Honoring the Body of Christ

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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For if you eat the bread or drink the cup without honoring the body of Christ, you are eating and drinking God’s judgment upon yourself.

1 Corinthians 11:29

As you may recall, the main problem in the Corinthian practice of the Lord's Supper was the failure of the members of the church to love and care for each other as they celebrated Communion together. Following the common practice of their culture, the wealthier Corinthians ate a full meal, while others went hungry. Paul corrected them, first by pointing to Jesus' own origination of the Lord's Supper and its core meaning. The bread and the cup point to the death of Jesus. Such sacrificial love ought to be, not only remembered, but also practiced by Christians, even and especially when celebrating the Lord's Supper.

Thus, as Paul sums up this section of 1 Corinthians, he encourages the believers to examine themselves sharing in the elements of Communion. "For," he explains, "if you eat the bread or drink the cup without honoring the body of Christ, you are eating and drinking God's judgment upon yourself" (11:29). The Greek verb translated here as "honoring" can also mean "judging" or "discerning." As you might expect, commentators offer various suggestions about what it means to honor or discern the body. ("Of Christ" is not present in the original Greek.) In the context of 1 Corinthians, it seems most likely that honoring the body has to do with paying attention to the body of Christ in the Christian gathering. It's a matter of recognizing that the bread of Communion signifies the oneness of the church, and therefore calls Christians to love each other.

This understanding of "the body" in 11:29 is strengthened by what Paul had written in 10:17: "And though we are many, we all eat from one loaf of bread, showing that we are one body." Moreover, Paul is just about to commence a lengthy exposition of the church as the body of Christ (chapters 12-14). So, given the context of 11:29 and the situation it addresses, we can hear in this text a call to pay attention to others, to care for them, to make sure our behavior in the Lord's Supper is consistent with who we are as the one body of Christ.

When you and I participate in the Lord's Supper, it is first and foremost a time for us to enjoy communion with God. But it is also a time to enjoy communion as brothers and sisters in Christ. We honor the body of Christ by caring, not just about ourselves and our individual experience, but also about those who share with us in Christ. Communion, when rightly understood and practiced, can be a time for God's people to celebrate the implications of Christ's death, which include the oneness of Christian community (see Eph. 2:11-22).

When I lead Communion services at Laity Lodge, I always use the "words of institution" such as found in 1 Corinthians 11, prompting people to remember the death of Christ. I also encourage them to feel free, in the context of the Lord's Supper, to express love and care for each other with words, gestures, and prayers. In this way, we honor the body of Christ even as we remember what has made us one body together.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: How have you experienced unity with other Christians in the context of the Lord's Supper? What might you do to live out the reality of who we are as the body of Christ?

PRAYER: Dear Lord, as I come to the end of this passage on the Lord's Supper, I thank you once more for giving us such tangible signs of your love and grace. You help us to remember, Lord, not only by your words, but also by the gifts of your Table. Thank you!

Help me, Lord Jesus, to honor your body as I share in your Supper. May I always treat this meal as something special, something instituted by you, an occasion for your grace to be poured out yet again. And may I also pay attention to my brothers and sisters in Christ who share in the Sacrament with me. Help me to extend your love and grace to them.

O Lord, you know that sometimes this Sacrament is a cause for division among your people. Today I pray that, by your grace, you might draw us together, to experience the unity we have in you, especially as we share in your Table together. Make us one, Lord, even as you are one with the Father and the Spirit.

I pray in your holy name, Amen.