Now in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, to begin with, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you; and to some extent I believe it. Indeed, there have to be factions among you, for only so will it become clear who among you are genuine. When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord’s supper. For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk. What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What should I say to you? Should I commend you? In this matter I do not commend you! For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
‘For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you …’
These words spoken by Paul the Apostle are amongst the most well known words in the New Testament, as the oldest account of the institution of the Lord’s Supper. Many Christians could probably finish the whole narrative by heart it is so often heard in our Communion services.
Yet, how familiar are the half dozen verses which precede it?
Paul shares these words in the context of responding to reports of division in the Church at Corinth. Not only does Paul speak of factions, (as he does earlier in the letter), but he goes further to highlight the practice of the shared meal being anything but, as those without the means to bring their own food are in effect excluded from Communion, whilst others with greater means are over indulging, oblivious to the exclusion of some of their sisters and brothers in Christ.
Paul’s rebuke is clear, ‘In this matter I do not commend you’. You can feel the thinly veiled anger in his writing. How dare the church behave this way, and at the Lord’s Table!
In our neatly organised Communion services of individual portions of bread and wine, we cannot be accused of the same. That is unless we understand God’s invitation as reaching far wider than those who ordinarily come to ‘our’ table?
And so, we prayerfully ask ourselves; who in our community is living in food poverty? What are we doing, or what could we be doing in our communities to address the scandal of food poverty? Paul’s challenge to us is just as double edged, to feed the hungry both physically and spiritually? Would he feel able to commend us?
The Rev’d Mike Walsh, Pioneer minister, Chorlton, south Manchester
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