This past Thursday we remembered to thank God for the countless blessings we have. Today we pause to remember Christ’s sacrifice, which inaugurated the new covenant—a subject we have been studying for three months. The special way we do this is by participating in the Lord’s Supper, or communion.
Marshall Leggett said that our lesson text is the most read passage in churches of any stripe down through the ages. It even outstrips John 3:16. Due to how often communion is observed across Christendom that may well be true. Chuck Colson said, “Many people drink to forget, but Christians drink to remember.”
The Death of Jesus
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
Paul was doing everything he could to bring unity to a fractured church. In this section of the epistle he answered various questions that this troubled church had (1 Corinthians 7-16). To aid his appeal for harmony in the church, Paul took the believers back to the cross and communion.
It would seem that Paul was drawing on some well-known tradition in the words, “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you.” Paul reminded the Corinthians of Jesus inaugurating the Lord’s Supper on the occasion of the Last Supper (Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:14-23). Jesus took an old meal (Passover) and vested it with new meaning. In the Synoptic Gospels Jesus “eats” the Passover; in John’s Gospel Jesus “is” the Passover (John 19:36, 37).
Paul had a greater chance of uniting the church if the believers would remember that Jesus had died for them. So he took them back to the upper room. When Judas had exited (John 13:30), Jesus took the bread and the cup(s) of the Passover meal and gave them a new twist. He gave thanks (the word “Eucharist” comes from this verb in Greek), broke it, and said, “This is my body,” and later, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.”
We should observe three things: (1) These words must have sounded as strange to the disciples as they do to us. For a Jew to think about eating a human body and drinking blood would be repulsive (see Jeremiah 19:5; Leviticus 17:11). (2) The call to “remember” is the common denominator in both the bread and the cup. It means more than just thinking back to the night of Jesus’ betrayal in the Garden of Gethsemane. This “remembering” is intended to be effectual. It means to recall the event in such a way as to relive it. (3) This meal, composed of such simple elements, is a sermon (“proclamation” is one of the words for preaching in the New Testament). When believers participate in the Lord’s Supper they are perpetuating a tradition of a loving covenant-making God, who acted on their behalf for their liberation.
The Body of Christ
1 Corinthians 11:27-34
The Corinthians could be accused of malpractice. Their disunity showed up even in how they went about celebrating communion. So Paul reminded the body of Christ about the body of Christ (the play on words is intentional, of course). The Corinthians were guilty of taking communion in an unworthy manner. This did not mean feeling unworthy (every sinner feels that way). It meant violating the unity for which Christ died by failing to consider other members in the church.
It would seem that it was not uncommon to observe communion in the context of a larger fellowship meal and corporate worship time. Were the Corinthians being selfish and flippant about this supper of unity? Were they not discerning (literally “critiquing through”) the body of Christ? Were they so gluttonous and selfish that they were not waiting until all the believers were present so that they could partake of communion together? Was it really true that God was visiting them with judgment (even death, “fallen asleep”) for violating the church? Was God actually disciplining them so they would repent?
Paul called for the church to examine (test so as to be approved) themselves in their observance of the Lord’s Supper. There are several “looks” to communion (upward, backward, and forward). But here Paul called the church to look inward. That weekly critique can serve us well. Patience and unselfishness still serve us well whether it is in regard to the Lord’s Supper or anything else in the church. Evidently the Corinthians needed more instruction in this (v. 34) as we do today.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Based on International Sunday School Lesson, © 2013, by the Lesson Committee. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.