1 Corinthians 11:17- 29
Pastor Chris Tweitmann
We are in the midst of a sermon series
reflecting on what it means to be the Church.
We specifically focusing on a beautiful picture from Acts, chapter 2,
of what the Body of Christ looked like right after it was first
through the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching
to the breaking of bread
and to prayer.
Everyone was filled with
awe at the
many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.
All the believers were together and had everything in common.
They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had
Every day they continued to meet together in the temple
They broke bread
in their homes and ate together with
glad and sincere hearts,
praising God and enjoying the favor of
all the people.
And the Lord added to their number
daily those who were being saved.”
Previously, we’ve learned that being the Church means being a
that grows and matures through being in the word of God,
that being the Church is coming together in koinonia
– out of a common, shared life that is in fact a participation
and reflection of the life of the Trinity,
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Today, we are going to focus on what it means to be the Church
through the breaking of bread.
We will explore this theme by digging into a controversy
that erupted within the Corinthian church
– a grave misunderstanding of the breaking of bread
that Paul speaks into in his first letter to the Corinthians. Let’s
Those were some harsh words from Paul that we just heard.
A rebuke that we’ll unpack a little later.
Remember we are looking at this passage as a way of better
what it means to be the Church through what we see in
the picture of Acts, chapter 2 – through this image of breaking
What does it mean to break bread?
It’s a phrase that goes back for centuries,
that finds expression across many cultures.
First, however, let’s briefly talk about the significance of bread.
Bread has been a staple of the diets of countless civilizations.
Whether made from wheat, rye, barley, millet, rice
or even potato flour, bread has been the food of
the ordinary, everyday working people
and in this way has come to be representative of all meals.
To be without bread was synonymous with going hungry.
Specifically, during the time of the Roman Empire,
most of the population at that time lived at or below subsistence
– in other words, below the poverty line.
Hence, earning enough for one’s daily bread was foremost on
And therefore, breaking bread was a generous act of hospitality.
In the act of breaking of bread,
bread cakes or loaves were divided into pieces,
so as to share one’s bread with others.
More than this, the offer to break bread
was not just an invitation to share one’s food
but to enter one’s home and to sit at one’s table.
It was a gesture of vulnerability and exposure
as one willingly revealed to another person
how he or she actually lived day-to-day
versus how we present ourselves
whenever we go out of the house.
To break bread with someone was the lowering of a social barrier.
It was a sign of acceptance, an act of inclusion,
a decisive move towards forming a relationship with that person.
In other words, breaking bread, in the coming together of
two or more parties in meal and friendship, was an act of
Interestingly though, the exact phrasing here in verse 42
In the original Greek language is “the breaking of THE bread.”
Breaking of THE bread = a figure of speech,
a synecdoche (syn-neck-do-kee), where a part stands for the
In this case, the breaking of the bread encompasses
the fruit of the vine, the sharing of the cup as well.
The Breaking of THE bread refers to
what Jesus has done to this common practice.
Jesus takes all of the above
– the general understanding of what it means to break bread
as He institutes what we know today as the Lord’s Supper,
the Eucharist, or Holy Communion.
Through the breaking of bread,
Jesus frames His coming to us and His offering of Himself for us,
as an act of generous hospitality,
as an invitation to make our home with Him,
to find and share the fullness and abundance of life
as it was meant to be in Him.
However, Jesus also casts the particular breaking
of this bread – of His Body on the Cross
through the memory and the meaning of a specific meal, the
The Passover meal instituted in view of the Exodus
– the liberation of Israel from its slavery in Egypt.
The Passover meal commemorates a divine protection
that becomes a human victory over the shadow of death.
Established then in the tradition of the Passover meal,
the particular breaking of this bread, of Jesus’ Body
and the covering of His blood as the perfect Lamb of God
becomes more than just a divine act of hospitality.
Jesus creates a meal, a meal where our greatest hunger and
– for forgiveness, for healing, for grace, can be completely
Through this meal, Jesus offers us
the means of our final Exodus
where in receiving His life given for our own,
we can be led beyond death to everlasting life.
Through Holy Communion,
Jesus sets a table to which we can keep coming back.
A table to which we need to keep coming back.
For Holy Communion is a reminder, a reflection, an enactment
of our continual and shared dependence as the Body of Christ
on the nourishment that comes from Jesus, from Christ who is our
At this table, with this meal, heaven and earth intersect.
We step out of time as we know it and taste something of
For in the breaking of the bread
is our remembrance of the past
– our looking back at the finished work of our salvation by Christ.
More than this, in the breaking of the bread
there is also our recognition of the present
– looking around and embracing our collective identity in Christ
– that we are a part of an ever-growing spiritual family
– one that includes every tribe, every tongue, every color, and
And at the same time,
in the breaking of the bread is our reorientation to the future
– looking forward to the certain promise of our resurrection
and our homecoming through Christ, of one day, all things being
– becoming our earth as it is heaven when Jesus comes back.
