When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. 1 Cor 11:20-21
The early church apparently had a custom of joining the memorial elements of the Lord’s Supper (bread and wine) with a “love feast” or common meal shared as part of their Lord’s Day assembly. Each person would bring provisions for the meal according to their ability; the rich brought much, while the poor brought little, and all were provided for. At some point during the meal, the participants observed in a simple manner, the Supper which Christ introduced for us to do in the memory of His body and blood given for us. The meal was to be a beautiful picture of the unity of Christ’s body, culminating in the memorial elements which serve as a reminder of every Christian’s union with Christ and with one another. The Corinthians, however, prone to a factious spirit, introduced divisions into these sacramental feasts whereby the rich were guilty of gluttony and drunkenness, while no provision was left for the poor. This was a desecration of the sacred meal and worked against the unifying intent of the Supper.
In response to the reports Paul received of these divisions, he issued a sharp rebuke in order to correct these serious abuses. He instructs them that the selfishness and divisions that they brought into the church made it impossible to truly observe what is in reality the Lord’s Supper. True to form, Paul weaves his rebuke and correction with truth about the Supper taught in such a beautiful manner so as to make it appear as a diamond in the proverbial rough. While rebuking the serious sin of disunity at the sacred Table, at the same time he gives the most complete discussion of the origin, nature and significance of the Lord’s Supper in all of Scripture (verses 23-26). His words are framed with such exquisite beauty that they are universally repeated by Christians wherever the Supper is observed. To this wonderful description and account of the Lord’s Table, Paul adds the sober warning that to participate “in an unworthy manner” is to be “guilty of the body and blood of the Lord” (verse 27). He further declares that abuses in connection with the sacrament had been punished by incidents of sickness and even death among the members of the church at Corinth (verse 30). So he calls on every participant to “examine himself, and so let him eat the bread and drink the cup” (verse 28).
All men would do well to heed this double imperative at the Lord’s Table. Many people obey the command to “eat” without beforehand obeying the command to “examine himself.” Such individuals do this at the risk of being chastened for partaking in an “unworthy manner.” Some people obey the command to “examine himself,” but as a result of finding himself falling short, he does not follow through and obey the command to “eat.” Such individuals deprive themselves of a powerful means of grace found in the Supper, as well as disrupt the visible display of unity of the church. But in the words of the old catechism, those who approach the Table may indeed, be displeased with themselves because of their sins, but if they nevertheless trust that their sins are pardoned and that their continuing weakness is covered by the suffering and death of Christ, and also desire more and more to strengthen their faith … then they ought to obey the Word of God and, once having examined themselves, then eat!