The Lord’s Supper is a Meal, Part I

The Lord’s Supper is a Meal, Part I

The purpose for these five articles: I want to stimulate the churches to eat the Lord’s Supper as an actual meal for the purpose of augmenting authentic fellowship in Christ, while highlighting the special cup and bread which symbolize the only reason for our union, worship, and mutual edification.

Alexio had become a believer in Christ when the Apostle Paul visited Corinth in Achaia, today’s southern Greece. Corinth was the largest city there, out-sizing Athens. He was a wealthy man, a patron to many. His wife had also become a believer listening to Paul. It was Gaius who had introduced them to the Apostle. Their world was inverted after believing the gospel. And, much to the liking of Alexio, two of his servants, a husband and wife, had also come to Christ.

The church that was formed met in Gaius’ home, in fact. He didn’t live far away from him in the wealthier part of town. His capacious home, like that of Alexio, was a perfect place for the church to meet. 

When the work day was over on the Lord’s Day, the church began to gather. Alexio and his wife Selene readied themselves, as did the believing servants Secundus and Karme. They filled a basket with the food for their master and his wife, found a good wine to place there as well, then covered it with a cloth. Off they went, going downhill to the gathering.

Upon entering, they were greeted by the believers. The servants naturally sidled up to friends who shared their similar work life, and the wealthier people comfortably stood beside others of their same status. There was nothing strange here, for each felt easier socially in the right company, and everyone had greeted and showed kindness to all. 

From their vantage point in the anteroom, they could see through another room into the courtyard where the meal would take place. Secundus followed his master through the doors and into the open courtyard with its shallow pool and fountain. He carried his master’s food, and Karme carried the burlap sack with the bread and knife for their meal. 

Being a patron and an accustomed guest of the hospitable Gaius, Alexio stepped confidently into the dining area opened up to the courtyard. In the triclinium, all was ready with the tables, and pillows upon the couches. Alexio and Selene stretched out on a couch, facing toward the middle, with their bodies resting on their elbow. Secundus spread out the food before them from the inside of the couches on a table, poured wine, and asked if anything else were needed. “Nothing more,” said his master, “and thank you.” 

Secundus sat next to his wife in the courtyard, with back against the low wall of the pool, so that he could see his master. The other servants did as well. There was much for them to talk about. All of this was customary and nobody thought anything was out of line. Secundus and his wife pulled their bread out of the sack, cut it, and ate. Alexio and Selene consumed their lavish meal in the triclinium, as they did each night in their own home, enjoying Christian conversation with Gaius and the others. There were others of the working poor who felt very uncomfortable among the wealthier people. They anticipated their future in the consummated kingdom of God, but had little now. They huddled in their own group of familiar artisans and friends. Everyone was happy, everyone understood, everyone awaited the sharing of the various spiritual gifts and prayer and singing. 

There were at least a few who crossed over, eating with those not normally mixing together in society. Others circled up with those of like status around the courtyard in various places. Some even shared their food around their circle, but most ate what they had brought with them. People were happy. It was the new order of things in Christ. 

It was about this happy weekly meal that the Apostle Paul wrote, in a shocking tone and force, “you come together not for the better but for the worse!” 

How could he make such a statement when everyone was quite pleased with the evening, as they had been week by week? 

We will find out the answer to that in Part II of this series of articles. It will uncover one of the main purposes of the Lord’s Supper, and the essential purpose for Paul’s written rebuke to the Corinthians. In addition to Part II, there will be a total of five articles on the Lord’s Supper.

Part I, The Lord’s Supper is a Weekly Meal

Part II, The Lord’s Supper is a Meal for Intentional Fellowship

Part III, The Lord’s Supper is a Meal to Proclaim Christ’s Death

Part IV, The Lord’s Supper is a Meal that May Bring Judgment 

Part V, How We May Eat the Lord’s Supper in Our Day

The Lord’s Supper is a Weekly Meal

Although the section of 1 Corinthians dealing with the Lord’s Supper was written because of a critical abuse, one deserving much attention, a fact we often dismiss easily is that the Lord’s Supper was truly a meal. “The Lord’s Supper, after all, was a supper,” my oldest son once said, to make obvious what is often missed. I have eaten hundreds of the Lord’s Suppers among believers in our church over the years, approximately 800 at this time, and anticipate hundreds more meals like this before I die. 

Some have called the wine and bread itself, or a ceremony around the wine and bread, the “Eucharist,” taken from the giving of thanks done by Jesus. This, however, is not stated as a designation, but rather an action (“and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said . . ”, 1 Corinthians 11:24). Rather, the name given to this experience by Paul is found in 1 Corinthians 11: 20 where it is called the ”Lord’s Supper.” It is elsewhere called the love feast (Jude 12). Both terms denote an actual meal. If we say we are eating the Lord’s Supper, it has to be what is depicted here in 1 Corinthians 11 and Jude 12 (“these are the men who are hidden reefs in your love feasts, when they feast with you without fear.”).

