I CORINTHIANS 11
Today the blog continues its examination of St. Paul’s Corinthian correspondence. Previous material on this topic and on Genesis and Mark, can be accessed from my archive. Biblical references can be placed after emmock.com as can particular topics eg. emmock.com John 3:16; or emmock.com obedience. The daily headlines are reminders of the world we live in.
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7 But in giving you this next instruction I do not praise you, because when you meet together it does more harm than good! 18 For, in the first place, I hear that when you gather together as a congregation you divide up into cliques; and to a degree I believe it 19 (granted that there must be some divisions among you in order to show who are the ones in the right). 20 Thus, when you gather together, it is not to eat a meal of the Lord; 21 because as you eat your meal, each one goes ahead on his own; so that one stays hungry while another is already drunk! 22 Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or are you trying to show your contempt for God’s Messianic community and embarrass those who are poor? What am I supposed to say to you? Am I supposed to praise you? Well, for this I don’t praise you!
23 For what I received from the Lord is just what I passed on to you — that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread; 24 and after he had made the blessing he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this as a memorial to me”; 25 likewise also the cup after the meal, saying, “This cup is the New Covenant effected by my blood; do this, as often as you drink it, as a memorial to me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord, until he comes.
27 Therefore, whoever eats the Lord’s bread or drinks the Lord’s cup in an unworthy manner will be guilty of desecrating the body and blood of the Lord! 28 So let a person examine himself first, and then he may eat of the bread and drink from the cup; 29 for a person who eats and drinks without recognizing the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. 30 This is why many among you are weak and sick, and some have died! 31 If we would examine ourselves, we would not come under judgment. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined, so that we will not be condemned along with the world.
33 So then, my brothers, when you gather together to eat, wait for one another. 34 If someone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that when you meet together it will not result in judgment.
Paul cites “Chloe’s people” in Corinth as his source of information about the assembly there. The “house churches” of the first messianic communities are often mentioned as a strength, compared with the elaborate buildings and rituals of later communities, but we can see that the mixing of private and communal at Corinth was not without its problems. Doubtless believers brought food to the common table, initially with the intention of sharing it, but after a while the richer ones kept their Chateauneuf and canapes to themselves while the poor were left with cheese sarnies and plonk. Paul’s words suppose that the Corinthians were eating an ordinary meal in the course of which bread and wine was shared. He insists that this is a messianic meal decreed by Jesus Messiah in face of his death. (The words Paul quotes “as from the Lord” must have been given to him by other “emissaries” after his own conversion)
Jesus command to “do this” although referring to the meal as a memorial surely also refers to what Jesus was “doing”, namely pouring out his life for the sake of God’s truth and the good of his neighbour. So the “memorial” is not simply remembrance, but the community’s way of constituting itself as the one body of the Messiah, ready to act sacrificially for God and their neighbour. Declaring the Lord’s death is also a commitment to the spirit in which Messiah Jesus offered up his life.Paul judges that the Corinthian practice is a denial of Jesus’ sacrifice, because people are eating and drinking without “recognising the body” that is, the body of the Messiah, murdered and resurrected to incorporate all who trust in him.
Paul’s horror at what has been happening in Corinth is seen in his charge that people who don’t recognise the body are guilty of desecrating the body and blood of the Messiah like those who murdered him. We should note however that this serious charge is made for ethical rather than ritual reasons. The body and blood of Jesus are desecrated by those who have no love for God or their neighbour rather than those who are using leavened bread.
The passage is evidence that the main gathering of believers in the first assemblies was for a communal meal which was also the Lord’s Meal. This is no longer the case in most churches. I was recently at the Sikh Gurdwara in Dundee where believers keep an open table every day. This is a standard feature of their faith, which nurtures a sense of belonging and extends a welcome to strangers. I am convinced that the recovery of the ancient custom of the weekly Meal would be beneficial for the life of churches today, especially if, unlike the early church practice, the Meal was open to believer and non-believer, strangers as well as members.