Jul 06 - When The Meal of Remembrance Isn't Communion

When The Meal of Remembrance Isn't Communion

July 6, 2014

1 Corinthians 10:16-17

July 6, 2014
1 Corinthians 10:16-17; 11:17-34

As we are continuing on in 1 Cor, I will skip over the beginning of chapter 11 so that I can deal with the subject of communion, but will come back to that first section next week.

What kind of car should people drive according to the Bible?  A Honda obviously, as Acts 1:14 tells us:  The believers continued on in one Accord.  Must have been terribly tight.  But that’s not really what that verse is saying, is it?  It’s indicating that the earliest church was united in prayer.

10:16 Is not the cup of blessing, over which we speak the blessing, a participation (koinonia = communion; fellowship; sharing) with the blood of Christ?  Is not the bread which we break a participation with the body of Christ?  17 It is one bread, and because we all partake of the one bread, we who are many are one body.

11:17 In the following instruction I cannot commend you because when you come together (for worship and the Lord’s supper) it does more harm than good.  18 In the first place, I hear there are divisions among you when you come together in the assembly, and to some extent I believe that this is so. 

19 In fact, the presence of opposing camps are necessary so that it becomes evident who among you are genuine (or: approved).  20 So, when you come together, what you are celebrating is no longer the Lord’s supper (kuriakon deipnon) 21 because everyone eats their own supper (idion deipnon) so that some go hungry while others get drunk. 

22 Can’t you eat and drink at home?  Or do you despise the church of God and want to humiliate those who have nothing?  What am I to say about this?  Am I to commend you?  In this case, surely I will not.  
23 Instead, what I passed on to you I received from the Lord:  Jesus, the Lord, took bread on the night he was betrayed, 24 gave thanks (eucharisteo   Eucharist), broke it and said, “This is my body for you.  Do this in remembrance of me.”  25 In the same way, after the meal he took the cup and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.  Do this as often as you drink from it in remembrance of me.”  

26 Therefore, as often as you eat this bread and drink from this cup you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.  27 So whoever eats of the bread or drinks from the cup in an unworthy manner is guilty of the Lord’s body and blood.  28 Let everyone examine (or: test) themselves first and only then eat of the bread and drink from the cup.  

29 Whoever eats and drinks without considering (or: acknowledging) that it is the Lord’s body, will eat and drink punishment on himself.  30 This is the reason why many of you are weak and sick, and why a number of you have died.  

However, if we do examine (or: test) ourselves then we will not have to be punished.  32 But even if we are chastised, it is only so that we will not be condemned along with the rest of the world.  33 My brothers, when you come together (for the Lord’s supper), wait for each other 34 and let the one who is hungry eat at home.  Otherwise you will be judged on the basis of what is going on in your assembly.  I will give further instructions during my upcoming visit.   

three terms for the remembrance meal

10:16 Communion – koinonia
11:20 Lord’s supper – only found here in the NT
11:24 Eucharist – thanksgiving – eucharisteo.  This was by far the preferred term of the early church fathers.  

The problem which Paul is addressing is likely not related to the divisions which he addressed in the beginning of his letter (chapters 1-4) with regard to former leaders in the church (Peter, Apollos, Paul).  This was a different kind of division, one that ran along the lines of social standing – and which had become evident when the church members got together for worship and participating in what they understood the Lord’s supper to be.

At the time of Paul’s writing, the church at Corinth would have met in a private home.  And since space was needed, it would in all likelihood be a wealthy believer.  Since the church gathered for such meals in the homes of the rich, most likely the home owner was also the patron of the meal.

Society was in fact divided into various classes.  The lowest class were the slaves, who did not have a day off, but could probably attend if their owner allowed it after all the work for the day was done.  Then there was the average worker who was off at a certain time.  And finally there were the wealthier citizens who could take time off when they wanted.

What that meant is that the wealthy believers would arrive first.  Then those who were the working class and finally, at the end, the slaves.  

In the home of a rich person in that era, a dining room (called the triclinium – see # 9) accommodated about nine people.  It would be natural for the host to invite those of his or her own class into the dining room.  Those who came later would have to sit in the courtyard (called the atrium – see # 5).  So immediately there was a special separation between two groups.  But it got worse.

It seems that what happened was that the rich had a pretty sumptuous meal together.  Those who were of the worker class would likely still be provided with something to eat … but likely the host, the owner of the home, followed the common custom of serving different types of food to different categories of guests.  I think that is what Paul was referring to in v.21 when he spoke of some in the church eating their own supper instead of the Lord’s supper.

By the time the slaves arrived, those who had the least and were the hungriest, there was nothing left over.  Everyone else had eaten up all the provisions and seemed content that the poorest missed out on the remembrance meal altogether.  So Paul points out the gluttony on the one hand and the hunger on the other in v.21 which basically has nothing to do with how communion was to be celebrated.

The Corinthians had forgotten the example of Jesus himself. Their selfishness, even if it had a social basis, was inexcusable. They were bringing shame and division to the Body of Christ, were dishonouring the poor, and thereby dishonoring the memory of their Lord who placed such importance on the least in society.

