I sat there trying not to spill grape juice on my pants. I had already said my prayers, and so I simply sat motionless waiting on the pastor to tell us to take communion. My stomach growled. I started wondering what we were doing for lunch. The music in the background stopped, and finally the pastor spoke. However, he did not direct us in communion but instead started his sermon.
What? I opened my eyes and saw that everyone had already individually taken communion. I quickly gulped down my grape juice, and ate that little square piece of something that represented the body of Christ. This fascinated me. There we were, the body of Christ, taking communion individually. Maybe it isn’t a big deal. Maybe it bothered me because I grew up in a church where we all drank and ate at the same time. But sometimes I think we individualize Christianity too much, and I often think we do that with communion as well. So after that incident I started reflecting on communion, and this post, in a way, is kind of that reflection.
Communion in the early church was a little different than it is now. For one thing it was paired with a meal. At the end, when everyone finished eating, they partook in the Eucharist or what we call communion. I think that is so cool, because it’s at the dinner table where true conversation tends to happen. For example, I love lunch time at work, because everyone is taking a break from their busy schedules, and instead we all let go and talk about life. If it wasn’t for lunch time, I probably wouldn’t know as much about what was going on in the lives of my coworkers.
So the thought that communion occurred after a meal is pretty significant. However, the early church was getting some things wrong when it came to this meal, and Paul addressed this in 1 Corinthians 11. You’re probably familiar with this text, because it’s the standard reading at just about any communion service. Too often though, the pastor starts reading at verse 23 completely bypassing the paragraph before. AND THAT IS THE VERY BEST PART ABOUT THIS PASSAGE.
Verses 17 – 23 explain that many of the wealthy Christians of the early church were bringing their own food to the meal, and they were not sharing their food with the poor. Because the poor could not afford to bring their own food, they went hungry all throughout the meal. Paul condemns them for doing this. How dare they come to eat the Lord’s Supper and instead cause division. This goes against everything that Christianity is. When Christ prayed in the garden before his death, he said:
“Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.” John 17:11
Unity. It’s kind of a big deal. So the fact that these members of the early church were breaking community during the communion meal made Paul pretty upset.
So knowing this background on communion has completely changed my approach to communion. So that now when I grab a wafer and a “cup” of grape juice, I don’t just sit and praise God for sending his son to die for me. I don’t just contemplate about my life and ask God to forgive me for my sins. No. Now I thank God that he sent his son to die that He might redeem ALL of mankind so that we can all be one. I try to focus on the things that I have done to break community. The times I gossiped, the times I caused division rather than unify. And I think about how at that moment I am worshiping my God together with my brothers and sisters around me.
So maybe in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t matter if you eat and drink individually rather that corporately, but all I know is communion is about unity.