“Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the Lord’s body eat and drink judgment against themselves. . . . But if we judged ourselves, we would not be judged. . . . So then, my brothers and sisters, when you come together to eat [the Lord’s Supper], wait for one another.”
1 Corinthians 11:28, 29, 31, 33
One thrust of Paul’s instructions in this epistle, is that we should come to the Lord’s Table with “clean and contrite hearts.” In order for the bread and wine to truly make present for us Christ’s death and resurrection, we must know and take responsibility for our own failings.
More striking to me about today’s passage from 1 Corinthians was the particular sin, and the amends for it, that Paul was focused on. The Corinthians had been splitting into factions, some of them cutting ahead in line and getting drunk, while others were left hungry. To Paul, it is very important that we all approach the table as equals: “when you come together to eat, wait for one another.”
Having drifted from the Episcopal Church in 1979, I had first seen communion offered in a circle around the altar, only in 2001, at my cousin’s ordination as a Congregationalist minister. “Standing equidistant from the table makes for a lovely ceremony,” I thought, “for Congregationalists,” but I assumed that that sort of thing wouldn’t fly back ‘home’ in the church of Bishops, Priests and Deacons.
I am so glad that I was very wrong in that assumption. Standing around the altar in a circle, as we do here, my new home, is a way of living the instructions of St. Paul: of waiting for one another. The Lord’s supper feels so much more communal to me, when we stand in a circle, equidistant from the table and nearly level with the servers, rather than approaching the altar from below, with a railing barricading the table and the officials from the people receiving the supper.
― Patsy Goolsby