Put another way, what Paul said was this: Because you have so polluted Christ's memorial, it can no longer be said that you are observing the Lord's Supper. You think you are observing the Lord's Supper. But you are not. 

So Paul tells the rich people to eat their meals at home.  He tells them to wait for everyone to be present before partaking of the remembrance meal, which, as Paul points out, could potentially consist of only bread and wine.  However, I don’t think Paul was opposed to a common meal associated with communion as long as it was shared among everyone and eaten together.

The reality is that we no longer have this particular problem.  By and large we eat our meals outside from our larger services.  And when we do eat together, many of us bring extra so that everyone can have a good meal.  

The first solution

1. Don’t replicate the divisions in society in the church.  

A. Divisions based on race

For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek because the same Lord is Lord of all.                                    Romans 10:12

This particular racial divide was of particular concern in the first century church because it was the first time in history when Jews and Greeks in Syria, Asia Minor, Macedonia and Greece were worshipping together.

While Paul was a Jew himself, felt that were the special recipients of the OT Scriptures, promises, and from them came the Messiah (see Rom 9:4-5), and looked forward to the day when his fellow Jews would embrace Jesus as their Messiah (Rom 11:25-26).  Yet Paul was fully convinced that God’s people now consisted of believers from all nations.  In so many ways, the church has taken Israel’s place as the chosen people.  

While we may no longer deal with this issue 2,000 years later, we have to acknowledge that racial segregation in society existed in places like South Africa and the U.S. until relatively recent history. 

In the past, even Canadian society has included racial segregation in all facets of social life. While not enshrined in law, it existed nevertheless in informal ways in terms of how things were done and how people understood the "place" of those who were not of European background. From where people could live to where people could rest for eternity, the separation of people of colour, in life and in death, has been a feature of the Canadian landscape.  

And yes, that neon bar sign really was used in Canada … thankfully not today.

Most of Canada’s black schools were closed in the mid-60’s.  Canada's last such segregated school was closed in Nova Scotia in 1983.

We can think of the residential schools all native children were forced to attend until 1948.  However, the last residential school didn’t close until 1996.

The reality is that racial prejudice is part and parcel of our society … and it is just as strong among non-whites as it is among whites.  I remember that before my cousin married, he and his fiancée were deeply concerned that her family might have her killed when they found out that she wasn’t marrying within the same race.  

It used to be that some minorities were forced into Ghettos.  However, what seems more common now is that minorities create Ghettos themselves so that they can recreate their own living areas where all the stores are owned by that ethic group so others no longer feel welcome.  And the same is true of churches.  What strikes me most about the Lower Mainland is that many churches are focused solely on a single ethnic group.  I much prefer the efforts of others to become more inclusive, for example, our sister church in Surry went from being a Filipino church to being an international church.  

The question then becomes whether you and I within our church have any kind of racial bias.  God forbid that anyone would feel unwelcome or in any way diminished when they attend church because of their race or because of their skin colour or because of their ethnic background – because when it comes to race, God is colour blind.

B. Divisions based on socio/economic status

In one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews and Greeks, slaves and free – and all were made to drink of one Spirit.            1 Corinthians 12:13

Thankfully slavery was abolished in Canada in 1834.  Yet divisions based on socio/economic status are still a reality even if it isn’t in the traditional ways of class distinction.  Wage parity when it comes to blue, white collared and even some professional jobs has increased.  However, it has widened considerable when it comes to some professional jobs and CEO’s.  

Of course it is that much worse in places like China, Russia, Brazil, and Spain.  Years ago, when Kathy and I travelled by train through Spain, I was absolutely stunned by the Cascade Real slum on the outskirts of Madrid, with a nuclear reactor looming over the whole thing.  

These are some kids from that slum.  There are around 200,000 slums in the world, the five largest in the world being near Mexico City, Karachi, Mumbai, Cape Town and Nairobi.

While we may not be faced with that kind of disparity, it still exists.  

In March 16th of last year, Pope Francis explained to about 5 to 6,000 reporters why he chose the name “Francis.”  In that explanation he stated that he wishes a church of the poor and for the poor.  

The problem with that statement is that the poor often do not have the resources to help others who are poor.  The reality is that you need to have a church that consists of varying income levels.  Perhaps what Pope Francis should have said is that he wishes for a church of the poor in spirit (humble) and for the poor.  That makes more sense to me.  The humble do not think they are better than others because of their income, social status, etc.  

Of course we should ask ourselves some difficult questions.  Why is it that we share so little of our resources with other believers, as did the first century church in Jerusalem?  While it is true that it is difficult for any of us to live the ideal out in our world as we fight to exist, succeed, get enough resources together for retirement.  And even in the first century church, charity was reserved for those women who were elderly and widowed and without family to support.  Paul wrote that those in the church who do not want to work should not receive food out of the churches benevolent fund.  

But even so, as ambassadors in a world dominated by sin we simply cannot afford to abandon Christian care for each other – a powerful expression of God’s love.  

