"They devoted themselves...to the breaking of bread" -- Acts 2:42
The Lord's Supper was the central act of early Christian worship. Jesus asked his disciples to remember Him in the taking of the bread and the wine at Passover, and the early church followed suit. This communion meal was meant to be taken together, as a unified group of believers, but it wasn't long before some things got out of hand and Paul had to remind the church at Corinth of the importance of the Lord's supper.
Division at the Table
Even the early church was characterized by factions. And Paul writes that because of these divisions, people at the church in Corinth were breaking off into their own side groups to eat apart from the others. Instead of taking the Lord's meal together as a body, people ate "private suppers," and Paul tells the church, "As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk." Instead of approaching the table in unity, humbly sharing what they had in honor to Christ, the people in the Corinth church were jockeying for position, fighting for the best food and the best seat, getting drunk, and letting the poor go hungry! This behavior is not what Jesus had in mind!
To get the people back on track, Paul reminds the Corinth church about the origins and purpose of the Lord's Supper. The Lord's Supper is meant to remind us of Christ's sacrifice -- both on the cross and in His incarnation. There is a three-pronged focus to this communion meal:
- Remember: The Lord's supper reminds of us God's holiness and goodness in his gift of Christ, the Word made flesh. But this is more than just a personal reflection. Paul says, "whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes," and he uses the plural "you," which could be better translated "y'all." When we remember Christ's sacrifice together, we also re-member -- that is, we bring together what is separate into the unity of Christ. As we pass the bread and the wine, we remember that the body was broken and the blood shed for each believer in the room. That whatever may divide us, Christ unites us. Without Christ, there is no "us." Our unity and our recollection of God's goodness are inextricably linked; we need each other to encourage our memory of God's goodness.
- Reconcile: The Lord's supper calls us to examine ourselves, to confess any sin, and to reflect on our attitude toward God and others. In the early church, there were literal, physical consequences for partaking in communion without confession, unity, and repentance. Taking the Lord's Supper should not be done flippantly; we must take seriously the call to repent and be reconciled to God and to our brothers and sisters in Christ.
- Recommit: Since the Lord's supper reminds us of Christ's sacrifice and calls us to repentance and reconciliation, it also provides an opportunity, each time we partake, to renewed commitment and action in love and service. Sometimes this recommitment takes the form of small, patient action. For example, the Lord's supper reminds us to follow in Christ's footsteps of humility and service by waiting for and being considerate of one another at the table. We then carry out this patience and kindness in other areas of life. Remember: we don't provide unity among the believers -- the Holy Spirit does that. But we do keep the unity. As we take the Lord's supper together, let us recommit ourselves to God and to loving relationship with each other.