Summary: Communion is not just something we do as part of our worship, it is how we should live our lives.
If these words sound familiar to you, they should. The liturgy we use each time we share in communion is drawn directly from the words Paul writes here; the earliest record we have of the regular practice of communion in the Christian church. But what I want us to consider today is the way that Paul frames his mention of the Lord’s Supper as he writes to the Corinthian church. Listen again to what Paul says early on in this passage, “I hear that there are divisions among you....” I hear that there are divisions among you. Divisions. Could it be that Paul’s observation of the Corinthian church is true of our world today as well? Do you hear of divisions? When you look around you, do you see divisions? I certainly do, and it seems like we are becoming more divided all the time.
You know, thousands, and even hundreds of years ago, families lived together as units. So a small community might be made up of a handful of extended families, and a household would consist of several generations living together under one roof. But with the industrial revolution, a changing economy, and the advent of expanded communications capabilities, families don’t live like this anymore. A household usually only consists of parents and children, and the extended family is likely scattered across thousands of miles, living in various communities, and maybe even different countries. We are divided by geography, but those geographical divisions might also contribute to other divisions—there’s not much pressure to reconcile differences when you rarely see your mother or brother anyway. So often, families will let wounds fester and grow, not making any real effort to heal divisions.
Then look at our nation. I don’t think any of us would disagree that our country is locked in a growing gridlock that shows no signs of letting up. Ken is passionate about politics and always has been. And though he admits that it is depressing, he can’t seem to break away from political news, especially in an election year. So a few years ago, Ken was scouring the news one night and he found an article exploring electoral votes in the 20th century presidential elections. It was really fascinating to see how in the mid-1900s, the presidential elections were almost always electoral landslides, with the winner taking all but a small handful of the states. Then in the late 70s and early 80s that started to change, the pinnacle of our division was most evident in the 2000 election, when one candidate won the electoral votes, while another won the popular vote. And though there can only be so much division on an electoral map, we have seen how division can grow even still. I don’t know if it’s the expansion of the 24-hour news channels that are analyzing and commenting on every aspect of national politics, or if it’s the advent of social media and the ability to express strong opinions from behind the relative safety and anonymity of a keyboard and monitor, but we have lost all signs of civil discourse, and our only gain has been more division. Unfortunately, I think this political division has spilled over into our communities, neighborhoods, churches, and even families, not to mention our world. The places we could once count on for unity and camaraderie are rapidly deteriorating as divisions swell.
So let’s go back for a minute and consider what Paul is getting at when he brings up the division among the Corinthians. Corinth was a bustling city at the crossroads of several major trade routes. It was a prosperous city, but like all cities then and today, there were the rich, the working class, the poor, and in Paul’s age—slaves. The new converts to Christianity in Corinth came from all walks of life and every economic tier, but rather than gathering as one for worship, they kept their distinctions, even on the occasion of the Lord’s Supper. You see, at that time, when Christians observed the Lord’s Supper, they actually gathered in homes and shared an entire meal. So in Corinth, when this meal was shared, the rich were eating and drinking lavishly, while the poor were going hungry. They were divided.
So Paul writes his first letter to the Corinthians to address these divisions in their community, and in the passage we heard this morning, Paul gets to the heart of his plea for unity. He says in essence, “Look, you know this tradition of the Lord’s Supper that we taught you…it’s not just something we made up. It came straight from the Lord.” And if you sort of read between the lines, what you hear Paul saying is, “You have to observe this meal just the way we taught you, the way the Lord taught us.” Then, in case they have forgotten, Paul reiterates the tradition of the Lord’s Supper. “On the night on which he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took bread. After giving thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this to remember me.’ He did the same thing with the cup, after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Every time you drink it, do this to remember me.’”