To Christians living in a culture drenched in paganism, Paul gave a simple command: “Flee from idolatry” (1 Corinthians 10:14). In particular, the apostle drew a contrast between the idolatrous feasts that characterized the world around them and a different feast that characterized their new life in Christ: the Lord’s Supper. He explained that for Christians to be involved in idols’ feasts would cause them to become sharers with demons—a horrible thought (verses 20-21). To understand this, they had only to remember that, in their regular observance of the Lord’s Supper, they were sharers with Christ. “Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ?” (verse 16).
Paul’s word sharing here (Greek koinōnia) means joint participation, sharing together in some common condition or activity. (The same word is often translated “fellowship.”) In this text, several translations render it communion—which is why we often use that term to refer to the Lord’s Supper.
We know that Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper as a memorial of His death (see 1 Corinthians 11:23-26). But do we also think of it, in Paul’s words, as a sharing in the body and blood of Christ? We eat the bread and drink the cup, not only in remembrance of Him, but in fellowship with Him. We, like those early saints at Corinth, must never lose sight of that.
To think of the Lord’s Supper as communion with Christ can help ensure that it does not become an empty ritual. When it comes to memorials, familiarity has a way of numbing us to their importance. (Quick: what’s the purpose of Memorial Day? If your first thought is cookouts or car races, then you see my point.) But the memorial that Christians observe on the first day of the week is different. It commemorates a death, yet the One who died lives again, and the memorial is also an expression of our ongoing fellowship with Him. When we partake, He is there! This may well be what Jesus meant when, even as He instituted the feast, He told the disciples, “But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:29).
“For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). And as we proclaim the Lord’s death, we also proclaim a great deal more. We are proclaiming that He is our Lord; we have put our trust in Him and are united with Him. In his comments on 1 Corinthians 10, Gareth Reese suggests that everyone who partakes of the Lord’s Supper is declaring two things: (1) “I wish to continue to participate in the benefits of Christ’s body and blood,” and (2) “I wish to invite Jesus to have a continuing relationship with me” (1 Corinthians 349). I would suggest a third: we are declaring, “I pledge myself to all the responsibilities that go with that relationship.” As Matthew Henry wrote: “To partake of the Lord’s table is to profess ourselves his guests and covenant people…it is holding communion with God, and partaking of those privileges, and professing ourselves under those obligations, which result from the death and sacrifice of Christ” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary 6:557).
Just as sharing the Lord’s Supper declares our fellowship with Christ, it also declares our fellowship with one another. “Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread (1 Corinthians 10:17). In the Supper, we are proclaiming that each of us is one with Christ, and that all of us are one in Christ. “We, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Romans 12:5).
Picture those first-century Christians of diverse backgrounds—Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free, rich and poor, citizens and commoners—reaffirming every week in the Supper that they were one in Jesus. Likewise, when we gather around the Lord’s table, we are declaring that no factor which might threaten to divide us—race, education, wealth, status, politics, or anything else—is as strong as the spiritual fellowship with Christ that unites us.
When we eat the Lord’s Supper together, as have numberless thousands of saints for almost two millennia, we are reminded that we belong to a vast spiritual family across the globe and across the ages. We are connected to Christians from Argentina to Zimbabwe who take part in this simple feast each first day of the week, proclaiming the Lord’s atoning sacrifice, their fellowship with Him, and their solidarity with one another. And we are connected across the centuries to faithful Christians of the past who “continued steadfastly in…the breaking of the bread” (Acts 2:42).
When we eat the Lord’s Supper together, we are affirming our commitment to the duties of fellowship with Christ and His people. It is a pledge to continue walking in the light as He is in the light. It is a pledge that we will continue to love one another, edify one another, correct one another, and bear one another’s burdens. It is a pledge to continue sharing the gospel with the lost. It is a pledge to endure whatever persecution may come our way. And it is a declaration of our eager expectation of sharing in eternal glory.
When we meet in sweet communion
Where the feast divine is spread,
Hearts are brought in closer union
While partaking of the bread.
(Tillit S. Tedlie)