Today, millions of Christians around the world are remembering the first last supper and celebrate holy communion themselves. However, all to often communion has become something different than what Jesus intended. I would like to take this opportunity to stress the importance of community when celebrating communion.
The famous text in 1 Cor 11 that most churches quotes when celebrating communion, has an interesting remark that is not quoted very often concerning the extent of the Eucharistic food and the socioeconomic status of the participants:
So then, 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. Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? Certainly not in this matter! (1 Cor 11:20-22)
Now, modern churches surely avoids the embarrassing situation of people getting drunk after receiving communion simply by just offering a little sip. But they aren’t solving the hunger problem by just offering a tiny biscuit. When I became a Christian, 1 Cor 11 confused me since I honestly believed that the communion ritual my Lutheran church celebrated was the actual one that Jesus instituted. But obviously it isn’t – the Biblical communion was a real meal.
In Corinth, people seem to have brought their food to church to share in communion. But the problem was that they still were individualistic, so that the rich ate their own bread and wine and got drunk while the poor were hungry. This Paul condemns. Communion is a common meal that should be shared equally!
For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 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.” 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.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. (vv. 22-30)
Here’s a passage we recognize from the Eucharistic ritual! Jesus said that the bread is His body and the wine is His blood, and we need to eat this in a worthy manner and discern Him in the meal, lest we will lose the healing and resurrecting power of the communion. This is the case not only when we deny His presence, but also if we do not share the meal equally:
So then, my brothers and sisters, when you gather to eat, you should all eat together. Anyone who is hungry should eat something at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment. And when I come I will give further directions. (vv 33-34)
When modern churches reduce communion to a ritual with minimal food, they step away from one of the main purposes of communion: to be a common meal for rich and poor people. This has to change. I encourage you to seek up some poor folks today and share a meal with them. That’s Biblical, community-based communion.