This past week we celebrated Memorial Day and it’s always interesting to see how many people misunderstand what that holiday is all about. It often seems that the general public get our patriotic holidays confused – Veteran’s Day, Independence Day, Memorial Day – they all just kind of get tangled together into some kind of red, white, and blue reason to cook out or have a parade. Sadly the same often happens with religious holidays as well. More and more I hear adults confused or forgetful regarding why we celebrate Easter or Christmas. Our culture has just taken these days and turned them into money-making machines and TV specials to the point that we often don’t remember why we’re celebrating.
In the second half of 1 Corinthians chapter 11 we find Paul confronting a similar problem in the Corinthian church. The church was carrying on the practice of the Lord’s Supper, but the way they were doing it showed that they had lost all connection to what it was supposed to be about. Rather than being a time of unity where the church body came together to remember and celebrate what Jesus had done for them, the church had turned this sacred ceremony into a drunken feast. They weren’t sharing the meal as they had been taught, and rather than resulting in unity and worship the meal ended in divisiveness and condemnation.
As we look at this situation, let’s begin by making sure we understand what the Lord’s Supper is all about. You may have heard of the Lord’s Supper referred to by different terms depending on what denomination you grew up in. In addition to being called the Lord’s Supper, it is also referred to as Communion or the Eucharist. It is referred to as the Lord’s Supper because as Jesus shared the Last Supper with His disciples He instituted this sacrament by teaching them to remember His sacrifice through the breaking of bread and the drinking of the cup. It is referred to as Communion because in the King James Version of the Bible 1 Corinthians 10:16 reads, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?” It is called the Eucharist because in Latin and Greek the term eucharist means “thanksgiving.”
The Lord’s Supper (along with baptism) is considered to be a sacrament because it is an outward and visible sign of inward and spiritual divine grace that was passed on to us by Jesus. On the night before He was betrayed, Jesus gathered with His disciples in an upper room to eat the Passover meal. The Passover was a special meal designed by God to commemorate the deliverance of Israel out of slavery in Egypt. If you remember, as God delivered Israel from Egypt through a series of plagues the last plague was the killing of all first-born children throughout the land. The only way the children of Israel could protect themselves from the death angel was to kill a lamb and take the blood of the lamb and put it on the doorposts of their home. Meanwhile they were to eat the lamb, along with some unleavened bread and bitter herbs as their Passover meal. When the death angel was sent throughout the land, whenever he would see blood on the doorposts he would Passover those houses and they would be saved. From that time on, the Jews would celebrate Passover every year and remember how God had saved them from their bondage.
But on the night before Jesus’ crucifixion, while Jesus and the disciples were sharing the Passover meal, Jesus took that meal and transformed it into a new meal. He took the bread and the cup of the Passover meal and He told the disciples that a new covenant was coming about through Him. The wine they drank would from now on represent His blood that He was about to shed for them, and the bread they broke would represent His body that was about to be broken for them. Rather than remembering the blood on the doorposts and God’s deliverance of their people from slavery to the Egyptians, from now on they would remember how the body and blood of Jesus rescued them from their slavery to sin. As Jesus shared this new tradition with His disciples He said, “…do this in remembrance of Me…For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” So this became the new and normal celebration for the Christian church. Jesus gave us this sacrament (along with baptism) to commemorate and proclaim His death and resurrection until the day He returns to take us with Him.
In the first century the church celebrated this, not only by breaking bread and drinking a small cup of juice like we do, but by having a church-wide feast called a love feast. This was an opportunity for fellowship and sharing with those who were less privileged – at the end of this meal they would observe the Lord’s Supper. But upon receiving their letter and hearing word about the church from some of his visitors, Paul learned that the church in Corinth was not following his directives concerning their time together.
Division Rather Than Unity (1 Cor. 11:17-22)
There were two problems in their observation of the Lord’s Supper. First of all, when they gathered, they did so in cliques. Paul said that when they got together there were divisions as people were eating. Rather than using the meal as an opportunity to spend time with others they didn’t normally get to be with, they just spent time with their closest circle of friends. Paul condemns this and says in verse 19 that this divisiveness proved their lack of spiritual maturity.
The other problem was their selfishness. As these cliques sectioned off from one another it appears that the lines were primarily drawn socioeconomically. Paul explains that some of the people began eating before everyone even arrived and that they feasted and had so much to drink that they got drunk while others remained hungry. The whole point of this celebration was to unite and encourage one another as they remembered their blessings in Christ’s sacrifice together, yet they were using it to do the exact opposite. Rather than encouraging one another and building unity, their celebration brought division and discord. Therefore Paul had to remind them how the observance was supposed to take place.
Instructions for the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:23-34)
As Paul begins to instruct them, he reminds them that what he is explaining was what he received from the Lord. In his instructions, Paul teaches the church to:
-Look Back (vss. 23-26)
-Look Ahead (vs. 26)
-Look Within (vss. 27-32)
-Look Around (vss. 33-34)
First we are to look back at Christ’s sacrifice. Verses 23-26 say,
The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
As we receive the elements of the Lord’s Supper we need to take time to remember what they represent. The broken bread represents Jesus’ body which was broken on the cross. The cup represents His blood that was shed for the forgiveness of our sins. Jesus wanted us to remember His sacrifice because all of our blessings in Christ come from that monumental sacrifice.
We need to remember that He died because it was His death, not His life or teachings,that saved sinners. He died for our sins. He took the punishment that we deserve upon Himself. Scripture explains it this way:
-Isaiah 53:6 – We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
-2 Corinthians 5:21 – “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
-1 Peter 2:24 – He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.
So we remember the sacrifice that Jesus made for us, but we don’t just remember this as a historical reality, we remember that through faith we have united with Christ in death. We are reminded of the truth that Romans 6:3-5 tells us when it says,
“…don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.”
This leads to the next thing we must do as we share in the Lord’s Supper. We should look ahead to the return of Jesus. Verse 26 says that when we eat this bread and drink this cup we proclaim the Lord’s death “until He comes.” We remember that Jesus not only died for us, but He rose again and ascended to heaven; and one day He will return and take us to heaven. Jesus taught this in John 14:2-3 when He said, “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”
After looking back to Jesus’ death and looking forward to His return, we need to take the time to look within. That’s what Paul refers to in verses 27-32 when he says that we should not participate in the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner. We need to look within ourselves and confess our sin to the Lord. Paul warns about the importance of this as he explains in verse 30 that many within their church had become sick or even died due to the disciplining hand of God. Although the consequences of God’s discipline may seem severe, Paul reminds us in verse 32 that it is far better to be disciplined by God so that we will turn away from our sin rather than being condemned for our sin.
The last instruction we need to consider as we share in this meal is to look around. Verses 33-34 tell us that the Lord’s Supper is not simply personal, it is something we do in the midst of community. As such, we are to consider those around us. Paul raised this issue in 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 when he asked the rhetorical questoins, “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? 17 Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.” The Lord’s Supper is a family meal, and God wants us, His children, to love one another and care for one another. Scripture speaks often of the fact that we cannot love God if, at the same time, we are not loving our brothers and sisters. How can we remember the Lord’s death and the grace and mercy extended to us and not extend that same grace and mercy to others?
The Lord’s Supper is a time of remembrance, a time of hope, a time of introspection, and a time of fellowship where we give thanks to God and proclaim the gospel of Jesus until He comes again. Let’s give thanks to God together this morning as we celebrate together.