Summary: This is the third of three sermons inspired by the book Come to the Table by John Mark Hicks.
Eating Together at the Lord’s Table
1 Cor. 11:17-34
Introduction: 1st Class!
1. Catering to the money.
If you fly first class regularly, then don’t take offense, but I don’t like you very much! Those of us who fly coach wait in agonizingly long lines, while you zip right to the front of the line. We watch you board the plane first and then to add insult to injury we are paraded right through your section while you are seated in big cushy seats with too much leg room. As we crowd into our tiny spot, we see the flight attendant bring you drinks right away. Then as we sit there starving with our bags of peanuts, you get to eat a full meal. Right after we have witnessed just enough of this to know our low place in life, the flight attendant pulls the curtain shut, leaving us to our coach service! When it comes to money, we are not all equal!
2. 1st class Christians.
We understand the system, because you get what you pay for. But imagine a church that operates like this. Those that give the biggest contributions have reserved seating. They are allowed to choose the songs and to take communion first. In fact, it is irrelevant if we run out of the emblems by the time it gets to poorer people. Every Sunday after church the wealthier are ushered into a separate room where they are served a full course meal with dessert. If there is any left over, the not so fortunate are permitted to come in and eat. Afterwards, they return to their cars, which are in reserved parking, of course. It may surprise you, but there was a church like this. The church in Corinth catered to the rich and neglected the poor. The L.S. became an opportunity to indulge and humiliate those that didn’t have much. It was a church that practice 1st class Christianity. They forgot that Christ created community to be realized in the L.S. Through Paul’s correction to them we can learn to restore what is most precious about the Lord’s Supper…community.
Trouble in the text: The Corinthians destroyed community through the Supper (read text).
1. The Lord’s Supper had become divisive in Corinth.
Paul begins by saying he has no praise for them in what is going to follow. He gives the ultimate condemnation to a worship service when he says "your meetings do more harm than good." Paul’s #1 problem is that they have become divided (same in chapter 1, but deals directly with the Supper here). Apparently, the differences in the way they treated each other was not only of a material matter, but spiritual (19). The L.S. should have brought them together, but instead it was tearing them apart. Paul says it ceased to be the L.S.
2. Background to division.
Since the early Christians met in homes (Gaius? Rom:16:23) they ate a common meal together. At some point, though, they especially shared the bread and cup of the L.S. In the Greco-Roman culture meals were occasions for distinguishing different levels in society. People were separated along the lines of rich/poor and free/slave. The best food, wine, company, etc. were reserved for the most affluent. For the rich it became an occasion for indulgence and drunkenness. The poor and slaves got neglect and leftovers. The Corinthian Christians had allowed this to shape their practice of the L.S. instead of the other way around.
3. The “communal” experience in Corinth.
Notice the problems in Corinth followed this same pattern. No one waits for the others to arrive before the meal. Even in our culture, we view that as rude and insulting. This leads to some going without, while someone else has indulged to the point of drunkenness. The rich arrive first and poor later, because they likely had to work to do until the evening hours. V. 22 is not a condemnation of a meal, but a condemnation of the practice of the meal. If you want to eat your fill and not wait on others, then do it at home! They are accused of hating the church and humiliating the “have-nots!” They have broken down community through their practice of communion.
Trouble in the Church: We destroy community through individualism.
1. Christ died to create community.
“His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility (Eph. 2:15, 16). The Corinthians destroyed the message of the gospel by their practice. It is easy for us to see that. We can easily say we would never behave in such a way. I’m not sure that it is true that we never behave that way, but in the context of the L.S, we do practice as equals before the table.