Monday, July 2, 2012

Sunday Recap: "Dinner For Radicals"

After 236 years, we forget how radical these words are:
We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal ...
In 1776 a good number of people didn't believe that. They believed in the divine right of kings: that some were created to rule, and others were created to be ruled. That some were created to be rich, and others were created to be poor. Class distinctions were fixed and rigid. 

And then along came the radical Americans who said, "No, we reject all that. All men [and women] are created equal." 

After 236 years, we forget how radical those words are. And after 2000 years, we forget how radical these words are:
On the night before he gave himself for us, Jesus took bread, gave thanks, and offered it to his disciples, saying, "This is my body, broken for you. Eat this and remember me." And after supper, he took the cup; gave thanks, and offered it to his disciples saying, "This is my blood, poured out for the forgiveness of sins. Drink this and remember me."
 If you look at those words in the context of Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, you see that they are some of the most radical words ever written. And you see that the meal we call Holy Communion is Dinner for Radicals.

In 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, Paul is upbraiding the Corinthians for the way they celebrated the Lord's Supper. In those days the Lord's Supper (what we now call Holy Communion) was an actual meal. The rich members of the church would come early and eat their fill. The poor would show up later and get the scraps. This was how Greek society operated in those days--everybody expected it. But Paul's not happy with it. He tells the Corinthians they're despising the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing. He insists that they go against the customs of their class-structured society and treat each other as equals. 

His rationale? The very meal they were celebrating. The body and blood of Christ. Jesus died for all. He not only died to make us right with God; he also died to make us one with each other. The table of Holy Communion is the table of equality. 

Paul goes on to warn them against taking communion "in an unworthy manner." He tells them to examine themselves, "for those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves" (1 Cor. 11:29).  For years I was taught that this verse had to do with how you approach the elements of communion, with whether or not you believe in the real presence of Christ in the bread and the wine. But look at what it says. It doesn't say discern (or recognize) the body and blood of Christ. It says recognize the body of Christ--the church! And in the context of this section of 1 Corinthians, it's talking specifically about the rich sharing with the poor. 

So here's what that means to you. If you're not interested in equality--if you think you're better than somebody else because of your race or your gender or your wealth or your social status--if you really don't want to share with the poor--then you better not take Holy Communion. Because you're just eating and drinking judgment on yourself.

That may sound harsh, but the fact is that the Bible reserves some of its harshest words for people who don't care about the poor and suffering. Look at Matthew 25, the story of the sheep and the goats on judgment day. Jesus sends the ones who didn't care about the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the stranger, the sick and in prison into eternal punishment.

Communion is the table of equality, and if you're not interested in that, you'd do well to stay away. But the good news is that you can repent! You can turn things around! You can ask forgiveness and God will wash you clean! You can even put your new attitude into practice by giving to our benevolence fund. That's why a lot of churches receive benevolence offerings on communion Sunday--because communion is a time to remember the poor!

Jesus died to make us right with God. He also died to make us one with each other. In a society that's increasingly divided, that's a radical idea. Communion is Dinner for Radicals.

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