But the breaking of the bread
– of Christ offering Himself to us
– is intended to direct us outwards
in breaking bread with others.
This is what we witness in the snapshot of the early Church from
Their devotion to the breaking of the bread
resulted in them breaking bread and eating together
in their homes with glad and sincere hearts.
In the early Church, Holy Communion was extended and shared
in the home of a believer – as the culmination of a broader meal.
The bread and the wine remained present on the table
throughout the gathering.
And then, at the conclusion of the feast,
in the wake of the fullness and contentment of the meal,
everyone’s attention would be directed to the One
from whom all blessings flow.
All who were present celebrated their common ground
– their equality and their union
both in their mutual need for and reception of
God’s forgiveness and healing,
God’s love and mercy,
God’s grace through Christ.
Unlike our modern practice of this meal,
they didn’t just go to church on Sunday to receive Communion.
No, the first followers of Jesus
in celebrating the Lord’s Supper together in their homes,
became the Church as together they sought to
embody the Communion they received in Christ
by opening their doors, inviting others to their tables,
and breaking bread –sharing from what they had been given,
especially with those who were in need.
In other words, the first Christians perceived an inseparable
between their invitation and participation in communion with
and how they interacted and treated each other and those
For them, breaking bread wasn’t just a way of eating.
It was a way of living.
They lived in communion, sharing what they had with one
This was how the first Christians broke bread together
but over time, some believers forgot, some lose the point of the
This is what has happened to the church in Corinth.
This is what the apostle Paul is so fired up about.
Unlike what we see in the picture from Acts, chapter 2,
everyone in Corinth was not coming together to care for each
Instead there was a growing division within the Body
that ironically and troublingly stemmed from
how they were observing Holy Communion.
The affluent believers in the Corinthian church were arriving
Bringing their own food and drink to the meal,
they refused to wait for everyone else to arrive
– everyone else being their poorer, less resourced
brothers and sisters in the community.
Hastily eating and drinking their prepared meals
so they could enjoy them without having to share,
they ended up fat and happy – with some even getting drunk
while others were left to go hungry.
Paul’s rebuke is the Corinthians were living by a double standard.
The “haves” treated what they had,
the food and drink they brought,
as their earnings, as their achievements,
as their rightful property to keep for themselves
rather than to share, to serve, to help the “have nots.”
In their premature celebration, these professed Christians
did not distribute from what they had received by the grace of
to any that had need.
No, instead of discerning the body (the health of the community),
these so-called followers of Jesus held onto more than was
while others were left with not enough to survive.
They had no problem coming to the Lord’s Table
and partaking of Holy Communion
even though they made no room at their table for others
– particularly those who were hurting.
In participating in Holy Communion,
these Christians were claiming to rely solely on the grace of God
even though they had none to give to their brothers and sisters
Paul pulls no punches when he writes,
to live this way, to exist in community
like this, and yet still to claim
to be the Body of Christ is
to eat and drink judgment upon themselves.
I wonder sometimes if today we are more like those to whom
Paul was writing in Corinth than the community
we witness in Acts, chapter 2.
Now, I know that’s a pretty strong statement to make.
But let us consider how we break the bread together today.
Over the centuries, in the majority of the Church,
we have radically altered both the rhythm and the practice of
where and how Holy Communion was first celebrated.
the breaking of the bread
moving it out of its original context of life in the home
into a separate gathering space.
We have become more focused on how this meal is officiated,
having crafted strict regulations and legalistic definitions of
in order for the bread to be shared.
And what has been the net result of this?
Ritual has overtaken the meal.
The table has become fenced off.
Many faith communities celebrate Holy Communion
less frequently – maybe once a month or possibly only once a
The meal itself has become more individualistic rather the
The bread is no longer broken and shared between us.
Everyone gets their own, pre-processed wafer.
Some communities have even pushed the table from
the center of the worship space to the corner or the side of the
making Holy Communion self-serve.
“Come and receive Jesus whenever you choose,
while the rest of the service goes on.”
Getting our own individual piece of Jesus
has eclipsed our interconnectedness through the Holy Spirit,
our coming together as one in Christ.
We have replaced true communion as the Body
with contention and division within the Body
as we argue over what breaking the bread means
and who is welcome at the table.
And not surprisingly, this breakdown
in our understanding of what Holy Communion is,
of what breaking the bread together means,
has spilled over into how we break bread with others
– with the people around us.
Our practice of segregation at the Lord’s Table
has resulted in our continuing segregation
in terms of at each other tables.
We, the Church, like the rest of the world,
have become more polarized than unified.
