1 Corinthians 11: 17-34
Now in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, to begin with, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. Indeed, there have to be factions among you, for only so will it become clear who among you are genuine. When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord’s supper.
For when the time comes to eat, each of you proceeds to eat your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk. What! Do you not have households to eat and drink in? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What should I say to you? Should I commend you? In this matter I do not commend you!
For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup.
For all who eat and drink without discerning the body eat and drink judgment against themselves. For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.So then, my brothers and sisters, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. If you are hungry, eat at home, so that when you come together, it will not be for your condemnation. About the other things I will give instructions when I come.
Taking Communion Unworthily is not something people talk a lot about in the Modern Church. As a rule, we focus on our open communion or closed communion theologies and leave it at that. Sometimes we might wonder what the bread and the cup really mean, what they become when we pray over them, but we do not think about whether or not us drinking from it is done in the right spirit. Definitely, I do not think anyone has ever, in my life, talked about it like Paul does here, linking physical health to morality of ingestion.
When I come, month after month, to communion, I find this table is one of the most consistent places I can find rest. It may seem hifalutin to pray the whole of our Great Thanksgiving, but each word carries a special weight to it. We do not have the first Eucharistic liturgy ever used in the Church, nor do I think the form taken in our hymnals will be the last that the people called Methodist use. However, I think that there is a power in the words we do use, the Spirit guided those who wrote it to touch on something essential and innate to our Spiritual pursuits in life.
We are invited to take and eat from the body and blood of Christ, first eaten on a Passover long ago, and perfected upon a cross on Calvary’s hill. We are invited freely, but not without condition. “Christ invites to his table all who love him, who earnestly repent of their sin and seek to live in peace with one another.” Three conditions to being part of this table – to love Christ, whether that love is newly awakened or older than the teeth in our head, it is that love that brings us to want to take of bread and cup. Earnest repentance – not just to say the words of some prayer but to put sin behind us and move beyond it, to grow as people and as a community. Seeking to live in peace with one another – uh oh, that one might be the hardest part of all.It may be a great surprise to those gathered here, but people are difficult to get along with.
Church people, I might also say, are doubly hard to get along with sometimes. Churches have crumbled over discussions of serving candy in Sunday School, and sanctuaries quaked at the mere mention of a new layout for the pews. On one hand we can dismiss this as the chaff blowing away from wheat, as superfluous debate that we can cast off as silly. However, the fact that people associate the church with these kinds of fights reveals a deep truth that we have to deal with.
We all, as Christians, tend to see our ideas as right, not just because they are well thought out or applicable to a situation, but because they are given to us by God. The upholstery may seem silly to someone else, but we want to steward God’s house, so we are willing to fight over it. The candy is not about the candy, but the relationship between the Sunday school and the parents. In both cases, we do not have to blow up the unity of the church over relatively small disputes, but the closeness of our personal desires to our religious fervor can distort our priorities. We might find ourselves quickly leaping into something we do not need to and that we cannot control.
Let me move it beyond these issues we can all agree it would be silly to separate from other believers over. Let’s move to politics. What if your sibling in Christ supports a candidate you do not like? What if they take a position on an issue you believe is against your faith? What if you find out your minister supports a political party you have written off as too far gone to be worth working with? Let’s move to doctrine. What if a sibling in Christ believes something different about how God works in the world? Has a different view of human sexuality? Has a different view on the work of the Church in the world and in culture?Those issues make it harder to write off our differences.
For one thing, there are real consequences to how people believe in these aspects of life. Many people have views that do not align with the Gospel, but these are not binary choices of one side or issue or another. Virtue lies in the right thinking on an idea, not necessarily the furthest explanation of it. The Church is not a partisan entity, though we all wish it were sometimes. The people of God are not called to be factions fighting against one another, but a united front of goodness seeking the truth. The issue falls in that, because these discussions have such obvious real-world impact, we cannot just treat them as fun topics of debate.
It matters what we think about human sexuality, and it matters that even in the plurality of how our faith explores those ideas, we respect the humanity and dignity of all people. LGBTQ kids die every year from lack of support from their families, trafficked because of their vulnerable status or driven to self-harm because they’ve been told they’re broken or sick. That is unacceptable. For the more traditionally minded people in the Church, there has to be a serious consideration about how the belief they hold can exist next to a concept of Christian love and promotion of the well-being of other people.
More politically than morally, there is not a single political party today that is progressing the will of God on a large scale. Democrats advocate for social programs that, on paper, should accomplish a great deal of good. Sadly, they’re usually not actually written to address issues in a comprehensive way. Republicans are concerned with security and, again on paper, the protection of children and youth. Unfortunately, the security measures taken are often rooted in the abuse of the poor, the marginalized, and the foreigners among us. The programs for children and youth obfuscate deeper issues in exchange for talking points that guarantee re-election. Don’t get me started on the multiplicity of non-partisan and independent political platforms of this world.
The Church contains all these people though. There are gay Christians, Trans Christians, straight Christians, ace Christians, and non-binary Christians. There are Republican Christians, Democratic Christians, Libertarians, Non-Affiliated Voters, Communists, Socialists, and Anarcho-capitalists. That is just a fact. These people exist in the Church.
Now we may disagree with exact viewpoints or presentations of the faith, and I would for sure argue against a lot of positions held by a lot of people in the Church. However, I always go back to my dear sweet friend Tater. I agree with him on increasingly little, but he is still my brother in Christ. Even if he is wrong about so much. (Love you, bro.) We are both people of faith, we are both ministers of Christ, and we have the difficult conversations and arguments we do so we can come closer to what Christ needs us to do in this world.
The thing that wows me about Paul’s discussion of the Church here is that what makes someone unworthy of taking Communion. That is the exploitation of other people. The hungry are given crumbs while those with everything eat as much as they can at church gatherings. It is not in party affiliation, not in sectarian squabbles, not in doctrine that we make ourselves unfit for this table, but in a lack of love. Love informs our viewpoints, it makes us shape our worldview, it will change how we address issues in the world, but it lives above and in command of all other aspects of our life. In love I learn that I cannot hold all the ideology I would like to, nor all the political viewpoints I would prefer. I must let God transform my mindset.How do we begin this transformation? With bread and cup.
Today we gather together with all Christians around the world. The ones we agree with and look like, the ones we disagree with and look nothing like. Today as we drink and eat, we are not separate bodies poised to fight one another, we are one body with one blood flowing in our veins. We are the body of Christ to all the world, we are more than family, more than conquerors, we are love incarnate. – Amen.