17 But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. 18 For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part,[e] 19 for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. 20 When you come together, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat. 21 For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. 22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not. 23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for[f] you. Do this in remembrance of me.”[g] 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. 27 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. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.[h] 31 But if we judged[i] ourselves truly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined[j] so that we may not be condemned along with the world. 33 So then, my brothers,[k] when you come together to eat, wait for[l] one another— 34 if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come. (1 Cor 11:17-34)
This Maundy Thursday I felt that it is good for us to meditate on the meaning of the sacrament of Holy Communion, not just today, but every time we come to the Lord’s Table.
The passage above speaks of five ‘looks’ as we partake of the bread and wine:
- Look behind (v.24).
We do this ‘in remembrance’ of Christ. Here we are not asked to focus on His living reality from day to day, or on God’s past work in our lives, but to remember all Jesus went through. He faced horrors that we will never grasp personally. He who was pure and sinless was made sin for us (2 Cor 5:21). How much willpower and surrender it must have taken for the holy Son off God to not only be exposed to sin, but to identify with sinners. He took on the punishment we deserved. Our hearts should therefore be filled with great gratitude.
- Look above (v.25).
The cup we drink from is the “cup of the new covenant” in Jesus’ blood, poured out for the forgiveness of sins. The new covenant is superior to the old Mosaic covenant. The specific mention of the new covenant is in Jeremiah 31: 31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” The blessing of the new covenant is that it speaks of immediate access to the Lord, without any need for a priest or other mediator. We each have a personal relationship with Yahweh. And it is bought “by blood”. The blood of Jesus has no mystical or magical significance. Blood in the Bible speaks of death. The blood of Jesus refers to the cross of Calvary. The blood signifies atonement – the restoration of relationship with the Father. We who were separated from God in spiritual death are now connected to Him in new life. And so we can look above to Him in intimacy.
- Look within (v.27).
We are not to eat and drink “in an unworthy manner”. This referred to the Corinthians’ failure to ‘discern the body’ – which meant that they did not apply to the celebration of the Lord’s Supper the truth of their unity in Christ’s body. They were treating once another wrongly. At another level, it also means that they failed to understand and to reverence the spiritual realities underlying Holy Communion. Our hearts should be filled with holy fear when we come to eat and drink of the elements. This requires us to repent of known sin and ask the Lord to forgive us of hidden faults (Ps 19:12). And if we do not, there is a stern warning that we will be judged by God with illness and even by death.
- Look ahead (v. 26).
The sacraments of the church (baptism and Holy Communion) will not endure for eternity. They will cease when the Lord returns. In a sense, we are called to ‘remember’ Christ’s work only until Christ’s return. Then His reality will be so bright and clear and great and ever-present that with renewed eyes we will no longer need to be reminded of all He has done. So we look forward in hope to the time when there will be no suffering, no sin and no death – only the glory of God’s presence. All Christ has bought with His blood will be fully available to us.
- Look around (v.21-22, 33-34).
Every communion is never an individual event. We look at our brothers and sisters in our immediate vicinity, in this country and around the world. There are the ‘hungry’ (v.21) and those ‘who have nothing’ (v.22), We must remember them and seek, especially in difficult times, to give them our help. (c.f. Gal 6: 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.) We should be stirring one another to love and good works, and encouraging one another (Heb 10:24-25). So in this time when the livelihood of many of our brothers and sisters is threatened, and when we face social isolation, let us open our hearts to see how the Lord might use us to be a blessing!