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Reform Magazine | November 29, 2023

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Chapter and verse: 1 Corinthians 11:33

Chapter and verse: 1 Corinthians 11:33

Susan Durber reflects on the scandal of the Lord’s Supper

I recently spent some time in a rural village community in Kerala, India. With June Osborne, the Dean of Salisbury, and our translator Manju, I shared the only bedroom in a small house, received generous hospitality and learned a great deal about the realities of life in quite a different part of the world from my own.

There were things I expected to find difficult: Sleeping on the floor, coping with insects and other animals, the toilet arrangements, the heat, the lack of privacy – all those very human things. What I hadn’t prepared for was my reaction to some of the customs about eating.

June, Manju and I were treated as honoured guests and that meant, certainly for the first night, that we ate on our own and were served by the family. We protested at first that we would prefer to eat with them, but we realised that true grace was simply to accept hospitality and enjoy the delicious meal. The next evening, the man of the house joined us and we ate sitting on the floor with him in the outer room of the house. And then the woman of the house joined us too, even though her daughter-in-law, who had cooked the meal, did not.

It was clear that there were strong customs about who could eat with whom. I found this deeply uncomfortable. I found it hard not to sit and eat with the daughter-in-law, Parvitra, to share delight in tasting the food which we had chopped, mixed and cooked together, even laughing over the pan that stuck just when her mother-in-law was looking. I reflected of course on the ways in which food and eating also divide people in my own culture. I’ve never been a natural at those high-table dinners where some in a community eat from different dishes and with different cutlery. I am so angry at the way in the UK today there are so many who depend on foodbanks. And I find it scandalous that our hunger for meat means that forests are being cut down. But I have learned, perhaps, to live with these things and they don’t make me as uncomfortable as they should – as uncomfortable as I felt eating a delicious meal, while someone didn’t eat with me, but had to wait….

Susan Durber is theology adviser for Christian Aid and moderator of the World Council of Churches’ faith and order commission

Small group discussion questions to accompany this article are available from


This is an extract from the February 2015 edition of Reform.

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