By Gabe Holton
1 Corinthians 11:17-32
One of our biggest privileges of our ministry at Anchor House is feeding and eating with the seafarers and port workers. From our kitchen, we sell food throughout the day, which often means feeding lunch to the port workers. When we arrive on a ship, the first question asked is "Do you want coffee?" When seafarers come to our center in the late afternoons, we return the favor by making them our own coffee and selling them ice cream. When we do a worship service on a ship, we bring the communion elements to administer and they usually provide dinner for us in return.
Sharing food and drink together is often the first, and an easy, step to forming relationships with the seafarers. It is an opportunity to listen to the seafarers and to hear their stories and situations they are facing. Recently, our chaplain and I visited a ship with an Indian and Thai crew, and we had the privilege to share tea with the first mate. While we waited for our tea we had the opportunity to ask questions about life on the ship, traveling the world, and discuss certain aspects of our respective cultures. The conversation was less than an hour, and once we drank our tea we said our thanks and left. Nothing particularly extraordinary happened in the visit, and there was no apparent supernatural power in sharing tea with each other. However, in that small exchange we shared in communion and service with one another, which is innately a deep expression of the Christian faith.
1 Corinthians 11:17-32
17 Now in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. 18 For, to begin with, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you; and to some extent I believe it. 19 Indeed, there have to be factions among you, for only so will it become clear who among you are genuine. 20 When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord’s supper. 21 For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk. 22 What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What should I say to you? Should I commend you? In this matter I do not commend you!
23 For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ 25 In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgement against themselves. 30 For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. 31 But if we judged ourselves, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.
This passage in 1 Corinthians is what is generally read before communion and it summarizes the events of the Last Supper, as found in the gospel accounts (Matthew 26, Luke 22). Not as commonly read is the preceding verses that explain the context of communion that Paul is admonishing the Corinthians for. In fact, this first part seems to change the connotation of the passage because Paul is doing more than summarizing what Jesus said. He is correcting the way the Corinthians have been acting in communion, and in doing so, tells them the correct way and reason to do so.
What is striking to me is Paul's emphasis on division. He is admonishing the Corinthians not because they do not partake in the Lord's Supper, but because they are divided when they do it. Contextually speaking, Paul is referring to how the Christians and Corinth are not equally distributing the elements, but how some are getting drunk while others go hungry. Likely, this division was due to the wealth gap between the rich and poor, where the poor were not being given equal share of the Lord's Supper.
This admonition leads Paul to remind the Corinthians of Jesus's words at the last supper which remind us that when we partake in communion, we are proclaiming the Lord's own death and resurrection. The Lord's Supper is kept to proclaim Jesus's sacrifice on the cross and is a foretaste of what heaven's feast will be like. Before we take communion, it is imperative for Christians to have unity among their ranks. In the supper, we look back at Jesus, who took all of his disciples who would soon betray him, as he readies himself to die for them proclaiming This is my body broken for you. It is now our duty and honor as the church to remind ourselves of this same spirit of thanksgiving and resurrection that leads us to look at the cross.