The church at Corinth was abusing the Lord’s Supper. Members were being thoughtless toward one another, particularly treating the poorer members badly. Paul responded by saying,
(1 Cor 11:26, 29) For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. … 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.
The commentators like to argue over what “body of the Lord” refers to. What are we told to recognize? I think that there are multiple meanings here.
Traditionally, we’ve been told to reflect on the death of Jesus, which is true, of course. Thus, we were taught that “body” is the literal, physical body of Christ hung on the cross for our sins. And I think that’s true.
But others argue that “body” refers to the congregation — the body of Christ. After all, the problem Paul was trying to resolve was the congregation’s rudeness to each other and divisiveness. He wanted them to recognize that they are each part of the same body — a body that should be united in love. And I think that’s certainly true as well.
And there’s another important thought here we get to through the phrase “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” What is it about the Lord’s Supper that says “Jesus is dead”? And why the emphasis on Jesus’ death rather than his resurrection — when Paul later says in 1 Cor 15 that the resurrection is what gives us our hope.
(1 Cor 15:14) And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.
At first (and second) glance, it seems strange to focus on the death of Jesus here. It’s his death AND resurrection that saves us, isn’t it?
But we are taught that when we were baptized, we died to sin.
(Rom 6:2-3) By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?
Here’s the point. We declare the death of Jesus not just by meeting in a building away from most other people — we proclaim his death by dying to sin. Our lives declare the death of Jesus — not just the eating of this crust and sipping of this juice. Indeed, if we do those things and yet don’t give up sin, we make a mockery of his death.
The way we proclaim Jesus’ death is by being the body. We discern the body by recognizing that we are the body. We are Jesus incarnate on the earth. We are his body, called to do what Jesus did while his first body was on earth — the mission of God: declaring the good news of the kingdom, doing works of compassion, and making disciples for our rabbi.
Therefore, the church — this community, this temple of the Holy Spirit — does not truly recognize the body until we see that we are not just united into the church, but we have been joined into the body to do the mission of God on earth, to continue what Jesus began. That’s recognizing the body. You see, “the body” is both the body of Christ and the church — today, they are the same — but “body of Christ” isn’t just a metaphor. It’s a job description.
Therefore, when we take this spiritual meal together, we are strengthening out connection to the body. We are re-committing to the mission Jesus gave us. And we’re recommitting to do that mission as a body — with each part doing its work as part of the work of the body. And by becoming more and more what we were called to be — and showing it our assemblies and throughout the rest of the week, too — we proclaim the death of Jesus. We show that we have died because he has died.
And this is why take this meal together — because being together shows the world how Jesus changes lives creating a holy community that shows the world who Jesus is and what he did.
Bow with me –