, do we ever let old boundaries and divisions—the divisions that exist out in the world outside of the family of the church—do we ever let those old boundaries creep into the times and things that should express our unity with every other believer?
4. Before you eat (when you eat)… check yourself. (v.27-28)
“Unworthy” refers to the problems Paul has been discussing—the fact that they weren’t thinking about each other, and weren’t expressing the real unity that Jesus’ death created. So Paul says, stop and think first about what you’re doing and what it expresses, and bring yourself into line with the meaning of the bread and the cup.
5. Understand that the Lord takes this seriously. (v.29-32) In verse 27 he said that to deny the power of Jesus’ death while you eat and drink something meant to display how powerful his death was—is to bring yourself into line with the people who killed him. The point of that verse and verses 29-32 is to remind believers to be spiritually aware, and to understand that God is present with us when we gather (Jesus said, “Where two or more are gathered together in my name, I will be there in their midst.”) This is big. We need to understand the fact that this simple thing we do points to Jesus’ massive act of sacrifice on our behalf, and we need to understand the hugeness of the fact that by that sacrifice, God has created a new family in Christ—that’s what Paul means by “discerning the Lord’s body.” If we’re careless or willfully ignorant of these truths, then God may decide to bring discipline into our lives to get our attention. In Corinth, that’s what was happening, and Paul had special insight from the Spirit to understand their situation and let them know what was really going on.
Now, should all of this scare us, or make us hesitant to take the Lord’s supper? No!
But it should wake us up. When someone starts to follow Jesus they don’t start a small thing or a light thing. When you get saved, a big thing happens. It’s not all about—“now we can be chill with God.” It’s about getting introduced to reality. And the thing about reality is, you have to respect it, or you collide with it. That’s true of every reality. When that reality is a person, if you don’t respect the reality of that person’s existence, you mess up your relationship with them. And if that person is your creator, and the one who gave his life to die for you—then it really matters how you relate to him.
And as I was thinking about these things, I came to a point when I realized—all God is asking of us is what we really want and need anyway. Don’t we want God to be real? Don’t we want him to be close? Don’t we want to know that Jesus is with us, and that it matters when we get together as a church? Don’t we want church to be powerful?
So through Paul here, the Holy Spirit is speaking to us and saying—it’s all true! I’m there with you. Jesus is with you! The things you do matter! And that simple ritual Jesus gave you to do, it’s hugely significant. So act like it. Admit it. And if we want to experience meaning and significance, then I guess we need to get really serious about the things God says are serious. We can’t just wait for the experience—we have to pursue the things that are within our power—especially the things Paul says to think about here. And then—we don’t have to make God come to us—he’s with us! It’s awesome.
In a world where money is spent and power is flexed to say that things don’t matter, I think we should feel excited and refreshed to run into something so significant, so important, that God himself tells us to wake up and be serious about it. Humans can’t live in a world with no meaning. We don’t work right. We get depressed and aimless and useless and anxious and sick. But then, sometimes when we run in to meaning—we get scared or we feel like it’s too big. Or sometimes, we just get lazy. Or sometimes it’s worse—sometimes there’s some sin we like that we don’t want to let go of, and so we shrink from reality instead of embracing it.
But here it’s like God is saying—drop all that. Come to the table. Commune. Participate in the fellowship, the sharing in the body of Christ, by shedding of the blood and breaking of the body of Jesus. He did the dying. We do the eating. He suffered so we can be in the family. Receive it. Proclaim it.
Enjoy the fact that you’re in! And celebrate it by loving and enacting and guarding that oneness with people of all different kinds.
And…if you aren’t someone who follows Christ, please feel free, when you’re with Christians, not to participate in the eating and drinking. You don’t have to feel weird about abstaining. It’s not really something applies to you. Paul was correcting the church in Corinth because they were already followers of Jesus—and their actions didn’t line up with what was true about them.
But if you’re not a believer in Christ, then this isn’t for you to take—but it is for you to see.
If and when you’re with a group of believers who do this, we want you to watch for a moment. There’s nothing special about the little bit of food we eat or the way we eat. But something unique and powerful is happening when we do this. What you’re witnessing is that in 2017, a group of people are saying, all together—Jesus died, and his death saved us. Jesus rose again, he’s alive and he’s coming back. We’re saying that he’s changing lives and restoring humanity. We’re saying there’s no one else who can do that and that there’s no other hope to restore humanity. He’s making a new family all over the world—the people of God. It’s a family that transcends all these divisions that are tearing the world apart. We’re part of that family. Right here, right now, we’re the expression of that family.
And we’re saying that you’re invited in. You can join this family. Believe the message that Jesus died for your sins and rose again. Believe that he’s the Lord. Receive his new life. And start to follow him.