Here is the initial portion of the larger text about the Lord’s Supper in Paul’s warning in 1 Corinthians 11. It will serve to orient us and will help us to see that the Lord’s Supper is indeed a meal. Read it carefully.

“But in giving this [next] instruction, I do not praise you, because you come together not for the better but for the worse. 

For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part I believe it. For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you. 

Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper, for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk. 

What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? 

Five times Paul uses the term, “come together,” in the larger section (1 Cor 11:17-34), and three times in the above portion. He tells us that the meal is a major purpose for the church coming together each week. “When you come together to eat,” he states (11:33). In this portion he writes, “Therefore when you meet [lit., come] together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper, for in your eating each one takes his own supper first . . .” (11:20-21). We will talk about the import of that verse in the next article, but for now notice that the Corinthian believers, under the tutelage of Paul, gathered to actually eat a meal. Paul does not change this intentional plan to eat even after his rebuke, as I will show in another place.

It can hardly be denied that the occasion to come together was to eat a banquet in the context of Christian love, sometimes called a “love feast.” In the hospitality of this fellowship meal would come worship and sharing of life and spiritual gifts meant to edify as seen in 1 Corinthians 12-14, contiguous to this section. If we imagine that the believers did not eat a meal, but rather discreetly and ever so quietly, slipped a tiny cracker and a thimble of grape juice into their mouths, we show how much we misunderstand the purpose of their evenings together. Done this way, we cannot begin to accomplish for the church what this meal was designed to emphasize. Paul says that some got drunk at these meals (“. . . another is drunk,” v 21). That was not appreciated, but it is an indication to us that the Corinthians were eating a full meal, at least for those who could afford to bring such a meal. 

Eating together was their weekly practice. I am quite sure that if the Apostle Paul would be able to visit most of our churches today, his first words would be, “Where’s the food?” From the first days of the church following Pentecost, Christians were all about eating together. “Breaking their bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God . . .” (Acts 2:46-47). 

It was in the evening of the Lord’s Day in Troas that Eutychus fell out of the window. Though someone special was visiting who would talk for a long time, long enough for at least one young man to fall asleep in a precarious place, they had still gathered to eat, and did not intend to change their pattern for any reason. “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread . . . (Acts 20:7),” Luke wrote. It was, after all, what they always did. It was church life. When Paul fell upon Eutychus and he was brought to life after being taken for dead, the group went back upstairs to break bread (v 11), and then Paul dialogued all night until daybreak. What a night that must have been, made all the better by the warm fellowship of a meal.

It is important to remember that it was not until much later, in 321 A.D., that the Roman Emperor Constantine issued a decree that made Sunday a day off from work. Until that time, believers met after work on the Lord’s Day. It was a supper because it was in the evening after work was finished. But there is more attached to the idea of “supper.” The Lord’s Supper was in a long line of suppers of special significance, all reminding us of the Lamb, Jesus Christ. Each meal listed below points forward to the next and ultimately to the final meal, which is the greatest supper of all.

The first Passover Supper

The yearly Passover Supper

The Last Supper of Jesus

The weekly Lord’s Supper

The Marriage Supper of the Lamb

One can feel the import of the position we who make up the New Testament churches find ourselves in as we eat this meal. Looking back we reflect on a 2000 year history of the Christian Church eating the Lord’s Supper. We can step back even another 1500 years to the Passover and the subsequent Passover celebrations which are still going on among Jews. When we eat this meal we reflect on that dark night when Christ was betrayed and died following that Passover meal, his last supper. He died as the Paschal lamb, the very subject of his new interpretation of this ancient Jewish feast. 

But we also look forward to a greater feast than all the rest which is coming in the future, the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:7-10). Will that be an actual meal? I think so. Jesus told the disciples that he would not “drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Mt 26:29). This is the time when the betrothed church is married to the Lord (v 7). Our marriages on earth reflect this mystery of Christ — the church betrothed and then married when he returns (Eph. 5:32). It is no wonder some say that early Christians would speak the Aramaic word, “Marantha!” or, “Come, Lord Jesus!” both in greeting believers and saying farewell at the end of the weekly gathering. 

This meal is not a minor thing, or just an add-on to church life, or a once-a-month perfunctory tradition in which the same choreographed routine takes place and the same words are said. No, it is a dynamic meal that bridges history and adds depth and sight to our lives. We must understand how God wants us to practice it, in order to gain as much joy in communion with Christ and believers as is possible now in anticipation of so much more joyful fellowship then.

In this article we learned that the Lord’s Supper is a meal. And we learned that it is a weekly meal.

Before we go further in filling out the meaning, values and warnings concerning the gathering for a weekly meal, consider what this should mean for you. Should this become your church’s way of eating the Lord’s Supper?

[In Part II, we will look at the subject, “The Lord’s Supper as a Meal for Intentional Fellowship,” which will clarify why Paul knew the Corinthians were coming together for the worse, and what must be accomplished in the Lord’s Supper that is so essential to God.]