Unequal dinner (31 Jan 2016)

In about a week, many around the world will gather for reunion dinner, during which family members get together to usher in the Lunar New Year with much happiness. It is an important culture that dates back thousands of years and there is a history behind it. Christians gather to worship the Lord and for the Lord’s Supper. A passage that is often read on the Lord’s Supper is 1 Cor 11:17-34.

Just as there is a history of reunion dinners, there is a background to Paul writing to the Corinthians on this. A note here: many Christians have erroneously concluded that it is their “unworthiness” that forbade them, but this is not true. It is not the “worthiness” of the participant but the “worthiness” of the manner of partaking it. We need to first grasp the text in their town[1], take note of the differences between the Biblical audience and us, and apply it.

Paul describes the sacred ordinance, the Lord’s Supper, with the visible signs of the bread and wine. He warns the Corinthians of the danger of someone partaking it without regard to the obligations imposed by it. What the Corinthians have done is to turn the Lord’s Supper into an unequal dinner. The Corinthian church’s full meal became a sign of the social divisions that ran through the church. Sometimes, excellent food and wine will be served in the small main dining room for the rich, and another room with food and drink of a poorer quality for the others. In the context, eating and drinking in an ‘unworthy manner’ refers to the divided way in which the Corinthians were coming together.

The Lord’ Supper has remained central. The difference is that today, we do not get a whole meal. Have we in other ways, in our churches, allow wealth (or other issues) to divide the church, where the ‘haves’ signal in some ways that they are superior to the ‘have-nots’?

How shall we apply the theological principles in our lives? Based on what is discussed, we need to realise the close relation between what the ‘bread’ symbolises and the body of his people (the church). In other words, the ‘body’ which is to be recognised is both the presence of the Lord in the elements of the Lord’s Supper and the unity of the church that shares the bread. Secondly, do we examine the manner in which we celebrate the Lord’s Supper? While we may think that we do not treat others unequally like the Corinthian Christians, we may ‘despise’ those who are unlike us or have biases towards certain groups or certain types of people.

As we partake of the Lord’s Supper, may we, with God’s help, seek to have ‘equal dinner’ and continue to grow in unity in Christ.

Deaconess Vivien Ler

[1]BGST Hermeneutics Course by Dr Philip Satterthwaite; Duvall, J. S. & J.D. Hays, Grasping God’s Word. 2012.