Re: communion 7/9


When Communion loses its place as an effective symbol in the Corinthian church, Paul loses his patience!  Divisions, self-absorbance and gluttony[1] had infiltrated the community of believers in Corinth, forcing Paul to write a scathing admonition to them.  “But when I mention this next issue [of the Lord’s Supper], I cannot praise you,” he writes.  “For it sounds as if more harm than good is done when you meet together.”[2]  Paul then soberly decrees:

“It is not the Lord’s Supper you are concerned about when you come together… If anyone eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord unworthily, that person is guilty of sinning against the body and the blood of the Lord.  That is why you should examine yourself before eating the bread and drinking from the cup.  For if you eat the bread or drink the cup unworthily, not honoring the body of Christ, you are eating and drinking God’s judgment upon yourself.” (NLT)[3]

Communion, when misapplied or mishandled by the church, fails to offer Christ’s invitation to properly re:member.  Too often we pharisaically exclude from the Lord’s Table those people who have not yet “accepted Christ” while we eat the bread and drink the cup with division and arrogance in our own “saved” hearts.  Jesus invites sinners to the Table!  He levels the field through his own humility, serving each one of us with his garments as a towel.[4]  It is no coincidence that Jesus washed the feet of his followers before the Communion meal.  This simple act of humble service symbolized the extreme love Jesus has for others and it urges us to be of like mind.  The act re:calls the re:action of Zacchaeus, filthy with sin, who accepted the invitation to enter into humble communion with Jesus.  So moved by Jesus’ invitation, in fact, Zacchaeus re:pented and re:conciled himself to everyone else and, in so doing, gained salvation.[5]  Another dreaded tax collector named Levi did the same.[6]  Simon the Pharisee, haughty with religious pride, in contrast, ate and drank God’s judgment upon himself.[7]  To Simon’s dismay, Jesus invites every sinner to dine and find communion with him.[8]  Vander Zee shares that “since eating was an act of fellowship and acceptance, to eat with sinners was to accept them as friends and companions.”[9] Clapp concurs saying, “the Lord dined at an open table… This was to his contemporaries one of his most shocking and objectionable behaviors.  They understood what it meant: it signaled acceptance, friendship and empowerment of the tax-collector, the Gentile, the whore.”[10]

But when the Lord’s Supper is diminished in its practice, disunity, rather than community, prevails.  Just as a song can be sung from the lips without engaging the heart, so the acted rite of communion does not guarantee one’s genuineness in relationship with God or one another.  A fractured Church made up of individuals who focus on their own selves fails to recognize that “we have all been baptized into Christ’s body by one Spirit.”[11] 

So Paul urges the Corinthian beleivers to reconcile themselves to God prior to joining with one another.[12]  He also urges them to reconcile their actions with one another when they gather to “do this in remembrance” of the Lord Jesus.[13]  Vander Zee notes that through the practice of Communion we deepen our relationship with one another in the Body of Christ.  “In Paul’s understanding,” he says, “the Holy Spirit creates deep relationships in the body of Christ by our participation in the Lord’s Supper.”[14] While there are many parts to the body, there is only one body. [15]

As a primary ministry leader for the young adults among Brentview Baptist Church in Calgary, I am responsible to encourage and facilitate unity.  In her pastoral collaboration with Eugene Peterson, Marva Dawn describes that “one major function of the pastor that seems unnecessary to the world is to equip the congregation for its reconciling work in society and to make sure that congregants remain reconciled with each other.”[16]  For this reason, I am ever more convinced that the implementation of a re:newed practice of Communion should contribute impressively to the continually deepening formation of a community reconciled with God and others.

[1] 1 Corinthians 11:18, 21

[2] 1 Corinthians 11:17

[3] 1 Corinthians 11:20, 27-29

[4] “Before the Passover celebration… Jesus got up from the table, took off his rove, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin.  Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel he had around him.” John 13:1, 4-5 (NLT) 

[5] Luke 19:1-10

[6] Mark 2:15

[7] Luke 7:36-50; 1 Corinthians 11:32

[8] Mark 2:13-17

[9] Vander Zee, 141.

[10]             Clapp, Rodney, A Peculiar People: The Church as Culture in a Post-Christian Society (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 108.

[11] 1 Corinthians 11:25 (NLT)

[12] 1 Corinthians 11:31

[13] Paul instructs the Corinthians to wait for each other rather than arriving early and gorging on the meal and becoming drunk on the beverage.  1 Corinthians 11:33

[14] Vander Zee, 43.

[15] 1 Corinthians 12:20

[16]             Peterson, Eugene and Marva Dawn, The Unnecessary Pastor: Rediscovering the Call (Grand Rapids, MI: 2000), 219.


  1. Hey Paul, check out Eleanor Krieder’s book, Communion Shapes Character. She gives a good overview of the progression, or digression in many cases, of the practice of communion through the Western church history. She’s got an angle that I don’t always agree, but this work is definately useful and thought provoking. And as for helping people who don’t yet know Jesus encounter him through the Lord’s Supper… hmmmm… that’s a great question…Any thoughts out there?

  2. Convicting questions, James. Your observation is precisely what the disciples experienced following the Lord’s Supper. I’m curious about how a re:newed practice of Communion that encourages persistent community rather than isolation might increase accountability and support among believers after our shared meal. I’m encouraged by the example of the first church at the end of Acts 2… Peter and the other sleeping, denying disciples would have had a lot of perspective to offer that group of thousands about what happens after the Communal meal, eh.

  3. So what happens after communion? After we have come together as a body in unity and shared in the communion meal? Do we just walk away in our separate directions and go on with our lives? Do we fall asleep unable to stand with one another in the hour of temptation, do we run away, do we deny our Lord when He acts in ways we do not understand?

  4. wow ken, this is inspiring…and convicting!
    Is there a difference between eating an everyday meal and what was the passover meal now re:newed by Jesus? I like the “open table” perspective in that Jesus ate with sinners and saints alike, so how did communion become something in our churches where “if you have not yet come to the place where Jesus is your savior and lord, then please let these elements pass by…”?
    I agree that hypocrisy and unbalanced communion practice (leaving out the whole issue of reconciliation with each other and thoughtful preparation before hand) are evident, and that Christ’s love is for all, so how do we help people who do not yet know Jesus encounter him through the Lord’s Supper?

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