Every Christian is familiar with communion. We all sit through it as the elements are being passed around or collected in long lines. We take the stale wafer or bit of cracker and fondle it in our hands waiting for the pastor’s cue. The bit we taste feels like wood scraps. We supplement this with a lukewarm thimble of grape juice, while the pastor repeats the same couple verses. And Christians endure this every month.
Is this Biblical communion? Did God set up this horrid system?
Paul gives modern Christians a good understanding of communion as it was practiced in early Christianity. He does this through criticizing the way communion is being held in a particularly unruly church:
1Co 11:20 When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord’s supper.
1Co 11:21 For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken.
1Co 11:22 What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not.
Paul here is indicating that there is an abundance of food and alcoholic drink at communion. The communion was a feast, as one would expect of people recreating the last supper. In the text Paul says what the Corinthians were doing it is “not the Lord’s Supper” and he explains why. It is not because they were eating and drinking but it was because they were doing it in a blasphemous and selfish way. Paul continues:
1Co 11:23 For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread:
1Co 11:24 And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.
1Co 11:25 After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.
1Co 11:26 For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.
1Co 11:27 Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.
1Co 11:28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.
1Co 11:29 For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.
1Co 11:33 Wherefore, my brethren, when ye come together to eat, tarry one for another.
1Co 11:34 And if any man hunger, let him eat at home; that ye come not together unto condemnation. And the rest will I set in order when I come.
Paul explains that the purpose of communion was to remember Jesus and his Last Supper. The feast was a side issue. In fact, Paul still assumes that the same amount of food and drink would be available in a proper rendering of the Lord’s Supper. He reinforces this point when he states: “And if any man hunger, let him eat at home”. There would be enough food available to quench hunger.
What modern Churches do is very contrived. They limit costs of communion by making it unrecognizable as communion. Instead of a feast to remember the Last Supper, it becomes a timble and flake of bread. The feast, the brotherly communion, and a picture of Jesus’ last days are all sacrificed in the name of cost.
I did visit one Church which used Pot Luck dinners as their Communion. Perhaps this is a way for churches to remain true to the spirit of the event.