Sadly, selfishness and self-centeredness are sins that always seem to entrap the Christian and find their way into the collective activity of the church. Selfishness is a destroyer of unity! In the book of 1st Corinthians the apostle Paul uses the word “body” to describe the church numerous times. A body works together, a body is united and a body sees the value in every member.
The collective worship of the church is to be a place of unity as well. The assembly should be a place where people from all backgrounds can come together as one group to praise God. Worship should be the one place that division is never found…yet, even in first century Corinth, selfishness in the assembly destroyed the church’s unity. This problem was specifically identified in regards to the Lord’s Supper. The Corinthians church need to restore the Communion to its proper purpose (ie. the remembrance of Christ).
This article will first establish how the Corinthians had forgotten the purpose of the communion, second, present Paul’s proposed solution and third, provide some practical congregational helps in order to “Restore Remembrance in the Lord’s Supper”.
The Communion meal is supposed to be a time of mutual fellowship between the members of a local congregation with God, and with each-other. The Corinthians had turned it into a time to selfishly fill their stomachs when they were hungry. The Lord’s Supper is supposed to be a time to remember Christ, yet they were only remembering their appetites.
By inspiration, Paul writes them in order to restore proper remembrance in the Lord’s Supper. In 1 Corinthians 11:18-21), he states:
For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part I believe it. For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you. Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper, for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk.
The intention of the Lord’s Supper is not to only be fed, but to celebrate and remember Christ with one’s brethren as a unified body. The church in Corinth was the complete opposite of a unified body. They were not even waiting for everyone to arrive to the assembly! In fact, it appears that some members were eating up all the food and drinking down all the wine before everyone could commune! This was a blatant corruption of what the Lord’s Supper was supposed to be!
Just incase the Corinthians were still confused on the purpose of the communion, verse 22 makes it very clear by proclaiming;
What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this I will not praise you.
To paraphrase, the apostle is saying, “if you are hungry, eat at home”, “if you are thirsty, be sure to get a drink beforehand”, because when it is time to take the Lord’s Supper, it is not to fill your belly, but a time to remember Jesus with your Christian family. The Corinthians were thinking “food” when they needed to be thinking “Jesus”. It was time for them to restore remembrance to the Lord’s Supper.
After, explaining that the purpose of the Lord’s Supper is “remembrance” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26), the Apostle gets back to his corrective rebuke in verses (33-24). The passage reads:
So then, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, so that you will not come together for judgment...
The Communion meal is different from other meals the church may eat together. The communion is a time of remembrance, sharing, celebration, praise and fellowship. The entire congregation is to participate in this observance. It is a shame there were some brethren in Corinth who turned it into an opportunity to quickly stuff their faces before everyone could participate.
In our modern corporate assemblies, we do not usually have a problem with Christians consuming all the emblems of the Communion before other members can eat. However, like the Corinthians we do struggle with actually remembering Christ when we eat. It is easy for the weekly observance of the Lord’s Supper (done at the same time, in the same way) to become routine and its purpose lost in what may be seen as mundane.
This author assumes that most reading this article attend congregations in which the Communion service is structured in a similar fashion to his own. This would be trays passed from the front of a auditorium with prayers and possibly a short “talk” offered before they are passed.
Most Christians will admit that often when the trays are passed we will just “partake” without much regard to “why?”. It could be that we are distracted by something else or that the Communion has become so routine that we have neglected to focus on it’s true purpose.
What are some ways that a congregation could “restore remembrance” in the Lord’s Supper? Here are a few proposed changes that may help a church get its Communion Service back on track. These changes may not all work in every location and all are within the realm of “expediency” and none challenge that what is usually seen as “essential” in the observance of the Lord’s Supper.
Change in Practice
A simple divergence from the normal routine of worship can be a good attention getter and help the congregation regain focus. Maybe one Sunday change where the communion falls in the order of the service. Change how it is distributed (we are so accustomed to trays being passed, imagine the shock if a congregations asked people to line up and come forward to commune!). Some churches have its congregants retain the cup or bread till everyone has it and then in unison they partake. If this is not done, in your congregation, why not try it once while reading passages about unity? Does your congregation have a Scripture reading before the Supper? If not, try it one Sunday. Do not be afraid to try something different in order to get the focus back on Jesus and the purpose of the Lord’s Supper.
Change in Duration
In our corporate assemblies, especially in America we are accustomed to everything functioning on a regimented schedule. There is nothing wrong with having an approximate end time for services as well as a start time. However, if the communion service is always exactly 7 minutes long, it becomes easy to mindlessly partake. This article is not proposing that churches make things longer under the guise of being “more holy” (parents of 2 year olds everywhere will revolt) but instead borrow time from other actions in worship. One Sunday eliminate the separate sermon time and have a lesson on the Lord’s Supper before you partake. Possibly choose to have an extended time of prayer with multiple people praying about Christ’s sacrifice before the elements are distributed. Little changes can have a big impact.
Change in Location
This last idea may not be feasible in all situations. Christians often mention how the worship service at Church Camp or in home gathering, or even a temporary location while a building is being constructed has a “different feel”. Is it possible that the reason for this phenomena is because Christians can get so accustomed to the location of their assemblies that the actions in worship are only done out of habit? What if one Sunday a year the communion service was moved to the fellowship hall? What if on that Sunday each table was given larger portions and communion was consumed more like a communal meal? Would just the change in locale be beneficial to restoring remembrance in the Lord’s Supper? It does not hurt to try new things for the purpose of offering a more Scriptural worship to God.
The purpose of the Lord’s Supper is for a unified local body to come together and remember the sacrifice of Jesus. It’s a time of celebration, a time of reflection, a time of fellowship, a time of sadness and a time of joy. This article is not intended to criticize how a particular congregation communes (within the scope of Biblical authority), but first, to show that like the Corinthians, it is easy to get off track when it comes to the purpose of the Lord’s Supper and second, to present ways in which we can restore the Communion as a time of Remembrance. It was our Lord Jesus Himself who said “This do in remembrance of me”.
By Cliff Sabroe