Sunday, October 7, 2018

Discerning the Body


1 Corinthians 11: 17-33

Ephesians 2:14-18



               In today’s first passage Paul is confronting bad communion practices.  He starts with this: “So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, 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.  Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing?”  So his first point is that all are included, regardless of economic level, regardless of what they can bring to the meal.  Also note, as I’ve mentioned before, that communion was meant to be a meal.  It was meant to fill those who came, feed them in a very real and concrete way.  It was a supper, it was a gathering of community, it was a celebration of God-in-our-midst, God who provides our daily needs of food and drink, God who comes to us in the ordinary and every day experiences of eating and drinking, of joining together with friends.  Today’s passage from 1 Corinthians ends with this, “So then, my brothers and sisters, when you gather to eat, you should all eat together.”  We do this after church on Sundays: just snacks, most of the time, but that eating together, that time for community and sharing of food, that is communion at the deepest level.

               By the way, this idea that communion is a meal is mirrored in the very words we use when we say, “this is the joyful feast of the people of God.”  It is meant to be a feast, a meal.  A feeding.

               Obviously we don’t do it that way anymore.  The communion “feast” became limited to a small piece of bread and a small sip of drink in a time when people were afraid that folk were coming solely because they were hungry and wanted to be fed, rather than for the “proper” reasons of remembering Christ’s life, death and resurrection.  But I will tell you honestly, it always feels more like real communion to me when we are feeding and sitting with those who are there simply out of need than it does to me to take a single bite of bread and call that communion.  Jesus fed people, including the hungry.  And when we do the same, we are more accurately following Jesus’ footsteps, we are more accurately acting out the “sacrament” than any other way we do communion.  Sacraments in the Presbyterian church involve three components: 1.  Jesus participated in it.  2.  Jesus did it for us.  3.  Jesus called us to do it.  When it comes to communion, Jesus ate, Jesus fed, and Jesus called us to do the same.  We are sacramentally called to feed one another, and when we do so in community, it truly gets at the heart of the sacramental practice of communion.

               Paul ends this passage in Corinthians with the following statement: “Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves.”  So what does it mean to “discern the body?”  He’s already said that excluding anyone who comes to the table is a failure to discern the body.  He has also said that eating within your own small groups is a way of failing to discern the body. 

               The passage we read from Ephesians gives a bit more insight.  “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.  He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.  For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.”  So “discerning the body” has to do with an ability to get past our differences, to remember that we are connected, united in Christ.  “Discerning the body” is about seeing one another with eyes of love and peace and recognition that we are all children of God despite our differences, despite our disputes.

               Roger Wolsey sent me a story this week in which he described an encounter he had with someone on the opposite side of the theological spectrum from himself outside the General Conference of the United Methodist Church.  They were arguing with each other loudly, with passion, with intensity, about LGBTQ inclusion.  Wolsey wrote, “In the midst of this nasty melee, I felt a breeze against the back of my legs. I turned and saw a tall man in a suit reaching in between us with a large cookie in his hand, saying, “Have a cookie!” The guy with the sign and I looked at each other, then at him, and then we took the cookie being offered. We broke it in half and started to enjoy the cookie. The guy in the suit walked off hardly breaking stride at all. We found ourselves still arguing, but our volume level went way down and we somehow shifted into a more civil mode of, slightly, more rational debate. He learned my name is Roger. I learned his name is Fred. And at the end, we honored each other as being fellow Christians, we shook hands and pledged to pray for each other (both of us certain that the other needed prayer).”  He continued, “the line between enemy and friend is not a rigid one and … the concept of “enemy” is only there to the extent that we want and allow it to exist.  Historic writings about the early Church tell us that non-Christians often remarked of Christians “See how they love each other!” There was a time of such a lack of love in ancient Roman society that any show of love or joy, let alone unconditional love like the kind that had them going out of their way to ensure that the poor people of Rome received proper burials, set Christians apart from the rest of the crowd. People could sense something was different about those Christians. That difference was inclusive, radical love and compassion – and that difference made Christianity worthy of consideration. Those early Christians provided proper funeral services for the indigent strangers when no one else would. They rescued infants with birth defects from the garbage heaps who’d been rejected and discarded as refuse by families unwilling to raise them. And they notably tended to each other when they took ill, experienced hardship, became widowed, etc.”

               On this World Communion/Peacemaking Sunday it is especially important that we remember this.  We are celebrating communion with Christians around the world today.  We are also remembering the needs, and especially the hungers of people around the world as we collect the peacemaking offering which goes in large part towards the ending of hunger around the world.  These three things: our connections to each other around the world, our feeding of each other through communion, and peacemaking are all intimately connected. 

               So today as we celebrate both peacemaking and world communion Sunday I invite you to take part at a deeper level in both being fed and in feeding.  In terms of being fed, we have baskets full to the brim with different kinds of breads from around the world.  Do not just take a bite, but take a real piece of bread.  Savor it, taste it, let it fill you in body as well as in spirit and in soul, let it be part of you even as you see that same bread becoming part of those around you.  In terms of feeding one another, I encourage you to give generously to the peacemaking offering that we will be taking in a few minutes.  In our praying, I encourage you to remember people around the world, our brothers and sisters, our family whom we have yet to meet, and to lift up deep prayers for their wholeness, their well-being, their safety and health.

               Communion is so many things.  It is remembering.  We remember Jesus’ death and resurrection.  We also remember what God has done throughout history.  When Jesus ate the Passover meal, he was remembering the Israelites freed from slavery.  We also remember the return from exile.  We also remember that Jesus was recognized by his disciples after the resurrection through the breaking of the bread – through eating with them in communion and community. 

               It is New covenant of forgiveness and grace and life. 

               It sustains the church by Christ’s pledge of undying love and continuing presence.   

               And on this World Communion Sunday it also connects us to people around the world in a commitment to love, to peace, to justice.

               We thank you, God; we bless you, God; we anticipate, God, your fulfilling of the kingdom on earth.  We trust in and receive Christ’s love, we manifest the reality of the covenant of grace in reconciling and being reconciled.  We proclaim the power of Christ’s reign for renewal, justice and peace in the world.  We bind the Church with Christ and with one another, united with all Christians, nourished by Christ’s presence, and we ask to be kept faithful.  We renew our baptism vows through this taking of communion.  We celebrate the joyful feast of the people of God and anticipate the great banquet where all people will be united and made whole.  Amen.