It is of no surprise to find this passage chosen for Maundy Thursday (as it is standard for every year); they are fitting Pauline words for this Holy Week. Furthermore, it is certainly a notable passage for many of us who are blessed to administer the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. I would even venture to say that many of us ministers have this passage (or the similar Lukan passage) memorized. For me, I find these words are just too easy to rattle off without even a second thought. With this in mind, it may be a proper discipline for us ministers of the Gospel to take the time to meditate over the passage, seeking wisdom and new understanding from the Holy Spirit. Read it slowly and allow the Word of God to read you. As you seek the Lord’s help in seeing this passage anew, may you also consider the following incite.
Let us begin with the opening verse. “For I received from the Lord what I also handed to you.” Here we find a common theme found in the Pauline Epistles, that is of modeling Christlikeness. In fact, this is how Paul begins this chapter: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (v.23).
This first verse also brings to mind an attitude of gifting and receiving. I ministered alongside a pastor a number of years ago who offered me this wisdom. When we partake of the Lord’s Supper we are not “taking”, rather, we are “receiving”. In contrast to the congregant ripping a piece from the bread, she would illustrate this idea of receiving the Gift by tearing off a piece of the bread from the loaf herself, then handing the piece to the worshiper, who had their hands open to receive. A simple switch, but effective. Not to say this is the one and only way we should partake in the sacrament, but you may want to be mindful this week about “how” your congregants receive the elements. Our posture and body movement can change everything.
“On the night he was betrayed.” The Greek word for “betrayed” here is παρεδίδετο (paredideto), which could also be translated as something like “be handed over” or “delivered up” (see John 19:11 or Acts 12:4). The use of παρεδίδετο in the meaning of “be handed over” or “delivered up'' carries with it the connotation that Christ gave up his life freely. The Cross event was not simply an act of human aggression, ushered in by the will of human machination, but also a demonstration of God’s self-sacrificial love for all humankind. Here lies a good reminder for us this Maundy Thursday. As we’ve seen, Paul was clearly dealing with disunity throughout the Corinthian church. He knows that it will only be unified by Christ, who modeled what total surrender of self to God’s perfect will looked like.
“Do this in remembrance of me.” Is there a Communion Table that doesn’t have this inscription? Let us take into consideration the theme of remembrance that weaves itself throughout the entirety of the Bible. “Take care that you do not forget the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt” (Deut 6:12). “Remember this and consider ,recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like me” (Isaiah 46:8-9). “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” (John 14:26). Just to name a few. You may find it inspirationally rewarding to take a deep dive into the word “remembrance.” As you read and discover, pay close attention to not only the verses that speak about us remembering God’s ways, but also pay attention to the consistent outcome when God remembers us.
“This is the cup of the new covenant.” Here we find the words again, echoed by Jesus himself. Luke 22:20 reads “And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.’” Paul is reminding us that we are brought into right relationship with God (made righteous), and furthermore, this partnership is initiated by Christ. This invitation cannot be earned or bought. This gracious invitation has the power to break through the walls of heritage, qualification, giftings, and pride.
“For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” Throughout the letter to the Corinthians, Paul has been addressing the issues surrounding disunity (see 1:10). Disagreements seem to be a normal, common occurrence in the Corinthian faith family. What might it look like to replace continual in-fighting with a regular celebration of unity? Simply put: When we gather together often at the Lord’s Table, we remember what Jesus has done for us. The verse also touches on the eschatalogical, which is another continual theme throughout Paul’s letters (see Romans 8:18-25 or 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). For when we partake in the Eucharist, we also cling to the mysterious hope that Christ will return and make all things new once more under his lordship. This is our hope.
And so we come full circle to the realization that the salvation, the hope, and the redemption we have through Christ is a gift worth receiving. What do we do when we receive such a gift beyond measure? My prayer for you and your church is that you will be a people who accept the gift of Christ’s love with a receiving (not taking) posture of open hands and open hearts. This gift of love, found through these simple elements of the Table, have the power to help us remember who and whose you are.
May the Lord bless you and keep you this Holy Week, as you shepherd your congregations.