One looks at the Church and sees less of a single Body
and an increasing number of warring tribes
based on politics, race, gender, and economics.
Even as we continue to gather as the Church,
calling ourselves the Body of Christ,
we fail to treat others like Jesus did,
as Christ commanded us.
My friends, Jesus spent the last years of his life
teaching that all who follow Him
are called to serve others above themselves.
Jesus told us directly that people
will come to know Him,
that we belong to Him,
through how we love and care for those in need.
Jesus emphasized that we
as recipients of His grace
ought to be particularly sensitive and responsive
to the cries of the poor and the afflicted
– to those who hunger and thirst
both for basic necessities and for righteousness.
Jesus taught us breaking bread is a reminder
that our lives are about more than ourselves.
And yet, we continue to come to the Lord’s Table,
claiming God’s grace while being unwilling to extend it to each
We speak of others as our brothers and sisters in Christ,
even as we deny any responsibility to them.
We live in comfort and security
while other parts of the Body starve and remain exposed.
We champion our rights and our freedoms,
while our brothers and sisters of color
can’t breathe before repeated inequality and injustice.
Are we not living out of the same double standard
as the Corinthians to whom Paul was writing?
Are not, like them, failing to recognize the provision of Christ
as reflected through the bread broken and the wine poured out
is intended to serve as the foundation for our sharing of
we have been given by the grace of God for the provision of the
needs of ALL?
And as we dare to participate in Holy Communion
professing that we are the family of God
as we deny our responsibility to each other,
as we refuse to acknowledge our affluence,
– the advantages we have
and the disadvantages we don’t have to face
because of our race or our socio-economic status,
as we are content to remain fat and happy
– perhaps even drunk on our power and our privilege
while others protest to be heard, to live without fear,
and to witness needed change and reform that is long overdue,
as we profess to be one Body in Christ
and yet functionally sit at separate tables,
are we not also
eating and drinking judgment upon ourselves?
Beloved, Jesus in breaking bread with us,
when we receive Him as the Bread of Life given for ALL,
the Body of Christ does not become a part of us,
we become a part of the Body of Christ.
And we are one Body in Christ,
not because we go and gather in same worship space building,
not because we were brought up or belong to
a certain denomination or tradition,
not because of shared political views,
a common socio-economic status, or the color of our skin.
When we presume to take on ourselves the hosting of this meal,
when we believe we get to make the invitation in terms
of who has a place at this table,
we have made the breaking of the bread on our private party.
We have made the breaking of the bread
not the feast that heralds the Kingdom of God,
the foretaste of the Lord’s hospitality and generosity
towards all peoples and nations.
We have made the breaking of the bread an unholy Communion.
We are only one body because
we have been invited, not individually but together, by Christ,
because we are brought to the table, not individually but
together, by Jesus,
because we are healed, nurtured, and ultimately made whole
not individually but together through the Spirit of Christ.
Through the work that Jesus Christ did on the Cross,
through the victory of the Resurrection,
we are freed the sins of prejudice and separation,
we have been reconciled to God and one another.
And what we have received from Christ,
we are to share with others around us.
If we have received everything we are, all that we have from
if there is nothing we can claim as our own,
then everything we have, all that we are is
for the sake of others in Christ.
Nothing more concretely reflects this truth that breaking bread
Nothing more tangibly reflects that our mutual identity as
children of God,
that our identity in Christ takes prominence over any other
identity we claim,
than our breaking bread together.
Nothing more fully embodies our calling
and responsibility to all our brothers and sisters
than setting tables that have enough seats for everyone,
that remove the barriers that divide and separate us,
and that ensure there is more than enough love,
more than enough mercy, more than enough justice, for all.
The first followers of Jesus
not only remembered Christ
in the breaking of the bread;
they heeded Christ’s call
to follow Him in loving and serving others
in being willing to be broken like He was
for the sake of ministering to someone in need.
Let us, like them, realize we are each
but one small piece in a much bigger loaf
that is the Body of Christ.
Let us, like them, be willing to break bread with others
as the way of pointing to the Bread of life
who was broken for all the world.
there is something revelatory,
about breaking bread together,
especially when the meals that we share
emerge from our communion with Christ.
When we break bread with others,
those who are strangers to us,
as we listen to their stories;
as we pay attention to their struggles and failures, to their hopes
we recognize, despite our differences, our common humanity
– broken and yet still beautiful, seeking and longing for a
that can only be found, that can only be realized in Jesus.
When we break bread with others,
affirming the image of God that we share alike with them,
choosing to love, to forgive them in the midst of their flaws,
we open ourselves to discovering and reflecting back
the presence of Christ already at work in and through them
and in so doing, more clearly recognize Jesus
as He continues to reshape and transform us into our best selves.