When Rachel and I lived in South Florida, we went to the same church for quite a long time. I remember the first time we had communion at this church (it was infrequent), and after we took the bread together, the pastor had us all stand up, raise up the cup and proclaim the risen Lord with a shout of joy. Up till that point in my life, I never realized how somber communion usually was. In a short moment our pastor had demonstrated the joy that is found in the resurrection, and we proclaimed it together by the sharing of the cup. I started thinking, from that time forward, that communion has become more like a funeral than a proclamation of the resurrected Savior.
Why do we do this? I think it has to do with a lack of contextual exegesis of I Corinthians 11:17-34. In this passage, St. Paul taught the Corinthians that they should take the Lord’s Supper in a “worthy manner” (vs 27), and that those who do not “heap judgement upon themselves” (vs 29). Paul goes on to say that many in the Corinthian church were sick because of their failure to take the Lord’s Supper correctly. What is Paul talking about? In the beginning of his instruction, Paul talked about the neglect of eating the Lord’s Supper together. We need to recognize that Paul tells us to proclaim the “Lord’s death until He comes” in unity: some get drunk, some go hungry; the church is DIVIDED. This is the issue Paul is addressing, and his caution (in context) is to not divide the assembly by showing preference to some over others. Remember, the believers in the 1st Century took communion in a much different manner than we do. It wasn’t a short, tacked on event in their “service,” but was more akin to a love feast: the people celebrated by remembering the death of their Savior. (Short read on this here, but scholarly research is available). When the love feast deviated from unity, Paul rebuked the ekklesia.
Often we are somber because we are “examining ourselves” (as Paul commanded) for SIN, not for unity. If we are dividing a church, hindering the fellowship, we should be on guard for judgement and not partake; however if we are in sin we NEED to remember the death of the Lord as Paul commanded. It was His death that provided deliverance, and Paul wanted that proclaimed.
There is one point I need to address about the celebration of the resurrection that I stated we should be doing, and that is found in verse 26 where Paul exhorts us to proclaim His death. Certainly that should be somber, right? Well what else does Paul tell us in that verse “proclaim his death until He comes.” We are to remember and CELEBRATE His death, because that is our deliverance. While we should never forget the suffering of our Savior, we cannot remain at the cross with Him crucified, but proceed to the Tomb where He was raised. Remember the suffering in light of the raising.
Paul doesn’t want us living in the shadow of His death, but in the certainty of His coming. Paul wants us to celebrate the forgiveness of our sin together as a local assembly. I think Paul wants us to have feasts of joy to the glory of God! I really hope we can move away from the idea of Communion as a Commun-eral, and to a place where we celebrate the joy of the risen King; maybe just once in awhile.