July 13, 2014 by jmar198013
One of the apostle Paul’s more irate moments was occasioned by a problem of class warfare that had broken out in the churches of Corinth. Nowhere was this act of aggression against everything Jesus ever stood for more acute than at the Lord’s Supper table. Paul was obliged to pen a scathing rebuke to the offenders, which reads as follows:
Now I don’t praise you as I give the following instruction because when you meet together, it does more harm than good. First of all, when you meet together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and I partly believe it. It’s necessary that there are groups among you, to make it clear who is genuine. So when you get together in one place, it isn’t to eat the Lord’s meal. Each of you goes ahead and eats a private meal. One person goes hungry while another is drunk. Don’t you have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you look down on God’s churches and humiliate those who have nothing? What can I say to you? Will I praise you? No, I don’t praise you in this.
I received a tradition from the Lord, which I also handed on to you: on the night on which he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took bread. After giving thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this to remember me.” He did the same thing with the cup, after they had eaten, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Every time you drink it, do this to remember me.” Every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you broadcast the death of the Lord until he comes.
This is why those who eat the bread or drink the cup of the Lord inappropriately will be guilty of the Lord’s body and blood. Each individual should test himself or herself, and eat from the bread and drink from the cup in that way. Those who eat and drink without correctly understanding the body are eating and drinking their own judgment. Because of this, many of you are weak and sick, and quite a few have died. But if we had judged ourselves, we wouldn’t be judged. However, we are disciplined by the Lord when we are judged so that we won’t be judged and condemned along with the whole world. (1 Cor. 11.17-32 CEB)
Notice what Paul was on about: the poor were being excluded. What should have been common–a table made possible by the reconciling witness of Jesus–was being made private. This is why Paul wrote that: when you get together in one place, it isn’t to eat the Lord’s meal. Their exclusive behavior that shamed the needy and sent them away hungry made the meal not the Lord’s Supper. When Jesus was present in the flesh, he intentionally made room for those who were neglected, excluded, and humiliated in the world. Indeed, look into the parable of the Prodigal Son, and you will see this clearly. He was having to defend his practice of inviting tax collectors and sinners–those pushed out of respectable society–to his table. Sure, like the Prodigal, maybe these people had made some poor choices. It’s called being a human being in the act of being human. But what kind of person doesn’t feed a hungry boy in a time of famine (Luke 15.16)? What kind of person will say, “I refuse to be reconciled to my brother” (Luke 15.29-30)? Jesus’ meals were a place of merciful resistance against an unmerciful world.
Likewise, we ought to celebrate the Eucharist as a time and place of solidarity and resistance. This is what Paul meant, I think, when he wrote that, Every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you broadcast the death of the Lord until he comes. Just like the table he set for the vulnerable, the excluded, the humiliated, and the broken people he met–the same table, incidentally, to which we come each Sunday–the death of Jesus was an act of resistance. His cross was an act of resistance against the powers of shame and deathliness; and that act of resistance overcame those oppressive powers, unmasking their impotence (Col. 2.13-15), and tearing down the barriers that exclude others from our care and make them objects of our hostility (Eph. 2.14-19).
The Corinthians were wrong not because their meal took the form of a celebration–a meal in honor of Jesus should look like a celebration, for the meals he shared with his disciples and friends were happy and hearty occasions. Perhaps, brothers and sisters, one reason our witness is so anemic is that the crumbs and thimbles by which we remember Jesus are too stingy. No, the reason the Corinthians were wrong was that they had begun to rebuild barriers against mercy that Jesus had demolished, and to pledge allegiance to powers that Jesus had successfully resisted–in the very meal that was supposed to remember his most powerful act of loving defiance! Their meal was no longer an act of resistance against the world; it held a mirror up to the world, and said, “See, we are no different than you.” Christian love became at best a matter of private sentiment, while the power systems, values, and wisdom of an unmerciful world were reaffirmed in actual practice.
I heard a story once about a fellow who, during the Vietnam War, would stand outside the White House every night holding a candlelight vigil. Just one guy, holding a candle. That was his act of resistance. And one night this incredulous reporter says to him, “Why do you keep doing this? Do you really think you’re going to make a difference in the world by standing out here with a candle?” And the man replied, “I don’t do this to change the world. I do it so the world doesn’t change me.” That’s the Eucharist, y’all: this thing we do every week so the world doesn’t change us. This thing we do that ought to deliberately embody the way of Jesus, opening his table for whoever needed food and company. This place where we remember that Jesus has invited us in the poverty of our own lives, saying: Sit down next to me.
If our sharing of the Lord’s Supper isn’t an act of resistance, perhaps the words of Paul apply as much to us as they did the Corinthians: when we come together, it isn’t really the Lord’s Supper we are sharing.
Lord, have mercy.