The Lord’s Supper, or Eucharist, is observed in many different ways in various church traditions, but one point upon which all Christians agree is its special significance. One theologian noted that in Jesus’ final moments with His disciples, He did not impart theory to them, but instead, gave them a meal. In the Lord’s Supper, we have a picture of redemption: Jesus, Son of God, is the bread of life who was broken for the sins of the world. We remember His life and death in a very earthly sort of way: at the table.
The Lord’s Supper in the times of the early Christians was celebrated as a communal meal. In the case of the Corinthians, this is exactly where the problems emerged. In Roman culture (and Corinth was a Roman colony), social conventions dictated that those of highest rank and social standing should be served the largest portions and better quality food. Instead of challenging those social conventions, the Corinthians capitulated to them. (They’ve been guilty before of accepting wholesale the messages of culture rather than reinterpreting their worldview according to the gospel. See August 3, 10, 11, 12.)
As the Corinthian Christians gathered for the Lord’s Supper, the rich were humiliating the poor by not sharing their food with them. The divisions in the church (which Paul has been boldly confronting throughout his entire letter) were falling along socioeconomic lines. The situation was so dire that Paul says their worship gatherings do more harm than good. They would be better off staying at home!
Paul brings them back to the gospel, to the message of Jesus Christ crucified. The new covenant community is called to unity and to selfless sacrifice, following in the footsteps of their Lord. The Lord’s Supper is an occasion for remembering and reflecting on their call to live as the body of Christ. To “recognize the body of the Lord” has a double meaning: first, we acknowledge the sacrifice of our Savior. Second, we recognize that we are part of His body, the church, in the practice of participating in the Lord’s Supper.