I’m doing some work on the unity of God’s people in Paul’s letters while also preparing a discussion on the significance of the Lord’s Supper for this Sunday.
While reading this morning in N. T. Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God, this section jumped out at me.
The Lord’s Supper should be a moment of symbolic unity; and this requires, as does the delicate situation of chapters 8-10, that the Messiah’s people ‘wait for one another’ (11.33). Though the normal meaning of ekdechomai is simply temporal (‘waiting’ for something to happen or for someone to arrive) the sense here seems to be slightly more than that: waiting, perhaps, in the sense of having regard for one another, not just that ‘everyone has now arrived, so we can start the meal’, but that everyone should be aware of everyone else, with their social and cultural particularity, their needs, their vulnerabilities. We should not miss the significance of this within the tightly hierarchical world of a first-century Roman city, where everybody knew that the rich and powerful would always eat first and everybody else would wait, deferentially, for them (p. 395).
I’ve heard 1 Corinthians 11 read in churches for decades. Most commonly, we read only vv. 23-26, though sometimes the reading extends to v. 29 and once in a while to v. 32.
I must say that I hardly ever hear vv. 17-22 read, and almost all readings miss out the main command of the passage, found in v. 33 – “wait for one another.” I think we neglect to read the entire passage because it doesn’t make sense to our individualized conceptions of being Christian. It’s so mundane, so unremarkable.
Paul conceives of a corporate reality, however, involving individuals-in-community. His fundamental concern is for the unity of God’s people. After all, if God’s people are unified, then God is truly seen to be the one true Creator God who rules over all and has the power to unite all in Christ.