Reflecting on I Corinthians 11:23-26
Scripture is endlessly fascinating, and never more so than in today’s reading from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (11:23-26). Some passages we hear on Sunday should be accompanied by a trumpet blast, alerting us that something of unique importance to our faith is about to be read. This is one of them, because it is one of the earliest fragments of Christian liturgical tradition preserved in the New Testament.
So, consider this: here is Paul, NOT one of the Twelve, NOT present at the Last Supper, “handing over” to the infant church at Corinth what Jesus said the night before he died. How would HE know? He wasn’t there, yet he gives us the very earliest account of the institution of the Eucharist. And here’s what’s really interesting: the gospel of Luke, written twenty years later, gives the exact same wording (22:19-20).
What’s the connection? I think it’s found in an easily-missed sentence in the Acts of the Apostles (11:19), stating that the actual eyewitnesses of Jesus fled to Antioch soon after Pentecost.
At some point Paul moved to Antioch as well, and lived there, with those most devout Christians, for many years. I think he learned the words that Jesus spoke over the Bread and Cup from the Christians at Antioch, who were already celebrating the Eucharist before Paul arrived.
St. Luke, a member of that faith-filled community a generation later, gives us the exact same words because they WERE the exact same words, faithfully remembered by those who were actually there. Every once in a while, scripture takes us straight into the living rooms of the very earliest Christians.
What are your earliest memories of the Eucharist?