The Lord’s Supper in first-century Corinth had become an occasion for highlighting divisions of social class and wealth among the Corinthian Christians. In the meal that accompanied the supper, the wealthier believers were bringing practices associated with secular life into the church, including the separation of people according to social status and riches. Little, if any, food was left for the poorer believers (1 Cor. 11:17–22). All this emphasized the distinctions and separations between people that Christ came to abolish in the church. He came to create one body, one church in which social class and wealth would not give people privileged or subordinate positions (Eph. 2:14–16; James 2:1–13). He died so that people of all socioeconomic statuses could stand on equal footing before Him, eliminating partiality in the covenant community. Thus, the practice of the Corinthians stood at odds with one of the purposes of Christ’s death. Paul could truly say that because of this, the Corinthians were not actually celebrating the Lord’s Supper even though they thought they were (1 Cor. 11:20).
Errors in Christian practice reflect errors in theology—in this case, a failure to understand the atonement. So, Paul can correct the practice only by correcting the theology. In today’s passage, he does this by reminding the Corinthians of the words Jesus spoke and the actions He performed to institute the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Of particular importance are the references to the breaking of the bread—one loaf at the meal Jesus ate with His disciples—and the presentation of the wine—one cup at the same meal (vv. 23–25). The use of a single loaf and single cup visibly depicts and points to the unity that believers have in Christ, a unity that must eliminate partiality in the church based on class.
Note also that we eat the bread and drink the wine “in remembrance” of Jesus. This cannot be mere mental recollection of our Lord’s death. One commentator notes that in the Old Testament, remembrance involves both recalling something in our minds and acting. For example, when God remembers His covenant, He recalls His promises and then acts to fulfill them (Ex. 2:23–25). Similarly, in the Lord’s Supper we remember Christ’s death but we also act, feeding on Him in the bread and the wine. We feed on Him spiritually, for by the Holy Spirit we commune with Jesus in all His humanity and deity, being strengthened by all that He has done for us.