“Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” [1 Corinthians 11:27-28]
“The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” [1 Corinthians 10:16-17].
Receive the Supper as One Body
The Christians in Corinth had a number of problems, not the least of which was that when they came together for the Lord’s Supper they did not come together as one bread and one cup – they were not truly one body together. There were divisions among them.
Therefore, their coming together for the Lord’s Supper amounted to sinning against the body and blood of the Lord which they received. They did not examine themselves before coming to the Supper. At the root of their sin against this Supper was their failure to recognize and to appreciate what they were receiving - the very body and very blood of their Lord Jesus Christ. They did not treat the body of Christ on the table as the body of Christ – so they did not treat the body of Christ in the pews as the body of Christ. They sinned against the body of Christ here and there.
Our Lord Jesus Christ first gave and instituted the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, on this Thursday night of Holy Week which we call Maundy Thursday or Holy Thursday - the Thursday before Easter, the Thursday night on which Jesus was betrayed and arrested.
The Lord’s Supper is a meal that is to be received in unity – truly as one body. On that first Maundy Thursday night, the one man who received the Supper with division in his heart - the one man of the twelve who did not believe [John 6:64] and yet received the bread and wine, was the one man who, that night, betrayed his Lord for thirty pieces of silver. Division at the Lord’s Table puts us company with that man.
What is it to be united and what divisions are there? To some, unity means a feeling or a high minding idea that we will all just receive the Supper together despite our divisions. Well, that kind of unity is exactly the kind of division that we are warned against. We are not to come together to the Supper pretending to be united, but truly unity. We are to be of one mind – “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind” [1 Peter 3:8]; and “complete my joy by being of the same mind” [Philippians 2:2].
In coming together for the Lord’s Supper, brothers and sisters, we are required to receive it united as one in care and love for one another; united as one in forgiving one another; and united as one in what we believe – being of one mind.
When writing to the congregation in Corinth, the Apostle Paul rebuked them for their divisions. He said, “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.” [1 Corinthians 1:10]
Scripture says that we are justified by what we believe in our hearts about Christ and saved by what we confess with our mouths about Christ [Romans 10:9-10]. A congregation is a household of faith. We believe and confess a faith, a belief. As a congregation, to truly be a united household of faith, the faith believed in our many hearts and confessed by our many mouths must be the same in each of us. Therefore, coming to the table of our Lord in true unity, as one body, one congregation, begins with actually knowing what it is that we believe and teach together.
This is why we practice what we call either “close” or “closed” communion, not because we’re mean and want to exclude others, but because we all to included in true unity – unity of faith, being of one mind in what we believe and confess.
But what if we are, here, people of one mind in what we believe, but are not one in care and love for one another? What if in this household some people’s needs go on being neglected? One in faith isn’t the whole story. We must be one in love and care for each other if we are to gather around this table without sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.
The congregation in Corinth was not united in care for its members in need. The Corinthians had turned the Lord’s Supper into a meal, a party, a self-serve picnic, that amounted to a large potluck in which no one shared [1 Corinthians 11:21]. They were far off the mark in how they conducted the Supper. They all brought their own food – those who were well-off ate until they were stuffed and drank until they were drunk. The poorer among them gathered into the midst of their brothers and sisters in Christ for the meal and yet remained hungry. The church members didn’t actively care for one another’s needs. This was very much a part of their sin against the body of the Lord.
Do you know the needs of your brothers and sisters in your congregation? Would a person in need feel free to come forward and ask for help? Could they expect real, substantial help? Or do some of you live in abundance while others go without their needs? Are you a family? Are you one body and one cup together? Or do you only take concern for your own concerns in life, and not the concerns of one another? A crowd not united in care for one another is only a crowd and not a congregation.
In our Gospel lesson today, Jesus is in the upper room with His disciples, and here, in John’s Gospel, we see many details about what went on in that upper room besides the actual eating of the Supper. The other Gospels show us the Lord’s Supper itself. John’s Gospel shows what else went on during that night of the Supper on Maundy Thursday.
That Thursday night, it says that Jesus rose from the Supper [John 13:4], and, although He was their Lord and Teacher [John 13:13], He made Himself their servant of servants. Jesus, Lord and Teacher and Master, stooped to wash their feet – a task that even an average household servant wouldn’t normally be asked to do. It was the lowest of the low of servant tasks. Jesus cared for those gathered for that Supper and served them.
After this event, Jesus says to His disciples (and to me and you), “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” [John 13:34]. You and I probably don’t need our feet washed on Sunday morning, but there are many needs, and needs come in many forms. The command is that we stoop to serve one another who gather for this meal.
And to be united as one body in love for one another we must be united in forgiving one another. Judas still attends the Supper every Sunday in the each of you who come to the table with grudges in your hearts. The betrayer attends the Supper in all of you who stand around on Sunday morning before or after the service complaining about what so-and-so, or this or that person, did or didn’t do. When you are not forgiving one another from the heart, you are not receiving the Supper for your forgiveness but for your own condemnation. Your grudges and complaining are a sin against the body and blood of the Lord.
Brothers and sisters, you are all loved by Jesus. He is willing to wash your feet and wash you clean of all sin and all guilt. In Jesus, come to the Supper as one body and one cup together. Once again, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” [1 Corinthians 10:16-17].
The one cup from which we drink and the one bread from which we eat show our unity – and these elements are the very Body and Blood of Jesus given and shed tomorrow, on Good Friday, for the forgiveness of all your sin.
So, in our many failures to come to this table properly, we, in repentance, seek His forgiveness at this very table tonight. Only by the forgiveness given at this Table are we able to become One Body around this Table. So come, repent, be forgiven, and become one Body and one Cup together. Amen.