The Sacramental Foundation of Christian Unity

For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, whether slave or free – and we were all given one Spirit to drink. 1 Corinthians 12:13

This Sunday’s epistle reading from 1 Corinthians 12 is an extended reflection on the diversity of gifts within the church, the one body of Christ. The Holy Spirit who bestows these gifts is the same Spirit in which we were baptized, and the Spirit which we drink in the sacrament of Holy Communion.

By faith in God’s word, we are surrounded by the Holy Spirit as we are baptized in water. In accordance with God’s promise, we welcome the Holy Spirit into our lives as we drink the wine.

The apostle Paul wrote that Christian baptism effects the union of the believer with Christ in his death; here he teaches us that it is also immerses the believer in the Holy Spirit. Paul instructs us that the bread and wine which we eat at the Lord’s table is a participation in Christ’s body and blood; here he shows us that it is also an incorporation – a taking into the body – of the Holy Spirit.

Our unity as Christians is not found in right thinking or mystical experiences or subjective feelings or human good will. Rather, it is found in the objective unity of the triune God and the reality of the font and the table through which God has promised to abide in us and with us by the power of the Holy Spirit.


UPDATE: Someone might ask, “How do we know that Paul is talking about communion when he says “drink”? Maybe he’s just says “drink” as a metaphor for “receive into one’s heart” apart from the act of drinking at the Lord’s table.  Paul has just finished, however, in chapter 10 of this letter, an extended discussion of the spiritual impact of the physical act of drinking – either at the Lord’s table or in the temple of idols.

For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. . . Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ?  . . . You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons

The juxtaposition of baptism and drinking in chapter 12 mirrors what we find in chapter 10, in which “drinking” clearly points to the practice of the Lord’s Supper.