1 Corinthians 11:23-26
The ancient church in Corinth had a problem. Well actually they had several, but one of those problems was that some had forgotten the reason for celebrating the Lord’s Supper. You see, the Corinthian church was a diverse crowd, comprising people from all across the social strata. In the Corinthian Church, the wealthiest Corinthians worshipped with the poorest. But, Paul discovered, it turned out they weren’t exactly worshipping together. Earlier in chapter 11 we hear that food and drink are unevenly distributed. Some are feasting while others are starving. Some have already gotten drunk before others have even arrived.
Why is this happening? Essentially, all the Corinthians are living according to what is expected of them based on their social status. The wealthier members of the Corinthian church had slaves and servants who did their work for them. So they were able to gather for the Lord’s Supper earlier than those slaves and servants who often had to work until sundown. The wealthy would eat high-quality food and drink high-quality wine, again, a societal norm to which they were entitled. They would eat and drink and talk and laugh until the poorer Corinthians arrived. By this point, most of the food had been eaten and the wine drunk. Here at church, the poorer Corinthians were forced to remember their status as poor while the wealthy enjoyed their status as rich.
As one commentator put it, these wealthier Corinthians “are behaving no differently than anyone else in their same social position. And that is the problem.” Paul believes the Corinthians are called to something that transcends social status, and so he decides to remind the Corinthians exactly why it is that they come together for the Lord’s Supper.
Why is it exactly that we come together for the Lord’s Supper? We do it every week, and yet I know that I, for one, sometimes forget the point. It’s probably impossible to summarize all the reasons for the Lord’s Supper in one sermon, but we can start by looking at what Paul says in response to the Corinthians. He tells them that we come to the Lord’s Supper for two reasons: to remember and to proclaim.
Paul tells them a story. He says that “on the night in which he was delivered up, [Jesus] took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’”
Paul is drawing their attention back to Jesus’ actions on the night before he went to the cross. He’s telling them the story that we read tonight from Mark’s Gospel. In his final moments with his disciples, Jesus gave them the gift of bead and wine so that, after his death and resurrection, the disciples could remember exactly what it is that Christ had done for them.
To participate in the Lord’s supper, to eat of the bread and drink of the wine, is to remember in a physical way the full story of Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection. Every time you taste that bread and wine, Paul says, you are witnessing a mini version of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday.
Paul says that the bread is “for you.” In our reading from Mark, Jesus says that the wine is “for many.” In the cross there are no distinctions. Christ died not for the one but for the many, not for a few people, but for all people. In Galatians, Paul will say that in Christ “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female.” Jesus died to save everyone, regardless of social status.
So, Paul is arguing, when the Corinthians gather, they must do so in a way that honors the truth of Jesus’ death and resurrection. By the cross, God finds equal value in all people. The Corinthians can eat and drink as much as they want, Paul says, but if they cannot worship together as equals, then it won’t truly be the Lord’s Supper.
The Lord’s Supper is not really about you or me or us. It is about Jesus and what he has done for us. We come to this table to remember and experience the salvation that Jesus has poured out upon us. We come to this table to experience grace. We come to this table to know our Lord more deeply. We don’t accomplish anything at this table. We don’t earn anything at this table. No one is more worthy or less worthy. There is no status here. There is only gift. We simply receive the grace of God in Christ Jesus through bread and wine, a grace that is accessible to any who desire it.
In addition to remembering, we also proclaim. Paul finishes his retelling of Jesus’ death and resurrection with this curious line: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” That word “proclaim” can also be translated as “preach”.
I imagine that few of us think of the Lord’s Supper as a moment of proclamation or preaching, but that’s what Paul says it is. Paul says that every time you come to this table, you are making a statement. Not a private one, but a public one. To take communion is to be a preacher.
Before you take communion, you hear again the story of God’s grace and forgiveness. Have you ever wondered why we have that big long prayer before we take communion? It’s there to remind us of the long story of God’s love for us. The story ends with the words of institution, these words from Paul about the night in which Jesus was delivered over to death. The whole thing is one big reminder of God’s salvation poured out “for many” or “for all”.
And then you are invited to eat and drink. That act of eating and drinking is an act of preaching, an act of proclaiming, an act of testimony because by it you say, “This is most certainly true.” You bear witness to what Christ has done for us when you eat and drink with your neighbors at the Lord’s Supper. By eating that bread with your neighbor you say “there is grace here, there is forgiveness”; by drinking that wine with your neighbor you say, “this salvation is for everyone”. Contrary to what we might have been taught, taking communion is not a private matter between me and God. It is a public matter between me and God and everyone else in the whole world, because by taking communion, we affirm and proclaim what God has done for the whole world.
To eat at the Lord’s Supper is, finally, also an act of hope. Paul says that by eating and drinking the bread and wine we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. In Mark’s gospel, Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” There is something about this meal that points us forward, ahead, to the resurrection and eternity. The theologians would say that it is “eschatological”. When we participate in the Lord’s Supper we also remember and proclaim Jesus’ promise to return and lead us all into the Kingdom of God. We eat this meal in the hope of that future, when Jesus will come, gather us up, and bring us into the Kingdom of God where we will feast with Jesus and all the saints.
So eat of this supper tonight.
Remember God’s grace poured out for us and proclaim that grace to the whole world.
 Carla Works, https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/maundy-thursday/commentary-on-1-corinthians-1123-26-9