In an article in The Atlantic titled “Why Americans Now Dress So Casually,” Deirdre Clemente observes, “Americans began the 20th century in bustles and bowler hats and ended it in velour sweatsuits and flannel shirts—the most radical shift in dress standards in human history.” Dressing for church used to mean dresses, suits, and ties. Now it is common to find people worshiping in blue jeans and even shorts.
The idea of formal or casual attire changes with cultural norms. But Scripture is clear that the Lord’s Supper should not be treated casually. It isn’t a matter of dress but of attitude and behavior. Paul warns that those who observe the Lord’s Supper should not eat the bread or drink the cup in an “unworthy” manner (v. 27). But what is a worthy manner?
We know what Paul cannot mean. Worthy does not mean sinless. The Lord’s Supper is a meal for sinners. Its focus on the body and blood of Christ offered for us reminds us of our need for forgiveness. Instead, worthy eating has two qualities. First, it begins with an awareness of need. Those who partake must begin by “examining” themselves (v. 28).
Second, worthy eating involves “discerning the body of Christ” (v. 29). Although this certainly includes the recognition of the sacred nature of the meal, it means more. Paul had rebuked the Corinthians for their selfishness in their observance of communion, and he wanted them to focus not only on their individual relationship with God but also on their participation within the body of Christ as the church. Those who partake of the Lord’s Supper worthily recognize that union with Christ also unites them to their brothers and sisters who are in Christ.
Every time the church observes the Lord’s Supper, we proclaim the Lord’s death (1 Cor. 11:26). We are also saying something important about ourselves. By partaking of the bread and the cup, we admit that we need the grace and forgiveness that only Christ can provide. We do this together in worship to say that we belong to Christ and to each other.