The Lord’s Supper: Reaching Some Conclusions, Part 3

Table fellowship

Imagine your parents inviting you to join your family for Thanksgiving dinner. Your father begins by reminding the family of the many things we should be thankful for. Then, as he carves the turkey, he tells us that we’ll desecrate the meal if we talk, laugh, or sing during it. We must sit silently and either read, pray, or meditate. Well, we’d commit our dad to the asylum, right? That kind of behavior completely misses the point of a family meal!

You see, we’ve let Grecian, Gnostic thought slip into our communions so that only “spiritual” activities are permitted. Indeed, even a cappella singing is too enjoyable for the Lord’s Supper. It’s too holy for that!

Unity in truth

Obviously, the event has to be about remembering Jesus, and it should be about building the unity that it symbolizes. After all, sitting next to stranger, eating a crumb, sipping a sip, and pensively reading the scriptures does not bring me any closer to the person sitting next to me. It may bring me closer to God — but God didn’t ask us to assemble so that we could do what we could do at home. He didn’t say, “Gather so you can pray in closets”! He called us together so we could be together.

(1 Cor 11:29)  For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.

This is not a passage for or against transubstantiation. Nor is it about intensely meditating on the crucifixion. Rather, in the immediate context,  Paul uses “body” to refer to the congregation —

(1 Cor 10:17)  Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.

(1 Cor 12:12)  The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.

There are, of course, plenty of nearby verses that use “body” to refer the physical body of Christ — but I doubt that Paul would have seen it as one or the other. We are his earthly body now. When we were baptized, we were crucified with him (Rom 6) and resurrected with him. We are in and help constitute his body.

If you were to read 1 Cor 12:12, quoted above, by itself, you’d think that “So it is with Christ” means he’s about to talk about the physical body of Christ. But he’s actually referring to the congregation as “Christ.” We could spend quite a few posts on the question, but to Paul, the church is the body of Christ in a way that goes well beyond mere metaphor.

Therefore, communion is a congregational event. Those people who take it alone at home to avoid polluting themselves by meeting with a church that has the wrong pattern — well, it’s unlikely their pattern is more wrong than a communion apart from the body — a contradiction in terms.

Community is both horizontal and vertical, and neither element is merely symbolic, because symbolic love isn’t love. Rather, communion is designed to draw us closer to each other as we draw closer to God.

And if Jesus is part of God, and if the church is the body of Christ, the path to God is found within the fellowship of the saints — not our legal status as members, but our love felt and expressed. You see, to be like God is to take action on account of your love. And if we don’t love each other enough to eat together, well, we just don’t each other very much at all.

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7 Responses

  1. To All

    I remember two qualities about my South American friends, the evening meal and going to the airport .

    The evening meal consists of five to six courses with just enough wine to loosen the spirit but not get drunk. They look at our over indulgence of wine as an insult to the purpose of the meal. The meal lasts at from not earlier than 8:00 PM until after 10:00 PM. If you weren’t a friend before the meal you will be after, The atmosphere is jovial and at time laughter abounds.
    For the guest not to join in full hearted would be very bad manners.They had fun, renewed friendship and formed deeper family ties. It is a LOVE FEAST and payed honor to a unity of family values.

    Why can’t we as Christians copy their mood and unity?

    The second thing was going to the airport to see a relative or a friend off. It may be but for a week but nevertheless you would have to beleive they felt as though they would never see each other again. Not just one or two would go but all members of several families. Amid all the weeping, crying and lament you wonder why we treat the separation of our loved ones and fellow Christians so casually. I can remember trying to get through the mass of the departing persons weeping friends to get to my gate.

    We could learn much from folks like our South American friends ,who probably see the inside of a Church three times in their lives. Baptism, weddings and the funeral.

    Yes our meals should a Thanksgiving feast to a risen Messiah.

    Our separation should be more meaningful and should show a desire to come back together again soon. The great Peter Marshal told his wife as they were taking him to the hospital with a fatal second heart attack…I’ll see you in the morning”

    I am told that John, as an old man was carried around on a stretcher saying love one another.

    It all boils down to two commands Agape GOD and Men.

    Bob

  2. “but God didn’t ask us to assemble so that we could do what we could do at home.”

    Hmmmm….isn’t that what Paul means when he condemns having a common meal in the assembly by saying “What? Don’t you have houses to eat and drink in?” in 1 Cor 11?

  3. Bob,

    You make my point. We assemble to be together and because we can do some things together that we can’t do alone. The Lord’s Supper is a community activity. Taking it alone is like a Thanksgiving meal eaten alone — very sad and not at all the design of the meal.

    But they gathered for very plainly stated purposes. As Paul also described in 1 Cor, in chapter 14, he tested the propriety of proposed activities in the assembly based on whether the activities would encourage, strengthen, comfort, or edify those present and whether it might cause visitors to praise God. Obviously, drunkeness and rudeness do none of these things — and indeed interfere with these things. And as long as the Corinthian church was set on not waiting on others and refusing to share with the poor, it was better to eat at home than to attend the assembly and discourage and tear down others.

    But had the Corinthians not been drunkards and had they shared with the poor and eaten together, then the meal would have edified, encouraged, comforted, and strengthened those present, and Paul would have gladly approved it — because that’s the standard he applied.

    Paul did not test tongues or prophecies against a pre-approved checklist of authorized acts of worship. Rather, he asked whether they edify. And when he found that sometimes did (when tongues are translated) and sometimes didn’t (when they aren’t translated), he approved them in only those cases where edification would result.

    He approach wasn’t rule-based so much as pragmatic. They weren’t REQUIRED to have tongues with translators. They were permitted to do so. Thus, tongues weren’t the sixth act of worship. They were just one way in which the congregation might be edified.

  4. Jay

    Thank you. We will grow into a better understanding of unity.

    Grace and
    peace

    Bob

  5. On the lighter side,

    In a segment on David Letterman tonight called “Fun Facts” – news that wasn’t originally reported, he says,

    “Peter, the Apostle, nearly missed the Last Supper because he had had a big lunch.”

    Well, it was funny in its context.

  6. How grand it is to read interesting facts about “the communion” as part of a “worship service. I find no ceremony such as we now participate in as part of apostolic Christianity.

  7. We do get off on tangents don’t we? Now, the Lord’s Supper is being likened to a Thanksgiving meal which we all recognize as an eating orgy. Have we forgotten that the Last Supper was on the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed? The bread which Jesus blessed and broke was unleavened (free from yeast as Jesus was free from sin). He said, “This is my body, given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, he blessed the cup, calling it, “…the new covenant in my blood which is poured out for you.” Does anybody really think we could include the Lord’s Supper within one of our fellowship meals and make it more meaningful by interrupting our gluttony with this celebration? NOT ME! But the real clue in Paul’s discourse in I Cor. 11 is this: “anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.” This applies whether we do so within a meal or in a formal service. WE MUST DISCERN HIS BODY! Personally, I find it much easier to do so in my pew, in a prayer position, recounting to Him my unworthiness and my thankfulness for His sacrifice. This is seldom done without tears rolling down my face, taking my mascara with them. This is both a time of fellowship with others and a personal outpouring of thanks. We don’t do many things in the same way they did them in the first century. We can, however, do them for the same reasons. That is what makes this special meal a true communion.

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