For whoever eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. (1 Corinthians 11:29)
As I write this for the newsletter, we as a congregation are gearing up to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. This is something we do the first Sunday of every other month, and is always a highlight of our corporate worship. We sit quietly after the sermon and reflect on the words of our Lord Jesus Christ when he had taken bread at the Passover meal and broke it saying, “This is my body which is broken for you,” and then he passed the cup, saying, “this is the cup of the new covenant poured out for the remission of sin.” It is an opportunity for us to contemplate the essence of our salvation and our identity with Christ.
But why can’t we do that alone every time we sit down to a meal, or have our devotions, or at any other time? Why do we do it in a public worship service with other members of the church?
Paul, throughout his letter to the Corinthians, expresses his concern about the spiritual immaturity of the Corinthian church. They were characterized by squabbling and bickering, a spirit of one-up-man-ship and competition amongst each other. Even their celebration of the Lord’s Supper reflected their sinful attitudes. Without church buildings they met in the larger homes of the wealthier members of the congregation. Those of lesser means were left outside if there wasn’t enough room inside. So when it came to the Lord’s supper, those outside were able to partake only if there was any left over. As Paul states, “it is not the Lord’s Supper that you eat.” (11:20) That is because the attitude in which they participated ran counter to the very heart of the gospel.
When Paul wrote, whoever eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself, we normally think Paul is referring to the body of Christ which was hung on the cross for us. Yet the there is a strong indication that Paul is actually referring to the church community here. How many other times in the same epistle does he refer to the congregation as the body of Christ? If nothing else, it is very likely that Paul is at least making a play on the word “body” here.
I’m afraid that our 21st century culture is not that far from the culture of the Corinthians. We pride ourselves on our individualism. That is fine in our economic system I suppose, but it makes for a challenge in terms of how we do church. It really is crucial for us to see ourselves as the “body” of Christ – a living, thriving community of people who are bound together by virtue of our identity with and union with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We are accountable to one another and for one another. What a difference our witness would make if the unbelieving culture around us saw us as such.
Pastor Tom Bridgman