This summer we are taking 10 weeks to read together David Mathis' book Habits of Grace. Each week different people will post their thoughts and reflections following our reading schedule. This week Eden Song shares his reflections on Chapter 17. You can download a PDF of the 10-week reading schedule here.
Growing Up Around The Table
I grew up under a denomination where children under thirteen were not allowed to partake in the Lord’s Supper. I was baptized as an infant, but until I made a personal confession of faith before the church at age thirteen, I simply had to watch others partake in the meal.
As a child, I didn’t quite understand why I wasn’t allowed to partake in the Table; after all, remembering the death of Christ with a small plastic cup of wine and a piece of bread seemed pretty cool to me. I wanted to be part of that celebration, but I didn’t understand the full meaning of the Lord’s Supper until I got older.
Community At The Table
In his chapter, “Grow in Grace at the Table,” David Mathis points out four aspects of the Lord’s Supper. We approach the Table with seriousness, rehearsing the gospel, proclaiming Jesus’ death, and foreshadowing the feast to come.
An aspect of the Lord’s Supper I want to highlight here however, is its communal nature. The Supper is a lot more than just an individual event where one confesses their sins and remembers the death of Christ. Though confession and remembrance are definitely elements in the Lord’s Supper, the Table is to be a corporate event where believers gather together in unity and celebrate His death as a church body.
The context of Paul’s instruction in 1 Cor. 11 clues us into this purpose of the Table. When the church in Corinth gathered to celebrate the Table together, there were factions and divisions among them. Paul wrote rebuking them for missing the heart of the Lord’s Supper:
When you come together, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not. (1 Cor 11: 20-22).
Apparently, Paul was not very pleased with how the Corinthian Christians were celebrating the Lord’s Supper.
It is important to remember that the celebration of the Meal during Paul’s time was probably not just dipping a morsel of bread in wine and eating it. It was actually a full-fledged celebration. However, rather than remembering the death of Christ as a community, those who were wealthy were eating extravagant meals while those who were poor were eating scraps. Some people did not even bother to wait for the rest of the community and just partook of the meal themselves. Partaking in the meal was a cause of division among the Corinthians. Moreover, it became an occasion where people were displaying their social-economic status rather than the unity now found in Christ.
All of this is not too surprising in light of all the other problems the Corinthian church had. Discrimination at a meal gathering was a common practice in the Greco-Roman world.
Consider the following passage from Pliny the Younger:
I happened to be dining with a man – though no particular friend of his – whose elegant economy, as he called it, seemed to me a sort of stingy extravagance. The best dishes were set in front of himself and a select few, and cheap scraps of food before the rest of the company. He had even put the wine into tiny little flasks, divided into three categories, not with the idea of giving his guests the opportunity of choosing, but to make it impossible for them to refuse what they were given. One lot was intended for himself and for us, another for his lesser friends (all his friends are graded) and the third for his and our freedmen (Pliny the Younger, Ep. 2.6).
It was the custom in the Greco-Roman world for the wealthy to eat meals with their closest friends, while serving scraps to the less important ones. It would be like me inviting two families over for dinner, serving one family prime rib, and the other ramen noodles! As Paul points out, there is to be no such socio-economic discrimination in the church. In fact, the meal is to be a special occasion where all believers stand as equals and proclaim the death of Christ as a community.
Uniting Around the Table
Even as Christians, it is easy to judge and discriminate against a fellow believer based on race, socio-economic status, education level, etc. and forget what truly matters. We must remember what the death of Christ means. His death not only blotted out our sins, it has also demolished the social barriers the world esteems so highly. His death means our old way of thinking is crucified at the cross and we pick up a new paradigm where Christ’s sacrificial love rules supreme over all. Thus, there is to be no discrimination at the meal, but only love of fellow brothers and sisters in unity.
Next time we gather together to celebrate the Lord’s Supper as a community, let us remember this great truth. His death was not only for me and my sins, but for the sins of brothers and sisters standing next to me. As a body, we proclaim to the world as we celebrate the meal that there is true unity and love that are not defined by the ways of the world.
Follower of Jesus. A native of South Korea. Proud husband and dad. Student at Fuller Seminary.
1. In the introductory paragraphs, I claimed that few, if any, other practices bring together all three principles of grace like the preaching of God's word and the celebration of the sacraments in the context of corporate worship. How do the graces of hearing God's voice, having his ear, and belonging to his body converge at the Lord's Table?
2. Refer to the section "The Gravity: Blessing or Judgment." Explain:
a.) "the gravity" of the Table.
b.) why it is so important not to handle the elements lightly and partake "in an unworthy manner"?
c.) the blessing for those who eat in faith.
3. Refer to the section "The Present: Proclaiming His Death." Consider the corporate dynamic at work in celebrating the Lord's Supper. When we partake, we "proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (1 Cor. 11:26). Explain or illustrate how a.) your participation feeds and strengthens your own soul by faith, and b.) your participation serves to strengthen and encourage others.