First Corinthians 11:17-26
Having The Lord's Supper Together

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

1. Because today is the first Lord's day of the month, afterwards, the Lord's Supper will be observed. The Lord's Supper is a meal. It is a meal in which we eat bread and drink wine (grape juice). There are also churches which observe it on a weekly basis. There are also churches which practice it only a few times a year. However, even if it is a week when we don't observe the Lord's Supper, we hold worship services around the table for the Lord's Supper (as I mentioned before). Our sanctuary, our worship hall, if we make a comparison, is not a kind of "class room," but a "dining hall." We gather each week and sit for dinner.

2. Basically, it may be called a meal, but it is a very small piece of bread that is set before us here. We use unusually small cups even. They are set in a silver plate. It is quite clear that it is not a regular meal. Yet, in it is the source flow of the church's communion supper. During the last supper that Jesus and the disciples had, this kind of bread and wine were not even taken. Just as you'd think, it was a normal dinner.

3. Therefore, during the last supper, when Christ said, "Observe it like this as a memorial to me," (translated literally, "Observe this as a memorial to me"), he did not say to observe some ceremony that came with special gestures and gesticulations, but he said to have a normal meal in which we break the bread and eat it. Thus, it was both a meal for which the church had assembled afterwards and had eaten and it was a very typical of meals. It went that same way in the church at Corinth, too.

4. Of course, even when you have a normal meal, to gather together and eat a meal in the church has a completely different meaning from having a meal at each of your homes; that's because the meal at church, as Jesus had said, is had in remembrance of Jesus. In that sense, it is a special meal after all. The church uses the expression for this as "the Lord's Supper," just as the text has it in Paul's words from verse twenty.

5. But, no matter how much we call it the Lord's Supper, since it is no different from a normal meal to the eye, some how or other the distinction between "the Lord's Supper" and "a normal supper" always gets blurred. It looks like that's what was already happening at the Corinthian church. They were getting together and eating a supper for the Lord, but what actually was happening was that "You might be assembling together, but it is not turning out that you are eating the Lord's Supper," (verse twenty).

6. Since it was turning out that way, it would behoove us to understand what the Lord's Supper clearly is. For an example, today, [we should go ahead and understand] how it is observed in our church. Some may not be mistaking the Lord's Supper for some every day meal. If we observe it with the understanding that it is a "holy supper" and an "evening supper of the Lord," then it will [naturally] turn out that we are eating the Lord's Supper, right? I don't think so. As for the outward form alone, we do practice it like one does a ceremonial meal, however, just like the Corinthian church, what is possibly taking place among us might be that "You might be assembling together, but it is not turning out that you are eating the Lord's Supper." So, we need to firmly comprehend what the Bible is taking issue with here so that we too will observe the Lord's Supper in the appropriate way.

A Supper For Oneself

7. So, as we cast our attention on today's passage of scripture, we understand first of all the fact that there were divisions in the Corinthian church. "To begin with, as you all assemble in church, I hear that there are personal splits between you. As far it goes with me, I would think that that was true," (verse eighteen). It repeatedly touches in this epistle upon the personal factions in the Corinthian church. However, the situation was more serious than simply that they had splits among them. They had the problem there of making the Lord's Supper into something that wasn't the Lord's Supper [at all].

8. The following is written in verse twenty-one. "That's because the deal there is that at meal time each person is eating his own meal selfishly, if some are hungry, some are getting drunk." Of course, that is a terrible thing to hear. We'll think too that this couldn't be a real meal of the Lord's Supper. But we must accurately make out what has lead to the problem here.

9. To begin with, why was it happening that some were full ahead of time, some were already even drunk, and then on the other side of things, some were going hungry? It is because the hours varied in which they were able to assemble at church. Why did their hours for getting together as an assembly vary so much? It was because the church was made up of peoples from different social classes. For instance, some were slaves, others were masters of slaves. They had distinctive social differences between them. They had marked economic differences. In their times, normally, meetings were held at night time. The wealthy could get there early. The poor had to work long and hard. However, after their toiling at last, they were let loose and when they rushed to the meeting, the Lord's Supper was already almost all eaten up.

