The church Paul addresses in 1 & 2 Corinthians was all kinds of crazy. On top of serious problems like disunity, immorality, and lawsuits between believers within the body, Paul faced growing challenges to his authority in the church in Corinth. 1 Corinthians especially is full of strong words of correction and rebuke, like a loving father disciplining a wayward son.
One of the most egregious practices within the Corinthian church was the manner of their celebration of the Lord’s Supper, or Holy Communion. Apparently many were gorging themselves on the holy meal or getting drunk on the wine, while others were left out in the cold. Such a self-centered approach had the effect of making the Lord’s Supper something else altogether, which is why Paul says, “When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk” (1 Cor 11:20-21).
Thankfully, I’m aware of no church that struggles with such a problem during the Lord’s Supper today. However, that doesn’t mean we don’t have something to learn about our practice of communion from the way Paul handled those issues in ancient Corinth. In particular I have in mind the clear implication from Paul’s teaching that communion is as a much a corporate celebration as it is an individual celebration…it is as much for the one body as it is for the many body parts.
Yes, individuals gather around the Lord’s table to remember Christ’s death through bread and wine (or juice), but they do so not as individuals but as one corporate body, the church. Paul makes that clear as he rebukes the abuse of the Lord’s Supper in Corinth: “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf” (1 Cor 10:16-17). One loaf. One body. When Christians gather to take celebrate communion, they are to be mindful of each other and in unity with one another. The Corinthian practice of gluttony during communion was wretched because it was so self-centered, whereas communion is never only about me and Jesus. It is also always about us and Jesus, the body and Jesus, the church and Jesus.
Beginning this Sunday at Capitol City, we’re going to modify slightly our practice of the Lord’s Supper to better represent this dimension of its meaning. We shall pass trays with the elements as usual, giving everyone time for reflection and self-examination (see 1 Cor 11:28). But then we shall take the emblems all together, at the same time, as one body. I pray that this will be one more way we can glorify Christ as a gospel-centered community.