Apparently the church at Corinth was abusing the Lord’s Supper. Members were thoughtlessly going ahead of one another and failing to wait on one another. It may be that the poorer members of the church were especially victims of the prevailing attitude at Corinth. Paul addressed the problem by reminding that the bread and cup are proclamation of Jesus’ death until he returns, and that those who partake without discerning the body of the Lord eat and drink judgment to themselves (1 Cor. 11:26-29).
To what does “body of the Lord” refer? What are we to recognize? There are at least two meanings possible. Traditionally, we have been encouraged to reflect on the death of Jesus. This suggests that the “body” mentioned is the literal, physical body of Christ hung on the cross for our sins. The “body” could also refer to the church, the spiritual body of Christ. This makes sense in the context, for the problem Paul addresses is the members’ treatment of each other and the potential for divisiveness. He wants them to recognize that they are all part of the same body.
The Supper reminds us that we are the body. We discern the body by recognizing that we are the body. We are Jesus’ present incarnation on earth. We are his body, called to do what Jesus did while his first body was on earth—to participate in the mission of God: declaring the good news of the kingdom, doing works of compassion, and making disciples.
The church, this community and temple of the Holy Spirit, does not truly discern the body until we see that we are not simply united into the church, but we are part of the body to do the mission of God on earth, to continue what Jesus began. That awareness recognizes the body. “The body” can refer to both the body of Christ and the church and is not a metaphor. It is a reality and our job description.
Thus there are two reasons we take this meal together: so that we can discern the body afresh, and so that we can show the world how Jesus changes lives, creating a holy community that declares who Jesus is and what he came to do.