1 Cor. 11:17-29
Paul warns those in the Corinthian church to not eat the bread or drink the cup in an unworthy manner, and then gives immediate advice on how to do it in a worthy manner. Let a person examine himself before partaking.
But what does that mean? Examine himself for what?
In an apparent reversal, Paul then explains further: “For anyone who eats the drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgement on himself.”
To properly examine ourselves, we must discern the body. Certainly, Paul has in mind Christ’s body. He resolved to preach nothing but Christ and him crucified, it was Christ’s body that hung on that cruel tree, and it is Christ’s body that the bread most obviously represents.
But in the rest of the letter, what has been Paul’s emphasis? What seems to be the main problem for the Corinthian church? At the beginning of the letter, he rebukes the church for having divisions among them. Just before talking about the establishment of the Lord’s Supper, he brings the divisions up again. When they come together, it is not for the better, but for the worse.
Because of these divisions, one of which being the division between the rich and the poor, it is not really the Lord’s Supper that they eat, and they eat it to their condemnation.
Paul isn’t done with the topic yet. Immediately after his instructions, he talks about spiritual gifts and then he picks up the subject of unity once again. The body does not consist of one member, but many, each with their own function. There are many parts, but one body.
Chapter 12 and verse 27: “Now you are the body of Christ, and individually members of it.”
The Lord’s Supper is not a meal that’s just between you and Jesus. You come to the table of the King with your brothers and sisters. You sit at the table with the rest of your family. You do not eat this meal alone.
What does it mean to discern the body of Christ? Look to your left, and then look to your right. Look at who is sitting in front of you. We are called to love one another. In the very next chapter, Chapter 13, Paul shows us what he calls a more excellent way. Faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of these is love. For love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
What does it mean to discern the body of Christ? To love the body. To pray for the body. To find ways to give yourself up for the body, just as the example of Christ that we are about to memorialize right now. It means to not despise the body, and that means to not despise other members of the body. To be aware of each other’s presence, and not wallow in morbid introspection.
But Chapter 11 isn’t the only place Paul talks about the Lord’s Supper in this letter. In chapter 10, starting in verse 16, it says: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar?”
Just as with the peace offering of old Israel, we are participants. We eat the bread, and are reminded of the peace that God has declared between us and Him. We are reminded that, before God looks at us with deserving wrath, he first looks at His own Son, on whom he poured out his wrath instead. He first looks at Jesus, and then looks at us in peace and fellowship.
When we look at others, we too must first look at Jesus. And then we must look at his body in peace and fellowship.
The table is not a place for strife. It is not a place for anger. It is not a place for envy. It is a place for peace. If you have something against your brother or sister, or if you think a brother or sister has something against you, it does not belong at this table.
“So if you are offering your gift at the alter and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the alter and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
If we are only pretending to have unity here at the table, only pretending that there is peace among us, we are just eating and drinking judgement on ourselves. This is a table of no condemnation. This meal is a sign that God no longer accuses you. So do not bring your accusations and condemnations of a fellow brother here, even if they are just in your own head.
The paradox of the Lord’s Supper is that, to partake of it in a worthy manner, we must first recognize our unworthiness to partake of it. You should not fret and worry about your unworthiness. That’s part of the whole point. Of course you are unworthy to eat with the King. But that also means you should not fret an worry about the unworthiness of everyone else. Have you been slighted? Hurt? Has someone in the body done you harm? Of course they have. That is a given. They are unworthy. And so are you.
The body of Christ was broken on the cross, so that his body here, gathered at the table might be stitched together. The body of Christ was torn and pierced, so that this body here might be mended and unified. And the body of Christ was made alive again and glorified, so that this body here might have new life.
So as you partake of this meal, discern the body. Not the dead body that was put into the tomb, divided from spirit, but the living body of the resurrected Christ, and the living body into which you have been grafted.