II Corinthians 11:23-28
August 2, 2015
The letters of Paul to the Corinthians, especially this first one, are letters in which Paul tries to clarify things about the Christian faith. The people in that young church needed some help. They needed help in understanding the new faith, and in knowing how they were to live what they believed. So throughout the centuries, these letters have been very valuable for understanding the various beliefs and practices of the Christian church.
Well in chapter 11, we find this little section about this sacrament we celebrate today, the sacrament of Holy Communion. And as we read this, we find that this sacrament was originally celebrated in connection with a common meal. And that meal came to be known as the “Agape Feast.” We have an “Agape Feast” during Holy Week, don’t we. And maybe you remember me saying how communion was originally celebrated during a meal. And that would make sense, because that’s what Passover was. It was a meal with symbolic elements. (And by the way, our Agape was amazing this past year, wasn’t it!)
Well, eventually the Lord’s Supper became the symbolic meal we celebrate today. But at first it was this, a common meal. And I know we don’t often think about it that way. We almost want to think that Jesus gave us this sacrament in the upper room, and he used the “Book of Common Worship.” But he didn’t. This sacrament began in the community of faith as they shared a meal together, and remembered the sacrifice of Jesus.
Well, I like this passage because it lays the foundations for the “sacramental nature” of this meal. It starts to give this celebration a “liturgical” feel. It helped those people – and hopefully us – to think about the serious, spiritual nature of what we do here. These words of Paul help set the tone for this holy celebration. And it came out of his need to clarify things. Because it had come to his attention that the things he mentions here were happening. Some came to this meal with more than enough, while some came with nothing. So he lays it out on the line. (He pulls no punches!) He tells them how serious this is. He tells them that they were disrespecting something that was very important. He told them, “I have received from the Lord himself that which I delivered unto you…” – this directive, this mandate.
This should not be taken lightly! This was so important to Paul, that he gave us these words which the people of God have struggled with ever since. “Whoever eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of Christ.”
Those are tough words. And over the years, I’ve heard many interpretations of that verse. In college I heard one speaker say, “If you come to the table with any ‘unconfessed sin’ in your life, then that was the ‘unworthy manner’ Paul was talking about.” But think of it. Are we really supposed to “wrack our brains” trying to figure out every last thing we may have done, that we may have forgotten about? “Oh wait! Last week I was mean to my friend at work. And I haven’t confessed that yet.”
Friends, that’s not what confession is about. It’s not about keeping some kind of “ledger.” “Here’s this sin, here’s that sin… let’s see, have I confessed everything?” No, the Grace of our Lord forgives all our sins. We don’t have to name every single one of them. (I for one am glad I don’t have to wrack my brain to find out anything I might have “missed.”) We don’t want to ignore anything – particularly anything glaring. But confession is a matter of acknowledging our sinfulness and recognizing our need for God’s Grace.
No, I believe the “unworthy manner” Paul is talking about here, has to do with a person not thinking seriously about what he or she is doing. It has to do with a person continuing in a sinful existence with no intention of seeking God’s forgiveness. It has to do with “going through the motions,” and not having any of this make any difference. That’s the attitude some of the people of Corinth had. And it caused them to partake of the meal without giving any thought for those around them.
The “worthy manner” of taking communion is taking this seriously! It is knowing we are in need of God’s mercy. The old liturgy says this in the invitation to communion. “All those who are truly sorry for their sins and would be delivered from the burden of them, are invited to this sacrament.” That’s the idea. Are we truly sorry? Would we like to be delivered from the burden of our sins?
In the season of Lent, we concentrate on that. We strive to be more aware of our sinful nature and our need for Grace. But are we striving to be aware of it all year long? The psalmist knew that the sacrifice acceptable to God was a broken and contrite heart. He knew the importance of pouring out ones’ heart to God, and falling on his mercy. Do we pour out our hearts before God? Do we fall on his mercy?
As we “prepare our hearts” for this sacrament, I’m going to ask for us to spend a few moments doing that. In a time of silent prayer, ask God to help you to see the seriousness of what we do here. Acknowledge before him, your sinfulness, and your need for his Grace. Think of the sacrifice represented here at this table.
Heavenly Father, as we come to this sacrament, we know that it represents your steadfast love and your Amazing Grace. Help us to be aware of our need for those things. Help us to feel your presence here in this sacrament, and to know of your atonement represented in these simple elements. Help us to be know we are truly delivered from the burden of our sins. This we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.