10. Originally, this meal was made by a voluntary offering from the church membership. The providers of most of the meals were most likely the rich folk when you count it all up. Those people would end up eating much sooner and ate their portions in a selfish manner. Even though that's how it happened, the poor couldn't complain. Therefore, in verse twenty-two Paul says, "Don't you have houses in which you can do your usual eating and drinking? Or are you belittling the church of God and wanting to embarrass the poor intentionally?"

11. But, the problem does not simply lie in having a lack of concern for the poor. That's just not the whole problem, rather, the problem is why could their lack of concern take place, of all places, during the Lord's Supper?

12. Then the words we ought to note next are in verse twenty-one. Paul says, "For, each one ends up eating his own portion in a selfish way." The words, "his own portion," are originally the words "his own supper." They were gathering for "the Lord's Supper," but it changed to being "their own supper" [doing it unto themselves for themselves].

13. Yes they were - they were having a time eating and drinking and not thinking of Jesus in any way. They shouldn't have been trying to fill their empty stomachs by eating that meal. That's true because they didn't especially need to have a meal as they assembled in church. They were planning on eating "the Lord's Supper." Initially, what had gotten them together at so early an hour must have been their fervency and zeal. Thus, I would think that having the Lord's Supper so early with but only a few yet "fervent" people who assembled so early an hour was a most full blown act of faith for them.

14. But, no matter how fervent and pious an act it was on the surface, Paul says that it was only "their own supper." Since it was only "their own supper," de facto, the poor who didn't come early didn't enter into the picture for them. The others whom the Lord invited and called to come did not come into their view. No, instead of coming into their view, they were taking pleasure in "their own supper." As a matter of fact, they must have had a great deal of pleasure in their own pious meetings with those [most] like them socially and economically. But, it wasn't the Lord's Supper any more.

Having A Part Of The Lord's Body And Blood Together

15. So, don't you think that that kind of thing [still] goes on today? Don't you think it is possibly taking place, that it's not the Lord's Supper but it has become "our own supper" when we shed stirring tears and receive the bread so piously, so reverently, though many shapes of the bread be different and though we may observe it so ceremoniously? That kind of [supposed] Lord Supper, be it from faithful yearnings, be it from carnal cravings, yet in the end, is a worship that seeks only for the self to be satisfied. That kind of [supposed] Lord's Supper is a worship in which we want to satisfy ourselves fully and not be bothered by anyone else. That is no longer the Lord's Supper. - Because in the Lord's Supper one does not only eat but [our] "eating together" has a true and qualitative meaning.

16. With that then, Paul shows them all over the Lord's words [given] during his last supper, with which the Corinthian disciples themselves were quite familiar. "This is my body for you. Observe this this way as a memorial of me," (verse twenty-four). "This cup is the new covenant which is established by my blood. Whenever you drink, observe it this way as a memorial of me," (verse twenty-five). It was "the evening when" Jesus "was betrayed" when the Lord had spoken that. After being betrayed, the Lord was crucified and murdered. The Lord's words were given just before his death upon the cross. For them and for us, for the purpose of our atonement from our sins, with the presupposition that his body was to be nailed on the cross and his blood was to be shed, the Lord said, "This is my body," and "This is my blood." So, "the Lord's Supper" means to eat the flesh of Jesus and to drink his blood. For our salvation Christ tore his own body, shed his blood, and gave [of himself] to us.

17. If the Lord's Supper is truly the eating of the flesh of the man called the Christ and the drinking of his blood, a mutuality of sharing in the Lord's Supper will link us together with incredibly thick bonds. Therefore, those bonds ought to break through any walls of separation which tear apart we humans all on the same level and should unite us together. Both the poor and the rich. Or whatever social class you belong to. Or both the Jew and the Gentile. Or both male and female. Or both the patriot in the Zealot Party or the pariah tax collector. These all have no essential meaning in the Lord's Supper because Christ has torn his body for us, shed his blood, and has given us to eat of his flesh and blood, and has joined us together.

18. Thus then, in actual fact, in the church, that slaves and masters have meals together has happened. Things that look impossible to happen did happen - such as Jews and Gentiles having a meal together. Because Christ is but one, those who have a part in his body and blood are also to be together [as one]. That's the Lord's Supper. The Lord's Supper ought to mean, in its most original form, that very thing.

19. Thus, by their getting together for one another, both the rich and the poor, and by their having a meal together as one, the Corinthian church had to recover the original Lord's Supper. Our church too must examine itself regularly to see whether we are truly having [the Lord's] Lord's Supper or not.

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