Summary: How are we to observe the Lord's Supper in a suitable manner?
This morning we will observe the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Are you ready? Last week in announcing that we will have it, I exhorted you to prepare your hearts to receive it properly. The Book of Church Order requires the announcement so that “all may come in a suitable manner to this holy feast.” Are you ready to observe it in the proper manner? How do you get ready? For that matter, are you qualified to receive it? Our text this morning provides for us an examination time to answer these questions.
Recall the context and argument. The Corinth believers celebrate the sacrament as part of a religious meal held in someone’s home. They have shown bad table manners. The more well-to-do take advantage of their social standing to receive more and better food than their brethren who are on the lower end of the social ladder. This is despicable behavior. The very meal intended to display unity in the body of Christ is being used to display divisions. It shows a disdain for the church of Christ.
Paul recalls for them the words of institution in an effort to impress upon them the sacred intent of the sacrament. The bread and cup represent the very body and blood of their Lord. They speak to the new covenant made by Christ for his people. To receive them is to proclaim the benefits of his death – salvation and inclusion in his covenant. Therefore, the participants should understand what the Table means and in what manner they should participate.
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.
With such a warning, we certainly want to know what is an “unworthy manner.” We get our answer through context (what the Corinthians were doing), through the previous verses that reveal the worthy manner, and the following verses that further clue us in. Again, the context is the disrespect that some believers are showing their brothers and sisters in Christ. That disrespect is carried over to the sacrament itself, because they are showing it at the very table of the Lord. Indeed, they treat the sacrament as little more than any other social event. The sacredness has departed the tradition.
What constitutes a worthy observance? Remembrance of Jesus Christ: “Do this in remembrance of me” (24, 25); “proclaim the Lord’s death.” An unworthy manner is, again, to partake of the sacred meal as though eating a common meal (or snack in our case).
The next two verses give us further insight. First, verse 28: Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.
Examine what about himself? That is the big question. Is he to look for sin in his life? He should always do that. This examination is what gives him freedom to partake of the sacrament without inviting judgment upon himself. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.
Note the phrase: without discerning the body. The participant needs to examine if he is discerning the body. What does that mean? Is he to discern that the bread symbolizes the body of Christ. “Remember me” is the repeated instruction. And, as noted, the Corinthians’ behavior revealed their cavalier attitude towards the meal. Possibly. It is odd, though, that the blood is not also mentioned as it is every other time with body. It also seems an odd expression to tell the participant to examine himself, which seems to have more to do with examining his moral behavior.
More to the point would be for him to discern the body of Christ with whom he is observing the sacrament. What did Paul accuse the offenders of doing in verse 22? Despising the church of God and humiliating those who have nothing. In the previous chapter he had taught that the believers made up one body as exemplified in partaking of one loaf (10:17); in the next chapter he will again speak of them as making up one body (12:12). Add to this further, Paul’s closure of the discussion: 33 So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another—34 if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment.
Put it all together. “You Corinthians have been behaving badly at the Lord’s Table. You are treating the brethren who are lower socially as second class citizens of God’s kingdom at the very meal intended to show equality and unity. Evidently, you have lost the significance of the sacrament. Remember what it is about. The bread and cup represent the body and blood of our Lord. The sacrament is the time to remember Christ’s death and the new covenant he made for you. It is the time to acknowledge that his body was given for us all and unites us together. You each need to examine yourselves and see if you are observing the Supper in a manner befitting what the sacrament is about. You need to recognize the body of Christ composed of your brothers and sisters. If the food is temptation, then eat at home before coming, so that you may properly observe the sacred meal together.”