We’ve all heard it at some point: “Make sure you clear your thoughts and think about Jesus and the cross so you’re not taking communion in an unworthy manner.” The passage referred to is 1 Corinthians 11:27-28, which reads, “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.”
A stern warning, indeed, but is Paul talking about self-reflection here? We often miss both the context in Corinth and the overall context of the communion meal. First, we must realize that the Lord’s Supper that Christians celebrated was an actual meal. They sat down and dined together in the evening. But in Corinth, the church turned the Lord’s Supper into a typical Greco-Roman meal. Second, the meals commemorating Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross were linked to the meals of Acts 2:42 and 2:46. Third, they are linked by sharing “all things in common” through the bond of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice.
In John Mark Hicks’ book Enter the Water Come to the Table, he says concerning division in the Lord’s Supper, “This scenario emerged at Corinth’s meal (1 Cor. 11:17-22). The rich divided themselves from the poor so that they ate and drank without them. The poor, perhaps slaves or lower class workers, arrived later when the food and drink were gone. The poor, then, went hungry while the rich were well-fed and some of them drunk.”
This is important for us to understand. God’s acts unite man through saving grace. Imagine if the Israelites were shoving each other and leaving others behind when they crossed the Red Sea. God wouldn’t have tolerated it for a second. In Acts 2, imagine if the poor were uninvited from the breaking of the bread. That kind of behavior is “eating in an unworthy manner.” The Lord’s Supper unites believers at the foot of the cross, with Jesus as the host. It’s a time of selfless giving, sharing, and partaking. It’s a time to invite the poor and downtrodden in; to feed them, share in fellowship with them, and enjoy the celebration of grace with them.
We need to work with each other so that we are not eating and drinking in an unworthy manner. We must celebrate together and remain unified at the foot of the cross!