Last week Rob brought an article to our staff meeting entitled, “Communion, a Counter-Monument,” which sparked discussion about the social reality that communion historically declared, and ought to still be declaring.
The article’s author, Kyuboem Lee, articulated the historical context surrounding the 1 Corinthians 11 passage that we always read to introduce communion. Paul familiarly writes,
“For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus on the night 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, after supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”
But what Lee points out is Paul’s words that precede and follow this passage. Prior to the words of institution (above), Paul reprimands the Corinthians for allowing division and gluttony at the communion table (1 Cor. 11:17-22). Following the words of institution, Paul warns the Corinthians about eating and drinking in an “unworthy manner” and how a man who does not examine himself prior to consuming the bread and partaking of the cup “eats and drinks judgment on himself” (1 Cor. 11:27-34).
To be honest, this text has always made me very nervous, as I felt Paul’s words set a mysterious moral barrier between imperfect humanity and an opportunity for us to encounter the body and blood of Christ. If there is possibility of drinking judgment on myself, how can I freely come to the table? That feels less like an invitation and more like gambling.
However, Lee goes on to explain the historical context of these warnings, which actually implore us to remove all barriers between imperfect humanity and the communion table.
He explains how homes during this time had space for 60-70 people in the front room, where only bread and a cup of wine were offered, while a smaller dining room—where food and wine were abundant—was opened up only to the richest guests. Thus, while the rich became richer in the dining room, the poor were going hungry in the crowded front room.
Lee uses this information to reframe our reading of 1 Corinthians 11, claiming that Paul was not angry because the dining table got a little chaotic, but was indignant over the fact that some people were never invited to the table in the first place.
Lee goes on to clarify that communion is a monument against this ugly classism, and by extension, racism, sexism, and all other ‘isms’ that we try to defend and justify.
As José declared yesterday at Immanuel, there is one table and it is for everyone. Of all places, the communal partaking of Christ’s body and blood must declare the eradication of walls of hostility that divide our society, that have divided us for far too long. The strength of the Apostle Paul’s words declares that there is no tolerance for division at the communion table; there is no tolerance for hatred, racism, nationalism, sexism, white supremacy, classism, ableism or any other form of intolerant superiority when we are communing with the Prince of Peace, in remembrance of his triumph over the dark and divided Kingdom of this world.
If you’d like to read through Kyuboem Lee’s fantastic article, find it here: Communion, a Counter Monument