For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves. For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. So then, my brothers and sisters, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. If you are hungry, eat at home, so that when you come together, it will not be for your condemnation. About the other things I will give instructions when I come.1 Corinthians 11.23-34
When we have meals with our family or friends, it’s courtesy to wait for everyone to arrive before partaking of the food together. Unless some are exceptionally late—in which case the group ought to be informed prior—we want to eat together. For most of us, such group meals are not merely gastronomical experiences but also times of bonding and fellowship. In fact, it could be said that the latter aspect predominates. We often value good company over good food. However, eating together also has a significant aspect. Commenting on this, mental health researcher Helena Tuomainen states:
Commensality is the practice of eating together with other people and signifies unity and sharing in most cultural contexts. Commensal relationships mirror social roles and positions, revealing an individual’s location in social networks and social systems. … ‘Commensal circles’ are networks of relationships that define the range of people with whom individuals could, and do, eat. Meals draw the line between intimacy and distance, and form occasions for groups to discover themselves as groups.
Eating together signifies sharing, unity, and parity. It also makes individuals into a group. This commensality is clearly the principle behind the Lord’s Supper according to the Apostle Paul. In chapter 10, Paul talks about how sharing in the bread forms the basis of their unity:
The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.
It is precisely because they share in the one bread that they are one body—by eating the bread that is the body of Christ together, they who are many become the one body of Christ. So sharing is meant to bring about unity. As a corollary, that unity is supposed to establish parity since all who belong to God are equal before God. This forms the ground for Paul’s admonishment of the Corinthian church in chapter 11.
The nascent Corinthian church had the practice of sharing food at some kind of potluck meal which culminated in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. That was when the bread and the wine are shared in the sacramental rite. However, there were wealthy Christians who brought more food and wine to the potluck meal and didn’t share them with the poorer Christians. These poorer Christians were likely labourers who had to finish their day’s work before meeting for the potluck; as such they may not have brought much for the meal as well. Without waiting for them, the wealthy Christians ate up most of the food and drank most of the wine. This left little for their poorer brethren. Hence, “one goes hungry and another becomes drunk,” thus making obvious the social divisions within the church—divisions which shouldn’t be present in a united body.
Such behaviour was injurious to the body of Christ because it was contrary to the sharing, unity, and parity signified by the Lord’s Supper. Paul considered that those who engage in such behaviour were committing a travesty against our Lord’s body and blood, hence they were unworthy of partaking the Lord’s Supper. If they continue to do so, then they would just be eating and drinking judgement upon themselves. Therefore, the Corinthians who partake in the Lord’s Supper ought to be “wait for one another” for their potluck meal and share of what they have with each other.
What does it mean for us? Even though we no longer have potlucks along with the Sacrament, the principles of sharing, unity, and parity continue to be relevant. If we share in the one bread and are part of the one body of our Lord, then we must never allow any kind of difference to divide us or magnify the differences between us; we are equal before the Lord and we should view each other as such, sharing our goods with those in need and preserving their dignity. In other words, do we actually love one another in the bond of Christ? Without such love in action, then we may just sharing in the Sacrament without discerning the body!