Around the Lord’s Table

Preached on Sunday, June 5, 2022.

Now in giving this instruction I do not praise you, since you come together not for the better but for the worse. For to begin with, I hear that when you come together as a church there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. Indeed, it is necessary that there be factions among you, so that those who are approved may be recognized among you. When you come together, then, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper. For at the meal, each one eats his own supper. So one person is hungry while another gets drunk! Don’t you have homes in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What should I say to you? Should I praise you? I do not praise you in this matter!

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: On the night when he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, and said, “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.

So, then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sin against the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself; in this way let him eat the bread and drink from the cup. For whoever eats and drinks without recognizing the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. This is why many are sick and ill among you, and many have fallen asleep. If we were properly judging ourselves, we would not be judged, but when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined, so that we may not be condemned with the world.

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, when you come together to eat, welcome one another. If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that when you gather together you will not come under judgment. I will give instructions about the other matters whenever I come.

1 Corinthians 11:17—34

It’s the first Sunday of the month in a Baptist church—and we all know what that means! It is Communion Sunday. It is the Sunday where we share the bread and the cup as a reminder of what Christ has done and participate in the mystery of the cross. Churches have debated the nature of the Lord’s Supper throughout church history. Not all beliefs about Communion are the same. Even when it comes the how frequently we should observe the Lord’s Supper, churches differ.

Now we just read from 1 Corinthians 11, the passage where Paul passes on the words to the Lord’s Supper, often called the words of institution. He’s not doing it because he only wants to pass on this tradition or to explain its meaning. There’s a situation at the church to which he writes that he needs to address. And that context helps us to understand some very important things about the Lord’s Supper that are true for all Christians whatever else they believe about it. That’s what we’re going to look at this morning.

Next week we’re having our first potluck in more than two years. And I imagine a lot of us are really looking forward to this. But just imagine if some of us at the potluck got to eat first and ate most of the food, leaving little for other people. Or if people were served according to social or economic status. What would the experience be like then?

That’s not unlike what’s going on in Corinth in the situation Paul is addressing. And so we have to understand that in the early days of the church believers would have agape feasts or love feasts. The Lord’s Supper would have been a small part of a larger common meal.

In the culture of Corinth at the time, it was the custom for those who were in a higher social class to eat first and to eat the better food. So here we have the newly converted Corinthians still acting according to their local, pagan culture. Some in the church were indulging themselves at the expense of others. And this forms the context for what Paul says.

Consider when Paul says this: when you come together, then, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper. For at the meal, each one eats his own supper. In other words, some people were going ahead and eating the first and best, leaving less for others, in accordance with the cultural standard at the time. But Paul says, “You don’t really understand the Lord’s Supper if this is what you’re doing.” Paul is saying that their faith in Christ and what that means for how they relate to one another takes precedence over cultural expectations.

I want us to notice how Paul connects our observation of the Lord’s Supper with our practical, everyday experience of relationships in the church. What Paul is saying here is that the Corinthians are not applying the truth of the Lord’s Supper to their relationships with one another. If they were, they wouldn’t be treating one another according to such social distinctions.

The church should always be a place where everyone is welcome, where we don’t make distinctions based on social status or economic situation. We should be putting others first. Coming together around the Lord’s Table to share the bread and the cup is a reminder that we all come before Christ on equal footing. We’re on equally in need of the cross and the grace we receive because of it. Put another way: no person’s sin separates them more from God than another; and no one’s sin is any less forgivable in the light of the cross. Let me ask: Have you ever felt out of place at church or that some people who more favored than others? How have you experienced a sense of welcome in church throughout your life?

And of course coming to the Lord’s Table is reminder of both our sin and God’s remedy for it: the broken body and shed blood of our Lord Jesus. So when we gather around the Lord’s Table, we ought to do so humbly, mindfully, prayerfully, with contrite hearts. Because of what was going on in Corinth, Paul writes these words: So, then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sin against the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself; in this way let him eat the bread and drink from the cup. He ties how the Corinthians were treating one another with the meaning of the Lord’s Supper.

When we gather at the Lord’s Table, we should always take a moment to do a heart check. We should examine ourselves. Do I have unconfessed sin? Am I taking the bread and cup seriously or am I participating in this thoughtlessly? Even to take a moment to prayerfully consider Christ and his sacrifice.

While our sin shouldn’t prevent us from participating in the Lord’s Supper, because our sin ought to draw us to the cross, we still need to come to the Lord’s Table with a humble awareness of our sinfulness, our need for forgiveness, and with a sincere gratitude that God in Christ has made reconciliation possible.

Consider these words from Psalm 32: Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not conceal my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the guilt of my sin. And this same Psalm begins with these words: How joyful is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered! We ought to pray for a deeper awareness of our own brokenness in order that we may also have a deeper experience of the grace of God in Christ. And that we know more deeply the joy of our salvation!

