Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Lord's Supper, Individual Supper

One of Paul's most stinging criticisms of the Corinthians is how they celebrated the Eucharist. For the apostle, the church had turned the Lord's supper (kuriakon deipnon) into their own supper (idion deipnon). The exegetical question is "How"?

Two answers come to the top of list and revolve around the word "prolambanein," translated " to go ahead with" in the NRSV. Here the translator is making a decision for us, taking this Greek verb in a temporal sense. This leads to the first interpretive answer which suggests the Lord's supper was being abused by some members, probably the wealthy, eating in advance of late arrivals, slaves and freed men, thus causing a shortage of food for those not able to come early.

If the verb is not taken in a temporal sense, then its meaning would to be "to eat," "to consume," "to devour." In this understanding, the focus is on eating but with a different emphasis. In Greco-Roman culture where status was paramount, diners were seated according to social status and often provided more and better portions of the meal. Consequently interpretive answer two sees the problem centered on showing partiality and favoritism to certain church members because of their social standing.

Dennis Smith, author of From Symposium to the Eucharist, says this about religious meals in antiquity: "In all such religious meals, there is a close tie between the ideology of the meal and the religious values to be expressed." One can see why Paul's frustration is so evident. He had espoused a message that all are part of the body of Christ and that there is no longer a distinction between Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female. The very essence of the gospel was compromised by how the Eucharist was being observed at Corinth.

There is one common theme in the two interpretive choices just reviewed. Both assume social realities that damage the church, the body of Christ. Favoritism, discrimination, and uncritical acceptance of social convention can damage relationships and put the church at risk.

So what are the practical implication of Paul's critique. One things seems certain. Church communities must be more aware of their traditions, especially in regard to the Lord's supper. Gender discrimination at the table as to who can pray and who can serve stands condemned and, in Paul's words "shows contempt for the church of God."

1 comment:

jakemaxwel said...

These are important issues here. It is indeed important to examine our traditions. Certainly Paul's concerns about how the Corinthians were acting contrary to the will of Christ Jesus in giving one person more importance was a valid concern; assigning a higher status to one more than another is damaging to the Body of Christ. I think it is a universal, timeless concern. In fact, it is a great fault of many Christians today. I am afraid we are an incredibly judgmental group. The higher our moral standards, the quicker we are to judge others. It is just that today we are much more subtle in showing our assessments of people than merely where the other is placed at the table. There are many ways of showing someone his place.

RevJohn, I love this blog. It is really helpful when I am out of town and have to miss our Sunday school class!