C. Divisions based on nationality

There is no Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian or Scythian, slave or free – but Christ is all and in all.            Colossians 3:11

Scythians were nomads located in what today is northern Iran to Kasakhstan known for their horsemanship and archery.  In around 100 BC one ancient map places them in the region to the north of the Black Sea.  They would have been considered just one of the various people groups that were designated as barbarians – a term that really means those who babel in non-Greek languages – and in Paul’s day that term was often used to indicate those who lived in what today is Turkey.

In other words, Scythians and barbarians were not considered to be nations that were of particular import.  Even then barbarian was not a term of endearment.  

During the Olympics or during the Fifa World cup, nationalism is of greater importance than at other times.  Perhaps in war it becomes even more pronounced.  I clearly remember the times when as a middle school student I learned all of the derogatory nick-names of different nations.  Of course I was the Kraut, but for some reason I was never offended being called it.  

In a church it should never matter what our mother tongue is, whether English, French, German, Dutch, Tagalog, Mandarin, Cantonese, Malay, Swahili, Urdu, or Saanich.  We can celebrate and honour our ethic background without having to denigrate the ethnic background of others.

D. Divisions based on gender

So why do we say, A-men, instead of A-woman, after a prayer.  It’s the same reason why we sometimes sing hymns, but we never sing hers.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.            Galatians 3:28

I will speak a bit more about this topic next week, but just as a primer, there are basically two approaches in the church when it comes to women:

Position 1:  Women are equal BUT different 

Basically this position holds one or more of the following: that women are to be in submission to men, should not be allowed to hold leadership positions in the church, should remain quiet in the church, should have their heads covered in church, should not teach, should not work outside the home, and possibly, should not wear jewelry, make-up, pants, or their hair short.

Position 2: Women are different AND equal

This positions holds to one or more of the following:  God calls gifted persons into all aspects of Christian ministry regardless of gender.   To limit the role of women in the church or exclude them from teaching ministries, while not placing the same restrictions on female missionaries, is contradictory. 

The second solution

2. Examine or test myself before I celebrate communion (1 Cor 11:28,30b)

Paul mentions this twice, so I think it’s important.  And the idea is that believers ought to test themselves and approve of what they find within.  In other words, it’s asking yourself if you are approaching communion with the right attitude.  It’s asking ourselves if there is something in our attitude toward others, particularly bitterness or prejudice or a lack of forgiveness, that needs to be dealt with.  It’s asking whether or not we have segregated ourselves from others, if not physically, then emotionally and socially, because they aren’t our kind of people.  It’s asking ourselves whether or not pride has crept into our hearts.

But it can also be questioning whether or not we are approaching communion with the right attitude.  Communion should be a time where we are reminded not to take our forgiveness for granted, to hold short accounts with God, to resolve to do better.

It is a time for prayer and thought (which we will have prior to celebrating the Lord’s supper this morning).

The third solution

3. Contemplate while I partake of the elements

It is very important that we understand what is going on when we participate in communion.  If some of you want your children to participate, please make sure they are aware of the gravity of this ceremony.  It is not to be taken lightly … as it seems there were some serious consequences that arose from the abuse of the Lord’s supper in Corinth.

So what do we contemplate on?

A. Remembering together what Jesus did for us (1 Cor 11:24-25)

B. Discerning the body of Christ in the elements (1 Cor 10:16; 11:29).

I do not believe that Jesus is physically present in the elements … but have nothing against those who believe in transubstantiation.  I also think there is more to communion that merely symbolic, otherwise there would not have been the kind of consequences and the danger of being judged, however, I have nothing against the belief that the elements are but symbols of Jesus’ body and blood.  Personally, I believe that Christ is somehow spiritually present in the actual elements in a way that I cannot explain.  But whatever your view is, please do not let that keep you from participating in communion.  

C. Proclaiming together what Jesus did for us through his death (1 Cor 11:26)

To deal with all that separates us from a holy Creator –guilt, self-recrimination.  To bring about forgiveness, renewal, new life, hope for this life and the life to come, eternal life.  

Not like a get out of jail free card. A church sign in Baxter, Tennesee, read, “If your faith doesn’t change your behavior, it won’t change your destiny.”

Salvation is so much more than hell-fire insurance.  It is the opportunity to think, act and react differently, better, kinder, more caring. As well as facing death differently.

D. Recognizing and affirming our unity because of what Jesus did for us (1 Cor 10:17)

It is not only the unity we celebrate in communion, it is also the presence of God within us that unites us.  To keep that unity is to be a major goal of every believer.  

All of this brings us to communion.  So let me begin with a prayer.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, as we remember and celebrate the sacrifice of your Son on our behalf, we come to you asking that you would remove from us any attitude or thought that would dishonor his broken body and shed blood.  Forgive us for all of our short-comings, our sins, the things we have done, said and thought which were cutting, unkind, and lacked integrity, as well as all the good actions we have left undone and all the good words that we have left unsaid.  We lay ourselves bare before you and we are so thankful that with you there is forgiveness and restoration.  Amen.

At this time we will pause for a few minutes of silence so that you can prepare your heart for communion.

As we hand out the elements, both the cracker representing Jesus’ broken body, and the juice representing Jesus’ blood shed for us, I would encourage you to wait until you have received both elements, contemplate for a short time and then partake when your heart is ready.  In other words, don’t wait for me.