I was brought up to see the Lord’s Supper as a solemn time.  Incredibly solemn.

And painfully introspective.

Were you brought up in this tradition?

I almost came to dread taking the Lord’s Supper (communion).  Because I knew that, for the following 10-15 minutes, somebody was going to be reminding me, “You need to get your heart right with God.”  And then they were going to read something terrifying like this

So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.  Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup.  For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves.  That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment. (1 Corinthians 11:27-31, emphasis mine…and whoever was reading the text for that Sunday morning we took communion)

I was going to have to beat myself up, cry my heart out to God for sins that I’d committed, and make sure there wasn’t anything that I had done (or not done) that was even remotely sinful.  I definitely didn’t want to “eat and drink judgment” on myself.  Who wants to do that?

I wonder if “fear” is what Jesus intended when he encouraged his disciples to eat the bread and drink the cup? (Luke 22:19-20)  Somehow, I doubt it.

At first glance, though, the above text (1 Corinthians 11:27-30) seems to be a terror-inducing statement.  If you’re not careful, and if your heart’s not in the right place, you may die when you take communion.  Some in the early church surely did.

But at second glance, this text isn’t encouraging morbid introspection.  It’s speaking to an entirely different matter that was going on.

What was happening in the Corinthian church was that some people were arriving for communion, and making a meal out of the bread and wine.  They would eat the bread (and the rest of the meal) before those who were hungry arrived.  Not only would they top off all of the wine, but they would drink so much that they would get drunk…right there in the middle of the church gathering! (verses 20-21)  And I don’t know about your church, but at mine, you’d have to eat a lot of wafers to make a meal out of that bread.

What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.  When you come together to eat, wait for one another – if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home. (1 Corinthians 11:22; 33)

So drinking the cup and eating the bread in an “unworthy” manner has much less to do with fear, and much more to do with selfishness.  Paul was condemning the Corinthians because they neglected the communal aspect of the Lord’s Supper,

  1. …eating and drinking before others arrived.
  2. …eating and drinking so much that others didn’t have any.
  3. …drinking so much they became drunk.
  4. …humiliating those who had nothing.

So the next time your church administers the Lord’s Supper, don’t sweat it so much, like I used to.  And if you’re a pastor, try not to strike panic in the hearts of your people.  Let it be a time of celebration and worship, of remembering what Christ has done for you (both individually and corporately).

And don’t make a meal out of the stale wafers.