(1 Cor 11:28-29) A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.
What does it mean to “recognize the body of the Lord”? The obvious answer, of course, is the physical body of Jesus, hung on the cross for our sins. And certainly this is a part of what Paul has in mind. But there is more.
He was writing to the church in Corinth to correct certain abuses.
(1 Cor 11:20-21) When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, 21 for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk.
The early church often combined the Lord’s Supper with a common meal, the “love feast.” This is spoken of with approval in a later book, in Jude 12, and so Paul has nothing against the practice in and of itself. Rather, he is upset with how the Love Feast and Lord’s Supper were being conducted — in a way that involved precious little love and precious little Lordship.
The “body of Christ,” you see, is not just his physical body. It’s also the church, for which he died. When we come together, we take “communion” — the word can be translated as sharing, partnership, or fellowship. But the best translation, I think, is “community.” We come together to be a community. And because we’re a community, we eat together. It’s what communities do.
When we take the Lord’s Supper as individuals, sharing a room and little else, we sin against the body. When we take the Lord’s Supper as a community, sharing a common life and a common mission, then we are truly the body — and only then can we recognize the body.
Communion, that is, community does not exist just because we sip some grape juice and eat some crackers in the same room. Sometimes we even do it simultaneously, representing our unity. But even that hardly makes us a “body.” Rather, Paul explains what it means to be a body —
(1 Cor 12:24b-26) But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
We were saved into the body of Christ. We were not saved as individuals; we were saved by being added to a body that is saved. And we are only saved within that body.
And that body comes together each week to celebrate being one with each other, being of one heart and one purpose, having a common mission. And so, as we take this bread and drink this cup, let’s remember what we are — the body of Christ: a community on a mission together.