But of course Paul is talking about more than individual sin when he’s telling the Corinthians to examine themselves. Again, remember the context. People were not treating others fairly or lovingly. And as a result they misunderstood the meaning of coming around the Lord’s Table.

When we examine ourselves, we also need to consider whether anyone has anything against us. Is there anyone here I have wronged? Or hurt? Is there anyone I need to be reconciled with before partaking of the Lord’s Supper? Now, let’s be clear. I don’t mean little annoyances. I’m talking about broken relationships in the church or hurt feelings or conflict.

In Matthew 5:23—24, Jesus says this: So if you are offering your gift on the altar, and there you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. That is, if you realize that there’s someone else in your church family that has something against you, you need to deal with that before coming to worship.

Put simply: Coming around the Lord’s Table also means first being reconciled with our brothers and sisters in Christ. If I have wronged someone in my church family, I need to try and make that right before coming to worship.

The underlying principle is that we show our love for God through our love for others. We are to forgive and to ask for forgiveness, because we have been forgiven in Christ. Seeking to reconcile or to seek forgiveness is one way in which we live out the truth of coming around the Lord’s Table.

Now, let me say that I can imagine how such a thing might be awkward. We come to church, say, on Communion Sunday (the first Sunday of the month!) and we realize we have need to address something with a brother or sister in Christ. Do we take of the bread and cup? In one sense, this is between you and the Lord. Only you know what’s going on in your heart. Yet only the Lord knows your heart perfectly.

This is why we need to examine ourselves. What does our conscience say? What is our attitude or state of mind? Is it our intent to reconcile as soon as we possibly can? Are you seeking to be obedient to the word of the Lord or to make excuses for yourself? There may come a time when it is clear to you that refraining from the Lord’s Supper is important until you reconcile with someone.

What’s important and foundational here is that our relationships with one another matter when it comes to the Lord’s Table. Because celebrating the Lord’s Supper is to celebrate God’s forgiving and reconciling love in Jesus Christ. And think of it this way. How we live out the meaning of the Lord’s Supper is part of our witness as a church and as Christians. It’s a way of communicating that we as God’s people are committed to make every effort to do relationships differently.

Let me ask: Have you ever had to seek forgiveness from someone else in your church family? How difficult was that and what was the experience like? And if you put it off, how did that affect your experience of coming together for worship? After reconciling, what was it like worshipping together again?

Usually we read the words of institution from our passage on Communion Sunday. For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you, Paul writes. Then he goes on to repeat the tradition he had been given about the bread and cup. He concludes the words of institution this way: as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Scripture doesn’t tell us how often we ought to gather around the Lord’s Table. But it does tell us that doing so is an act of proclamation. Participating in the Lord’s Supper is to proclaim—to declare, to speak of—the sacrificial, saving death of our Lord Jesus. But not only that. We’re told we are to do this until he comes.

When you and I think about remembering something, we almost always think of the past. But to remember is simply to bring something to our attention again. So not only can I remember that as a kid this or that happened. I can also remember that Christ is coming back, that one day Jesus will return and usher in the new heavens and new earth. Coming around the Lord’s Table is also an act of hope that Jesus will return and complete his saving work. We have hope because we have been reconciled to God through Christ and have been given the gift of eternal life.

As I’ve said many times, the Christian hope is not wishful thinking. In a way, it’s not saying “I hope so,” it’s saying “I know so.” Hebrews 11:1 says this: Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Because this is also part and parcel of the meaning of the Lord’s Table: that one day God will reconcile all things to himself; that one day all that is evil and wrong will be undone; and that one day we will have the immeasurable blessing of seeing God face to face and living in his kingdom forever.

But only if we are among those who gather around the Lord’s Table, those who confess that Jesus is Lord, crucified, risen, and ascended. It is when our lives are centered on the One who willingly went to the cross to win our freedom and to bring us peace that we can have the hope Paul speaks about.

Let me ask simply: Is Jesus Christ your hope? Do you confess him as Lord and as Savior? Do you trust him with your life, with all that you are? Is it your desire to spend eternity in the presence of God, who made you, who loves you, and who promises to redeem you? If not, now is the time. Today is the day of salvation. Christ is always willing and able to forgive. Coming around the Lord’s Table means accepting the saving work of Christ on the cross and turning your life over to him.

So when we gather around the Lord’s Table this morning, I encourage us to keep these things in mind.
o To recognize that we come around the Lord’s Table on equal footing.
o To reconcile with our brothers and sisters in Christ in order to come around the Lord’s Table in a worthy manner.
o To know that when come around the Lord’s Table, we do so with hope, knowing that our crucified and risen Lord Jesus will return in glory.
o And that we come around the Lord’s Table to receive the saving work of Jesus and as a sign that we have turned our lives over to him.

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