1 Cor 11:17-34 – The Lord’s Supper

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1 Cor 11:17-22

  1. The original Eucharist was not a ceremony inside a church building where people queued up to see a priest who handed out a wafer to be dipped in a cup of wine. No, the original communion was a ceremony in the context of a meal (Matt 26:26-30, Mark 14:22-25, Luke 22:19-20, Acts 2:42-47), as is evident from the very word “communion” (supper). The original Greek reads “kyriakos deipnon”, which simply means “the Lord’s supper”.
    1. Celebrating a ceremony of bread and wine in anticipation of the coming of the Messiah was practiced by the Jews of Qumran 100 years before Jesus.
    1. When Abram meets Melchizedek, the king of Salem, he brings bread and wine to Abram and blesses him (Gen 14:17-20).
    1. In the Jewish culture of Jesus’ time, a communal meal was a way of showing togetherness and community, and was often associated with various ceremonies and commemorations. Compare, for example, the Israelites’ celebration of Passover to commemorate the Exodus from Egypt (Ex 12); the people of Israel would sprinkle the blood of the lamb on their doorposts to avoid death, and then eat unleavened bread to commemorate God’s salvation. Jews still celebrate the Passover meal in this way today:
      1. The Passover lamb reminds us of the angel of death who, thanks to the blood of the lamb, passed by the Israelites’ homes and saved them from death.
      1. The unleavened bread reminds us of the speed of God’s salvation. The Israelites did not have time to prepare the bread as usual, but had to hurry.
      1. The salt water is reminiscent of the tears that the Israelites wept in their captivity, as well as the fact that they passed through the Red Sea.
      1. The bitter herbs are reminiscent of the bitterness of slavery.
      1. A special fruit puree is reminiscent of the clay they used to make bricks from in their captivity in Egypt.
      1. The four cups of wine, with three parts water and one part wine, recall God’s four promises to Israel in Exodus 6:6-7: 1) bring you out, 2) rescue you, 3) redeem you, and 4) take you to be my people.
    1. It is no coincidence that Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper in connection with the Jewish Passover meal (Matt 26:17-29). On the other hand, the Eucharist is not dependent on the Passover meal, which is celebrated only once a year, but can be celebrated at any time believers gather in Jesus’ name.
      1. The Passover meal includes a reminder to God’s people that God remembers his covenant, that God saved Israel from Egyptian slavery, the blood of the lamb that gave salvation from death, and a call to continually celebrate the Passover meal.
      1. The Eucharist includes a reminder to God’s people that God has instituted a new covenant, that God saved his people from the bondage of sin, the blood of the Lamb that provides forgiveness of sins, and a call to continually celebrate the Eucharist.
    1. An interesting curiosity is that the city of Philadelphia, which is addressed in Rev 3:7-13, was located in a fertile valley where they grew wheat and grapes. In the city translated “brotherly love” the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper grew.
  2. Since there were no church buildings in Bible times, the congregation gathered in homes. It was therefore natural that those who had a large house, and were therefore reasonably well off, opened up their homes for worship.
    1. In a wealthy Greco-Roman home, the fine dining room was relatively small, while the courtyard was much larger. Perhaps it was natural for the host of the house to invite the finer guests up to the fine dining room, while the other members of the congregation had to be content with eating the communion meal in the courtyard.
      1. Such a class division of the congregation when celebrating communion signaled the very opposite of the meaning of communion; that Christ by his death made Jew and Greek, slave and free, rich and poor, male and female, one in Christ (Gal 3:26-28).
      1. If the Greek upper classes want to eat their fine dinners with each other, they can do so on some other occasion than the celebration of Holy Communion.

1 Cor 11:23-26

  1. Communion is a ceremony associated with a meal. In its most basic form, the communion ceremony has four parts:
    1. “This is my body”
      1. Jesus physically gave his “body” as a sacrifice to save humanity from death, by carrying our sins in his body up on the tree of the cross (1 Peter 2:24).
        1. In the same way, we too are to offer “our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God”, our “spiritual worship” (Rom 12:1).
      1. A second symbolic meaning of the bread is that it is “one” loaf, but when divided into smaller pieces at the same time contains “many” pieces of bread. Thanks to Jesus’ death on the cross, we believers become part of the body of Christ, the church.
    1. “Do this in memory of me”
      1. Communion, like the Jewish Passover meal, is meant to be celebrated continuously in conjunction with a meal. In this way, people are repeatedly reminded of the significance of Jesus’ death and offered an opportunity to ask Jesus for forgiveness for the sins they have committed.
    1. “This cup is the new covenant in my blood”
      1. Just as Moses sprinkled the blood of the covenant on the Israelites (Exodus 24:8), so we drink the “blood of Jesus, the blood of the covenant, shed for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28).
        1. The big difference between the blood of the Old Testament covenant and that of the New Testament is that the blood of Moses was sprinkled on the outside and covered the sins, while the blood of Jesus fills our body and transforms us from the inside out.
          1. This difference between the old and the new covenant is echoed by God in Jer 31:31-34. The new covenant will be written on the hearts of God’s people, bringing them to know God and to have their sins forgiven.
    1. “Until he comes”
      1. Communion is not only about remembering what Jesus did on the cross, but also longing for Jesus’ return when he will once again “drink of the fruit of the vine” (Matt 26:29) in the context of the great “messianic banquet” (Isa 25:6-9, Matt 8:11).
        1. The Eucharist, then, is not only a sad memory of Jesus’ death, but also a foretaste of the great heavenly feast that awaits all believers when Jesus returns.
        1. The Eucharist looks back and remembers the death of Jesus who became life for us, while the Eucharist also looks forward in longing for the return of Jesus. As we partake of the bread and wine, we also partake of the death and resurrection of Jesus, while already here and now in faith we are given a taste of the heavenly banquet to come.

1 Cor 11:27-34

  1. Paul reacts strongly to the Corinthian church’s “unworthy handlingof the Lord’s Supper, which in Corinth seems to have involved 1) fighting, 2) some people grabbing all the food, and 3) not discerning the Lord’s body in the Lord’s Supper.
    1. What Paul is critical of, then, is not whether the church handled the bread and wine ceremonially incorrectly, whether they used a wafer or a loaf of bread, whether they used wine or grape juice. It was not the handling of the external forms of the Eucharist that was the problem, but that the way in which the congregation celebrated the Eucharist showed division rather than unity, which contradicts the meaning of the Eucharist. The rich separated themselves from the poor, ate all the food and left the poor hungry, making the body of Christ divided in a ceremony that is supposed to show unity and togetherness.
  2. Can we too today risk handling the Eucharist in an unworthy way? Yes, if we make the Eucharist a marker to divide Christians rather than to unite Christians, if we focus on the forms of the Eucharist at the expense of its meaning, or if we let the poor go hungry from the meal while we ourselves are eating our fill.
    1. A proper communion celebration is when we lift up bread and wine to remember the death and resurrection of Jesus and all that it meant for our salvation, a meal where all are fed whether we are poor or rich, where we show spiritual unity across worldly boundaries, where we long for the return of Jesus and in faith get a taste of the heavenly banquet to come.
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