23 March 20201 Corinthians 11:23-29
For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you ... (v. 23)
Psalm: Psalm 22:1-18
Welcome to Corinth! When Saint Paul was writing his letters to the young church there, it was an important centre for trade and culture and a Roman city in the heart of Greece. Paul’s letters convey something of his passion for the Christian gospel and for his Christian brothers and sisters, but they also tell us a good deal about the conflicts and struggles within the early Church.
This passage gives us an insight into the origins of what Christians came to call ‘The Lord’s Supper’, ‘Holy Communion’, ‘The Mass’ or ‘The Eucharist’. They take us back to the final meal Jesus shared with his disciples: ‘the last supper’ as we often call it. In many different ways Christians have taken these actions of Jesus – taking, blessing, breaking and sharing – and made them the basis of the most solemn and joyful act of Christian worship. Because this is an area where churches have had conflicting understandings, these verses have been subject to endless debate and interpretation. We don’t need to go into all these debates. Instead we can pick out some of the important features of what Paul is saying.
In verse 11, Paul twice uses a variation on the Greek word, paradidomai. It means ‘to hand over’, both in the positive sense of handing on a gift or a piece of news, and in the negative sense of an act of betrayal, handing someone over for trial and punishment. Paul sees himself as a courier, handing on to the Corinthians what he has already received from Christ, the one who was handed over for the sake of our salvation. This is a rare instance of Paul referring directly to the words and actions of Jesus, a sign of just how important these were to him. Just as Jewish people had made the Passover meal the occasion for re-living, celebrating and handing over the story of God liberating Israel from slavery in Egypt, so Christians would use their communion meal to relive, celebrate and hand on the story of God’s liberating love in Jesus Christ.
Paul has been concerned that, in Corinth, the community meals have descended into personal greed and have failed to express the communion between Christians and Christ. That is why it is vital to "discern the body", that is, to see in this meal the coming together of the Church as the body of Christ.
- What do you have a passion to ‘hand on’ to others?
- What might you do to pass on your deepest convictions?
- What has been your experience of Holy Communion? How far has it lived up to Paul’s teaching?
- What does communion mean during a time when we are not able to gather around the same table and share bread and wine?