So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord (1 Corinthians 11:27 — Underline added for emphasis.).
Paul’s words can feel intimidating, even frightening, for followers of Jesus. What if we are not worthy to share The Supper? What are we to do? What if we are unworthy and drink judgment on ourselves? Before we allow fear and worry to get the best of us, let’s remind ourselves of two truths.
First, Paul is not talking about who is worthy to participate in The Supper. He is talking about HOW we share in The Supper. The Corinthians were abusing The Lord’s Supper. Some were getting drunk and eating all the bread at The Table. When the poorer members who worked all day arrived at their assembly, these so-called latecomers were disrespected. Their brothers and sisters wouldn’t wait for them to begin The Supper of the Lord (1 Corinthians 11:18-22). These inconsiderate Christians were not recognizing the preciousness of the body and blood of Jesus that they were memorializing (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). On top of that, they weren’t recognizing that both they and those poorer members “who have nothing” were Jesus’ body as they shared this simple meal (1 Corinthians 10:16-17; 1 Corinthians 11:29). They belonged to each other. They should wait for each other. They should care for each other (1 Corinthians 12:12-13). The Supper Jesus gave his disciples to remember his sacrifice and celebrate his body, the Church, had become a disgrace! They were taking The Supper in an “unworthy manner.”
Second, if we had to be worthy based on our own efforts in order to share in The Lord’s Supper, none of us could come to the table and participate. None of us is worthy of the price that Jesus paid with his body and blood to redeem us. Notice who we WERE before Jesus paid this price:
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person — though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die — but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation (Romans 5:6-11 — Underline and bold added for emphasis.).
Notice (the underline words revealing) who we WERE without Jesus’ body and blood given for us: weak, ungodly, sinners, and enemies of God. Not a very good resume. Without Jesus’ grace, we are all unworthy.
Now, go back and notice (the words in bold showing) who we are because of Jesus’ love — his giving up his body and blood to save us: justified, saved, and reconciled so we that we can now rejoice in the people that the Lord has remade us to be!
Unworthiness made worthy is the essence of The Supper. None of us takes of it because we are worthy of the sacrifice, yet as Jesus’ disciples, we are made worthy by the body and blood given for us. None of us has a greater right to his sacrifice because of our race, education, social standing, gender, or wealth. The ground at the foot of the cross is level, and the sacrifice of Jesus is for everyone who will call on him to save them. As we share what is beyond bread and wine — what for us is the body and blood of Jesus, we remember as given for us — we are declared worthy. In fact, Paul can call us “holy and blameless and above reproach” (Colossians 1:21-22).
We take The Supper in a worthy manner precisely because we all realize that we are unworthy-yet-made-worthy by the love and grace of our Savior, Jesus! O, what grace this is! O, what a precious, yet simple, feast that reminds us that we are all sinners saved by grace, yet now precious and holy to God.
Almighty God my loving Father, words fail me. When I think of the awful price Jesus paid, my heart breaks. On the other hand, dear Father, I rejoice as I think of what that love so powerfully won for me — righteousness just as if I had never sinned; salvation from sin and death for life with you; and now, made right with you in every way. Thank you for this bread, the body of the one who loved me and gave himself for each of us who share this bread. I thank you in his name, Jesus of Nazareth, my Lord and Christ. Amen.
Prayer for the Cup
Abba Father, I take this cup as more wine or fruit of the vine. For me, it is a way to remember, relive, and rejoice that Jesus loved me so much that he chose to save me. I thank you in his name. Amen.
Beyond Bread and Wine is offered in answer to requests from those who want to celebrate The Supper in their small groups, missional communities, and church groups on a regular basis like the early disciples shared it “on the first day of the week.” Over the next several years, we will add reflections every few weeks so that they can eventually be sent out every Saturday. We believe that "as often as" we share this time with other believers, we deepen our connection to our Lord and prepare ourselves to live for others as Jesus did. We hope these reflections broaden and deepen your approach to The Supper and reflect the many facets of the Lord's grace. As we eat this bread and drink this cup, let's remember Jesus as we wait expectantly for his coming again!