A Sermon on 1 Corinthians 11:17 – 12:1 (Meeting Posts 4)

A Sermon Given in 2014

You may have noticed we’ve included thought forms with your notice sheets this morning, and we hope to always have these available when we meet. The purpose of these is to encourage a conversation amongst us all about our life and worship together. You can use to them to note down anything you feel is of particular significance that strikes you as we worship. Occasionally, if Julie or myself have introduced some innovation in the form of our service, as we did last time with the chair layout, then we’re likely to invite you to comment on your responses to these things: is it helpful, thought-provoking, how?

I don’t have a specific question for you to reflect on this morning, although you’d be more than welcome to reflect on the chair arrangement, but just wanted to explain again what the forms were for and to invite your contributions.

1 Corinthians 11:17 – 12:1 17 In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. 18 In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. 19 No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. 20 When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, 21 for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk. 22 Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you for this? Certainly not! 23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. 27 Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgement on himself. 30 That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. 31 But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgement. 32 When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world. 33 So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for each other. 34 If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgement. And when I come I will give further directions.

The church is the body of Christ. That is, in the words of the apostle Paul, ‘a profound mystery’ (Eph. 5:32).

The force of that word, ‘mystery’, is of something long hidden, now made known. What has been hidden and is now revealed is, of course, the great work of God in Jesus Christ, in which humanity is redeemed from its slavery to the worship of any- and everything except God.

In Jesus, humanity is invited to participate in new life, eternal life. We realise that we cannot escape our broken selves and see that that which we cannot achieve, God has done for us.

But again, what is the significance of this phrase, the body of Christ, and how does it relate to this mystery now made known? Well, of course, the term draws us back to the Lord’s Supper, bread and wine set before us this morning and the passage that we read earlier that describes the supper’s institution.

Followers of Christ are invited to take the bread and wine, called Christ’s body and blood, and consume them. We may be inclined to shy away from the unpalatable aspects of this act: it was not without reason – even if it was mistaken – that the early Christians were accused of cannibalism. And yet the body and the blood are significant. This act signals to us that a change in who we are has taken place. No matter who we were before, no matter what we have done, now we are identified with Jesus Christ. All that has gone before finds its redemption and fulfilment in him. We lack the everyday language to describe this, and that perhaps is why we are left this sacrament, this physical act to perform, rather than mere words. But even so, by taking Christ’s body into us, we are declaring – proclaiming – that we belong to him and he to us.

But more than this, as the context of the Last Supper implies – which is that of the the passover feast and the consumption of the slaughtered animal by which the Israelites escaped slavery in Egypt, and more importantly, Christ’s crucifixion – as all this implies, we are consuming a body that has died. We are finding ourselves identified with Christ and particularly with his death: “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

And this death is for us: “This is my body, which is for you.”

In this supper we identify with and participate in the death of Christ, so that it becomes our death. So that what we were, is laid to rest in the grave, and what we are is now to be bound up with the life our Lord, the risen Christ. Paul’s words about Baptism point us to the same thing: this from Rom. 6:4, “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”

And so there we have it. The promise of God of physical resurrection, of sharing in Christ’s eternal life, is given to us in physical elements. A bodily promise – of flesh and blood – that indicates to us that our old bodies that we still carry around with us and in which we are contribute to the brokenness of the world, is laid to rest with Christ, and a new hope of bodily redemption, of resurrection is set before us. This promise is no mere aspiration: the Son of God did not taken on flesh, die and be resurrected merely to offer hope, but to achieve it. This promise is a commitment from God, sealed in the blood of the divine Son. We are to take it and eat it, to drink, with enthusiasm, awe and gratitude.

But there is more, one further aspect not yet explained that I want to conclude with. In our reading, Paul expresses frustration at the manner in which some in the Corinthian church are conducting themselves at their celebration of the Supper.

The Supper is taking place within the context of a wider shared community meal: something I would be eager to try here incidentally. However, some bring their own choice food and wine and share and consume it among their friends. Others, likely poorer and not able to arrive earlier or to bring much food, come to the gathering and find themselves ostracised, humiliated and hungry. And then note what Paul says: “For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgement on himself.”

I don’t have time to address the question of the judgement falling on that Church this morning, but the force of Paul’s words remains enlightening. The Corinthians are excluding their fellow Christians, and Paul accuses them of eating and drinking the bread and wine without recognising the body of the Lord.

Body here refers to the community of the church, but not only so. There is a logical connection of course: we eat the bread and wine, given to us as the body and blood of Christ and we ourselves join the body of Christ: we become the Church, we become the body of Christ in which no human accolade or achievement or privilege can have significance or value before one another: because all must die with Christ, because all are dependent on him to know eternal life now and at the resurrection.

And so the church is the body of Christ. It is so in a global sense: Christ creates within himself a new humanity. The scope of Christ’s work is not to contribute to human life and culture, to be one aspect of many, but, universally to found once again who and what humanity is as God’s creation, to direct and inspire us to live in humility and compassion now, with the hope of the renewal of all things at his return.

But this term, the body of Christ, has significance on a local level as well, it has significance for us. Remember what Paul says about the rich and the poor, the privileged and the dispossessed. This applies to us. We often describe gatherings like ours, this morning, as a service. We come, we listen (or speak), we sing and we depart. Our religious duty is performed, we return to life. But perhaps our language could be different. We are part of the body of Christ. In this place, we are the body of Christ. God’s Spirit resides in us no less than in others. Have we not died in Christ, like all other Christians? Is our hope any different?

Therefore, without arrogance or rancour, we have justification to think more of ourselves as a group, as a church in this place. As we gather in this place around the table we are reminded again of all that Christ has done and all that that means for us: that we have died with him and that now we live in the Spirit, as his body, in the hope of everlasting life: and that as we do so we proclaim to the world that there is hope and meaning and peace.

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