THREE OBSERVATIONS ABOUT the Lord’s Supper, from the many that could be drawn from Paul’s treatment of it (1 Cor. 11:17–34):
First, it is a temporary ordinance. It is to be observed only “until he comes” (11:26). In part this is because of its “memorial” function (“do this in remembrance of me,” 1 Cor. 11:24). In the new heaven and the new earth, transformed believers will not need a rite like this one to “remember” Jesus, for he will perpetually be the center of their focus and adoration. Knowing this, each time we participate in the Lord’s Supper we are not only helped to look backward to Jesus’ broken body, but forward to the consummation.
Second, properly observed, the Lord’s Supper is to have a kerygmatic function. The word kerygmatic comes from the verb kerysso, “to proclaim”: Paul says that by this Supper we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes (11:26)—though he uses a different verb here. Normally the verb used is found in an evangelistic context: we proclaim or announce the Gospel to people still unconverted. If that is what Paul means, then one of the functions of the Lord’s Supper—its kerygmatic function—is evangelism. Certainly I have been in churches where that is the case. Unbelievers are part of the service. They are warned not to partake, but are encouraged to observe and reflect on what they see and hear. Something of the significance of the rite is explained, perhaps its function as witness to Jesus the bread of life who gives his life for the life of the world (John 6:51). The ordinance and the word together proclaim the Lord’s death.
Third, the approach of the Lord’s Supper provides an opportunity for each Christian to examine himself or herself before eating the bread and drinking the cup (11:27–28). Interpreters disagree as to what the failure to recognize the body of the Lord means (11:29). To evaluate the options is not possible in this context. I may simply record my conclusion: Paul warns that “anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord,” which was offered up on the cross and to which witness is borne in this rite, “eats and drinks judgment on himself.” How could it be otherwise? To say, by participating, “We remember,” and “We proclaim,” while cherishing sin, is to approach this table in an unworthy manner; it is to sin “against the body and blood of the Lord” (11:27). But regardless of whether this particular interpretation is correct, the warning itself must be taken with utmost seriousness. It is not a question of being good enough, for no one is. The only “worthy manner” by which to approach this Supper is contrition and faith.