July 30, 2021
Laity, First-Centenary UMC
Scenic South District
1 Cor. 11:27-29 (NIV)
27 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. 28 Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. 29 For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves.
When I first read today's scripture, my attention was caught by a certain word: unworthy.
To set the scene, the Apostle Paul was at Ephesus in modern-day Turkey, establishing the church there. While there, he received word from the church at Corinth in Greece. They were having troubles, big troubles. There was a power struggle within the church, lawsuits flying left and right, even sexual immorality that would have made a pagan blush with shame.
Paul couldn't just drop everything and sail across the Aegean Sea to settle matters in Corinth. So, he wrote a series of letters (possibly as many as four) to address the issues.
One of these issues was the abuse of the Lord's Supper.
At that time, the Lord's Supper was an actual communal meal, hence the alternate term Communion. Each person brought whatever food they could afford, and it was all set out together, like our covered-dish dinners today. When everyone had gathered, everyone would partake. At least, that was how it was supposed to be.
But the wealthier members had begun treating it like a private party; eating and drinking what they had brought without sharing it. While they became drunk and stuffed with food, the poor members, humiliated by how little they were contributing, went away hungry. There was no Christian communion taking place during this Communion.
Paul took them to task over this. In verses 23-26 he reminded them of Jesus' words at that first Lord's Supper. "Eat this bread; it is my body, given for you. Drink from this cup; it is my blood, poured out for you. Do this in remembrance of me." The Lord's Supper was not a church picnic: it was a sacrament, the purpose of which was to "proclaim the Lord's death until he comes." (1 Cor. 11:26)
Thus, the dual purpose of the Lord's Supper, according to Paul, was remembrance and proclamation: looking back to recall Jesus' sacrifice for us while also celebrating and preaching his death until he returns.
Today, with our more symbolic observance of Communion, we are not likely to be guilty of either gluttony or drunkenness, but it is still possible for us to partake of
it in an "unworthy" manner. The Service of Word and Table, found in our hymnal, directs how we should approach the Lord's table.
First, we are reminded that "Christ our Lord invites to his table all who love him." The Lord makes no distinction between gender, race, nationality, social class, income level, or political affiliation. However, those who come must "earnestly repent of their sin," and they must also "seek to live in peace with one another." Indeed, one of our first acts during Communion is a prayer of confession, followed almost immediately by the passing of the peace.
Paul cautioned the members of the Corinthian church that they must examine themselves before partaking of the Lord's Supper. Think about that for a moment. Do we truly welcome everyone to the Lord's table, or are there some people we would like to exclude? Are we truly sorry for our sins, or are there one or two we'd prefer to sweep under the rug? Do we truly wish to live together in peace with one another, or only with the people we like?
The next time we share the Lord's Supper, let us first examine ourselves to make sure we are eating worthily.
Lord, You know our every thought and the innermost secrets of our hearts. Help us by the power of your Spirit to examine ourselves and purge us of our unworthy ways. Amen.