“He Is Risen!” He is Risen, Indeed!” So goes the traditional Easter greeting! Easter represents the most important holiday on the Christian calendar—more important than Christmas. If Christmas had not come the world would not have had a Savior. But he did come to take away the sins of the world by dying on the cross in our place. But if the dead Savior had not risen, writes the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:14 and 17, our faith is an empty shell and we are still in our sins, forever lost. Thank God for Easter!
On Easter Sunday many Christians celebrate Holy Communion. And although we do not often think of Communion as an Easter event, the theme of this article without apology asserts that The communion service is an ongoing, living celebration of and with the resurrected Lord, Jesus Christ. Here I reflect on the broader context of 1 Corinthians 11, expose some neglected details, and affirm that our communion services, whenever held, are in reality an ongoing, living celebration of and with the resurrected Lord, Jesus Christ.
Context (1 Corinthians 11:17-22, 27-34)
In 1 Corinthians 11:17-22, Paul rebukes the Christians in Corinth. Verse 17 begins with these ominous words, “in the following instructions I do not commend you,” and at the end of the section in verse 22 he writes, “Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.” What was occurring in the church that brought about Paul’s displeasure?
When the church gathered together to eat “The Lord’s Supper,” a phrase equivalent to our “Communion Service,” Paul took note of the church’s divisiveness. “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” (verses 20-21). The play on words, “the Lord’s Supper,” and “his own supper” demonstrates that the church had allowed itself to turn the Lord’s Supper into an unholy mockery! Paul’s conclusion in verse 22 borders on sarcasm, “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.” The Lord’s Supper is serious business that must never be taken lightly!
Verse 27—The Lord’s Supper must be observed with genuine respect for Jesus Christ, “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.”
Verse 28—Communion must be done after individual self-examination, “Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.”
Verses 28, 30—Communion done in an unworthy manner invites judgment from the head of the “table,” the Lord, Jesus Christ, “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.” Holy Communion is serious business!
The Contents (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)
I suspect that some of you reading this are wondering how the title of this blog, “The Communion Service—An Easter Celebration!” makes sense. Not only does it make sense, it is sensational!
We can all agree that the Communion Service memorializes a past event, the death of Jesus Christ on Good Friday. We also agree that the Communion Service looks forward to the coming again of Jesus Christ, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (verse 26). What we often overlook, however, is that sandwiched between these two events, the death of Jesus and his future second coming, is the celebration of and with the resurrected Jesus Christ at the Communion table (verses 23-26). I repeat the theme: The communion service is an ongoing, living celebration of and with the resurrected Lord, Jesus Christ.
I know that this theme may sound strange if not shocking to you. But notice these five particulars. First, Paul began the Communion passage in verse 23 with these words, “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you.” He could not and did not receive the Lord’s message before his conversion, and after his conversion he could only have received it from (ἀπό of source) the risen Lord, either directly or indirectly. Second, the message Paul received from the risen Lord referred back in time to the Upper Room with Jesus and the twelve disciples, “the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ “In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying,” ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me’” (verses 24-25). Third, the command to observe Communion, “Do this,” was transferred from the past into the present by Jesus through Paul to us. Fourth, Jesus is present at every Communion service. The twice-repeated command, “Do this in remembrance of me,” obscures a crucial element. This traditional translation commands the celebrants to look back in time and recall what happened to Jesus in his passion. But this is not how Jesus communicated it to Paul or how Paul wrote it down for the Corinthians. The text reads literally, “Do this as my memorial.” Allow me a little latitude in explaining the difference between “in remembrance of me” and “as my memorial.”
The pronoun “me” in the phrase “in remembrance of me” is objective. If we were to transpose the noun “remembrance” into a verb, as some translations do, “me” would be the direct object, “remember me.” In the literal terminology, “as my memorial,” the “my” is a possessive pronoun functioning adjectively modifying the noun “memorial.” If we rearrange the phrase into a verbal clause, “my” would be the subject, “I remember.” And the “I/my” is Jesus who is present at every Communion service.
In support of this dramatic concept, let us briefly consider a “memorial.” A memorial causes people to remember someone or something. Without people either thinking about or viewing the memorial, the memorial by itself means nothing. For the celebrants at the Lord’s Supper, the “memorial” evokes memories of Jesus and his passion and death. But what memories does the Communion as “Jesus’ memorial” bring to him who is present at the table? If he were not present, why would he say that this is “my memorial?” What is he remembering? The writer of the book of Hebrews wrote, “[Jesus] who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame” (Verse 12:2), and this same Jesus presides over our celebrations of the Lord’s Supper. He remembers the slaps, the whippings, the thorny crown, the nails in hands and feet—but at the Communion celebration, he feels joy as he looks out over the congregation. It was worth it all to him. We are worth all to him!
The fourth particular point was lengthy and crucial, but there is yet a fifth particular in the passage. The bread and the cup which we partake are symbols of Jesus’ passion and death and also of the New Covenant (verse 25). This Covenant includes the forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life. At Communion Jesus offers both to us. His arms are outstretched. He lovingly appeals for our acceptance of these blessings.
The Communion Service
The communion service is an ongoing, living celebration of and with the resurrected Lord, Jesus Christ. Jesus in our midst invites us to his table. But before we partake of the elements let us respond to Jesus’ outstretched arms and His offers of forgiveness and eternal life. We are all sinners in need of forgiveness. We just need to ask Him for it and he lovingly grants it! Also, if we look back in our minds eye to the Upper Room with Jesus and the twelve disciples, one disciple was there who partook of the elements but who was not really a committed believer in Jesus. His name was Judas Iscariot, the betrayer. But Jesus offered him the promise of forgiveness and eternal life as well. He does so today. The communion service is an ongoing, living celebration of and with the resurrected Lord, Jesus Christ. It is my prayer as I post this blog that our Communion celebrations whenever they occur will never be or become a perfunctory religious exercise, but a joyful time of fellowship with the Head of the table!