1 Corinthians 11:17-34 recounts the story of the sacred rite as the apostle Paul received it from the Lord Himself within a particular context, namely, an abuse which had falsified the sacrament. Some of the more prosperous members of the church had turned the sacrament into a feast in the fashion of that day.
In the Greek-speaking world, it was a custom to invite a group of friends to a symposium at which one would have a discussion of a particular philosophical subject. These gatherings offered both good food and conversation. These were occasions of both entertainment and fellowship as well as a sort of intellectual exercise. Those who had the leisure would come early and bring expensive and luxurious foods and choice wine, but when the members of the church who had to work for a living arrived, not much food was left. Some were filled while others went home hungry. The abuse of the Corinthians was that when the poor came to the service, they did not feel loved at all. Needless to say, this left nobody in the proper frame of mind to celebrate the Lord’s Supper properly.
In response to this, one might say that the Lord’s Supper was meant to be the ultimate love feast. The love signified here is the love among the brethren as well as the love of God for us. It shows us that we feast on the lamb of God who was slain on our behalf. Above that, this whole feast, is a feast of thanksgiving to God for what He has done and a sharing of the love of the family of God with one another. The sacrament of Holy Communion is both love feast shared by believers and Eucharist, that is, a feast of thanksgiving to God for His mighty works of creation and redemption. This explains why the earliest document produced by the ancient Church refer to the sacrament as an agape, a Feast of Christian love. God’s love, as it is revealed in the cross of Christ, is the source of the love which binds us together in the bond of love which we experience at the Lord’s Table. Consider the words of the apostle John
The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.… We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 1 John 4:8-9,16
True love is divine and proceeds from the very nature of God. Moreover, it is revealed in the Incarnation. When we sit at the Lord’s Table, we are to see and love God’s image in those around us. It is in discovering the love of God as it was manifested in the person of Jesus that we are transformed and the image of God is renewed in us. In the sacrament, we discover this redemptive love and are enabled more and more to pass it on to our neighbors. This point is emphasized by James Waddle Alexander
Behold, my brothers, the holy stream which circulates around the Eucharistic table; love in God to believers – love in believers to God – love in brothers to brothers; all comprised in the higher law, God is love. We are in the spot, of all others, where such affections may be best awakened and promoted, for we are at the cross. Here is the sacrifice of propitiation, in sacramental emblem. Here are the body and blood of Jesus, in visible commemoration. Here is the nearest view, vouchsafed to us this side of heaven, into the secret majesty of Divine perfection. Alexander, Sacramental Discourses pp. 26-27.
The Lord’s Supper – the agape feast of the early Christian church – should be understood as a foretaste of a heavenly feast yet to come. The bond of love that we celebrate in the church here on earth is an intimation and assurance of the bond of love that we will experience in the last day. Then, in that glorious day,
There will be such a renewal of the spirit of worship, as in a thousand places the voice of joy shall be in the tabernacles of the righteous. Then shall God’s praise – highest employment of human tongues – ascent with such richness and volume, that a day in God’s courts shall be better than a thousand.