Scripture: 1 Corinthians 11:17-34
I warn you – it begins with a harsh tone as Paul writes to rebuke them for their bad behavior. Paul’s intention is to focus them on the importance and meaning of this sacrament. Listen now for God’s word for you…
Correcting an Abuse of the Lord’s Supper
17 In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. 18 In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. 19 No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval.
20 So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, 21 for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk. 22 Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? Certainly not in this matter!
27 So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup.
29 For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. 30 That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.
31 But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment. 32 Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world.
33 So then, my brothers and sisters, when you gather to eat, you should all eat together. 34 Anyone who is hungry should eat something at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment.
And when I come I will give further directions.
The word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
Her impatience warranted a few chuckles from the congregation…but I thought: Quite right, little one…when do we get to eat the bread?
This child’s words point to our greatest need. Our greatest hunger. For we all long for this feast. This nourishment. The bread of life that only Christ can provide.
Sure, it’s possible that this child may just have wanted to eat the sweet Hawaiian bread… but I believe through her… God was working… to open our eyes to our own need. Despite our limitations of understanding, God encourages us to approach the table with excitement and eagerness.
* * *
We don’t fully understand what happens at this table. Christ’s sacrament of feeding us is a mystery.
But we know something happens. Through eating this bread and drinking this cup we are changed.
As instructed, when we gather at this table, remembering together Jesus’ life death and resurrection…. we bear a new story, new life.
Paul is clear in this scripture passage that communion is not something to take lightly. We are to prepare ourselves. Examine our minds and our hearts to receive Christ Jesus.
This means specifically we have to consider how we have treated each other.
Paul is unhappy with the things he hears about “the church.”
They are fighting.
They are both claiming God “on their side.”
They are neglecting their brothers and sisters in need.
It’s amazing how thousands of years later, this message still applies to us – the Church of Jesus Christ today…
As a church, we are fighting.
Claiming God to be on our side for particular issues or use of resources.
We are neglecting each other… as well as God’s other children in need.
* * *
In John’s gospel, we learn that Jesus does something interesting at the last supper with his disciples. He bends down and washes their feet.
He does this to teach his disciples that a relationship with Christ is really about service. We are to serve and love one another as Christ has served and loved us.
Jesus washes their feet because they need to be cleaned. Their bodies are representative of their souls. They are in need of being washed clean and forgiven. Christ offers this to them as they are at table them him.
In a few moments, I will invite you forward to be washed.
As we examine ourselves, how we have treated one another….
we will come forward and take turns washing one another’s hands.
We will serve and love each other in this act as we prepare our minds and hearts to receive Christ at the table.
There’s a movie from 1984 called Places of the Heart, which tells the story of woman named Edna Spalding. A recently widowed white mother of two in a small Texan town during the Depression.
Against all odds, with the help of a transient black man and a disagreeable blind boarder, Edna manages to plant and harvest her forty acres of cotton in order to keep her home.
Around the edges of this central story, characters in the movie engage in murder, adultery, theft, assault, and plain old mean-spiritedness.
The final scene shows a congregation in a local country church gathered to celebrate communion. As the cubes of bread and the tiny glasses of grape juice are passed down the pews, the camera focuses on one face after another:
first, anonymous members of the community;
then Edna’s sister,
who passes the tray to her cheating husband;
then members of the Ku Klux Klan, who share the elements with the black man they had beaten up;
then the Spalding children;
then Edna herself;
and finally Edna’s husband, the town sheriff who had been shot and killed at the beginning of the film.
Sheriff Spalding then quietly passes the bread and the cup to the young man who shot him with the words, “The peace of Christ.”
Credit for story: [Van Dyk, Leanne. Ed. A More Profound Alleluia. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Moore-Keish, Martha L. Eucharist = Eschatology, 109. ]
This table represents the forgiveness and reconciliation offered to each of us in Christ. It is a table that brings us together. One body in Christ. For the purpose of serving Christ through serving each other.
Let us prepare ourselves for this feast….