In many homes, Sunday is a day when the extended family gathers for dinner. The church also has a family meal. It is called “the Lord’s supper” (1 Cor. 11:20). Established by Jesus, the Lord’s Supper has its roots in the Jewish feast known as Passover (Luke 22:15). When Jesus celebrated His last Passover with the disciples, He altered the ordinary liturgy and commanded the church to “do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19; 1 Cor. 11:24–25).
Sharing a meal was a common feature of ancient culture, especially the religious culture of the early church. According to Andrew B. McGowan, an expert in ancient Christian worship, these banquets were formal and distinguished from other meals. The church’s observance of the Lord’s Supper is in this same tradition. Even when it only involves a tiny piece of bread and a thimble-sized cup of juice, the Lord’s Supper should still be regarded as a sacred meal.
When the Corinthian church failed to recognize the sacred nature of the Lord’s Supper, the apostle Paul issued a stern warning. Their practice included a congregational meal so marked by conspicuous consumption and callous behavior that God disciplined the church with sickness and even death (1 Cor. 11:21–22, 29–30). The manner in which the church came together undermined the intent of the meal, stripping it of its significance. This was part of a larger pattern of congregational behavior that prompted Paul to say that their meetings did more harm than good (1 Cor. 11:17).
As a corrective, the Apostle reminded the church of the theological significance of the Lord’s Supper. It is a sacred tradition, handed down to the church by Jesus Himself. It is a memorial celebration that focuses on the significance of Christ’s offering for the church. The Lord’s Supper reminds us of what Christ has done for us through His death and resurrection.
It is also a reminder of the nature of the church. Because Jesus Christ presented His body and His blood, all those who are joined to Him by faith are also joined to one another. Whenever we remember what Christ did for us, we are also reminded of our mutual obligation to one another. God has put the church together in such a way that “each one should have equal concern for each other” (1 Cor. 12:25). The Lord’s Supper is a vivid reminder that when we come together as a church we are more than friends or even family. We are the body of Christ.
FOR FURTHER STUDY
To learn more about the Lord's Supper within the context of ancient worship, read Ancient Christian Worship by Andrew B. McGowan (Baker).