1 Corinthians 10:16-17
The words most often used when we break bread are ‘in remembrance’ and ‘this reminds us of’. But should we not also emphasise these two important terms that Paul uses repeatedly in this nine-verse paragraph (verses 1 Corinthians 10:14-22) – ‘participation’ and ‘partake of’?
When I learned in sixth form about the process of digestion I was told that stage one – partaking of my food – was called ingestion, better known as ‘chewing it well’. Then, after its long journey through stomach and gut, came assimilation – when the food became part of who I am (‘you are what you eat’, one teacher told us) – blood and muscle and stored energy: that’s participation!
Apart from Paul here, only the first three Gospels tell us how Jesus introduced Communion at the last supper in the upper room. But John omitted it from his narrative of that scene, and that’s because he was the only Gospel writer to tell us of Jesus’ seminar after he fed the crowds from the boy’s lunch (John 6:0). Jesus’ text that day was about manna as bread from heaven. He explained that he himself was the true bread from heaven. And as he got to the end of his message, he dropped the common word for to eat, replacing it with the more robust verb to feed on – literally to chew on – four times (verses John 6: 54, 56, 57, 58). You must chew on ‘my flesh’ and ‘drink my blood’ to enjoy eternal life, he insisted.
Just after I was baptised in the Spirit in the mid-1960s, I ventured away from my Brethren roots to a charismatic retreat for ministers. Michael Harper, an Anglican curate in full regalia ministered Communion to us. As he gave me a rice paper wafer, he recited the precious words of the Prayer Book liturgy that I’d never heard in my entire twenty-seven years of Christian experience:
Feed on him in your hearts by faith and be thankful.
Those words became music to my soul as he repeated them to each of us in turn. So I did just that. (Although, I never did buy into the wafer idea. Give me real bread that I can chew on as I partake and participate and feed on him thankfully in my heart by faith.)
So how should we prepare to share?
The other most frequently heard words when we break bread are ‘Christ died for our sins.’ But let’s not forget that he also ‘died to sin’ and we were included: we ‘have been baptized into his death’ (Romans 6:1-11). Paul issued a health warning in 1 Corinthians 11:28-30 – ‘Let a person examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup … Many of you [not discerning the Lord’s body] are weak and ill, and some have died.’
Therefore Christ’s triumphant statement on the cross, ‘it is finished’, must be my confession relative to the tyranny of sin. And that means, in particular, I must deal ruthlessly with any unresolved action, reaction or underlying attitude towards opponents, relatives or friends. Seeing such things for what they are – unburied corpses from my pre-Christian life – and reckon them ‘finished’. Having examined myself I may ‘so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.’