Communion Thought: Recognizing the Body

by Bob Young
[permission is given to reprint with credit noted]

The text of 1 Corinthians 11:28-29 is often read or cited in comments concerning the Lord’s Supper. Christians are to examine themselves in participating in the Supper and to recognize the body. What does it mean to “recognize the body of the Lord”? The most obvious answer is to refer to the physical body of Jesus, hung on the cross for our sins. This certainly seems to be part of what Paul has in mind. But is there more?

Paul was writing to the church in Corinth to correct certain abuses which had developed around the practices of the church. Read 1 Corinthians 11:20-21. One of the problems was a misuse of the Lord’s Supper. Apparently some church members were coming early, sharing an exclusive meal. The early church at times combined the Lord’s Supper with a common meal, the “love feast.” This is spoken of with approval in Jude 12. It does not seem that Paul had anything against the practice in and of itself. Rather, he is concerned with how the Love Feast and Lord’s Supper were being conducted—-precious little love and precious little Lordship.

Recall that the phrase “body of Christ” is not only used in reference to his physical body. It is also used to refer to the church. When the church comes together, members share communion— partnership or fellowship. The best translation in this context may be "community." The church comes together to be a community. Because the church is a community, it eats together. That is what communities do.

When we take the Lord’s Supper as individuals, sharing a room and little else, we fail to recognize the body, perhaps even denying the body. When we take the Lord’s Supper as a community, sharing a common life and a common mission, we recognize the body and are truly members of the body. Communion, and thus community, does not exist because we sip some juice and eat some unleavened bread in the same room. Even if we do it simultaneously, representing our unity, that hardly makes us a "body." Paul explains what it means to be a body in the next chapter: 1 Corinthians 12:24-26.

We were saved and added by God to the body of Christ. We were not saved to remain individuals; we were saved and simultaneously added to a spiritual body composed of those who have been saved. We are only saved within that body, but being part of that body, by sharing in that body.

Some religious groups have made the Supper so sacramental that it has cleansing power. The opposite extreme is to make the Supper so insignificant that members of the body do not think anything at all about failing to assemble with the community to recommit to the mission and purpose of Jesus Christ. The body comes together each week to celebrate being one with each other, being of one heart and one purpose, having a common mission. As we take this bread and drink this cup, let us remember who we are—the body of Christ: a community on a mission together.

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Last updated October 23, 2010.