One of the first cities where St. Paul had success in establishing a Christian church was Corinth. Corinth was a Greek seaport where goods were loaded and unloaded from all over the Mediterranean Sea. It was a city whose travelers were looking for a good time, and as a result the city had a reputation for trouble and vice. In the midst of all of these troubles, Paul discovered that many people were ready to hear about salvation in Jesus Christ.
St. Paul spent time in Corinth bringing the people together to form a local church. He then traveled further to continue to proclaim the Gospel. Paul kept in contact with the church in Corinth through personal messengers and letters. While he was proud of the Christians he left there, the church gave him many reasons for heartache. Paul often had to remind them about the essentials of what it meant to be Christian.
One situation that especially gave Paul heartache was what he heard about how the Corinthians celebrated the Lord’s Supper.
The church in Corinth was small. The Christian community would meet in the house of one of the wealthy members of the community. These houses would have a public space of dining room and courtyard that would hold no more than 50 people. The more wealthy members of the community probably gathered in the dining room to eat with their peers before the Lord’s Supper was celebrated. The poorer members gathered in the courtyard.
All too often the well – off people who gathered behaved as if they were at a party. They would eat the food they brought for themselves and their friends, without sharing with the poor who were present. Apparently, some of the celebrations also got quite rowdy, and wine flowed freely. People embarrassed themselves and the church by drinking too much.
St. Paul was appalled by this behavior. It not only caused scandal in the church, but it also showed that the revelers did not appreciate what they were celebrating. Whatever the revelers were celebrating, Paul wrote, it was not proper preparation for celebrating the Lord’s Supper. Those who wanted to eat and drink should do so in their own houses. Their behavior showed contempt for themselves and contempt for the church.
St. Paul reminded them of the real meaning of the Last Supper in his letter to them.
23 For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, 24 and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, "This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." 25 In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes. (1 Corinthians 11: 23 – 26)
St. Paul was reminding the community that the whole purpose of celebrating the Lord’s Supper was to bring about unity within the Church. Those who failed to see Christ in their brothers and sisters through their actions were sinning against Christ.
Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. (1 Corinthians 11: 27)
St. Paul wanted the Christians in Corinth to think about what they were doing when they celebrated the Lord’s Supper. Celebration is not simply coming together and going through the motions. Attendance is based on a commitment to acknowledge the presence of Christ in one another and to act as brothers and sisters in the Lord.