Isaiah 53:1-12, I Corinthians 11:23-29
June 3, 2007
I hope you like this little play on words I’ve created here. It’s a combination of two expressions. The first is the idea of “Taking Communion,” which is how we describe our participation in the sacrament. The other expression is the one we say when we “take something seriously.” That means we recognize the importance or the validity of something or someone. For example, I might say, “If you’re going to believe anything I say, you have to take me seriously.” Does that make sense?
So this is a combination of those two. This is “Taking Communion Seriously.” And in this letter to the Corinthian Church, Paul was telling the people they needed to do that. They needed to take communion seriously. And I want you to see how serious Paul was being here! In verse 30, he tells them they were not taking communion seriously, and that was the reason many of them where weak and ill, and some had died. He said that was the result of eating and drinking without “discerning the body.” In other words, without taking seriously what they were doing.
So, Paul saw this as serious stuff, didn’t he? Just before, in verse 27, he told them, “whoever eats and drinks in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.” He even went so far as to say those who “eat and drink without discerning the body will eat and drink judgment upon themselves.”
Now, I know what you’re thinking. “You’ve gone and spoiled it all!” “You’ve taken all the beauty and connection with God in this sacrament, and you turned it all into condemnation and judgment!” Well, I didn’t really! If anything Paul did! I just read his words. You’ll have to take it up with him! But don’t be too hard on Paul. He needed to “get serious” on these people!
You see, in the very early days of the Church, the people celebrated this meal – this commemoration of body and blood of Jesus – much more often. In fact, they celebrated their own version of communion pretty much every day. I want you to remember the religious culture of the time! The religious life of these people was highly integrated into all aspects of their lives.
Remember how the Jews had animal sacrifices. And I know that makes us a bit squeamish. But that wasn’t just a matter of sacrificing animals. It was also a big part of their food system. When they gave a burnt offering, the priests didn’t burn up the whole animal, just the inedible parts. The edible parts were used for food. It went to the people who brought the sacrifice, and it went to the priests involved in the ceremony. That was their food system – their market place, in a way. And it was totally integrated with their religious life. And just imagine how it made them that much more aware of God’s blessings in all their meals! Now we just “say grace.”
Well this new “sacrament,” communion, took on some of that same integration. Though it wasn’t a sacrament yet, still their celebration of the body and blood of Christ in “communion” had become part of the ritual of their daily meals. The problem was that it had lost its significance. (You can read a little about that in verses 20-22.)
In the Corinthian Church community, the people were sharing many of their meals together. And it was “BYO-E.” For them it was “Bring Your Own Everything.” And in many cases some people had, and some had not! And apparently, there was not enough sharing going on. So some people had plenty to eat and drink while others went hungry. There was even gluttony and drunkenness going on. And Paul was upset about that! He felt it was bringing great dishonor to this whole celebration.
That is the context in which we find this scripture. That’s the context in which we find these words, which we used to use in some older communion liturgies. “I have received of the Lord that which I also deliver unto you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night in which he was betrayed, took bread…” Do you remember those words. I do! Originally they were not given to remind the people of the wonder of the Upper Room, or of the “institution of the Holy Supper of our Lord as it was delivered by the Apostle Paul.” Do you remember those words as part of that liturgy!?
As we find them here, these words were originally an emphatic reminder of the importance of this meal, given to a people who had lost that importance! “Hey people,” Paul was saying, “I have received from the Lord that which I also deliver unto you!” “It was on the night in which he was betrayed that he took bread, and when he had given thanks [to God] he broke it, and said, “This is my body…!” That’s the nature of what you’re profaning! That’s what you are not taking seriously!!!
That sheds a different light on those words, doesn’t it? And I’m not suggesting our celebration of this sacrament resembles theirs at all. That’s not the point of this! But I want us to see that this is a call for us to take our celebration of this sacrament seriously!
Think about it. Do you weigh this sacrament and its meaning in your life? Does this give you cause to step aside from the busyness of this world and think – “discerning the body,” as Paul puts it. Do you see how this communion with God makes a difference in your day? Do you see how this changes your life?
As we think about the problems Paul was pointing out for the Corinthians, we must consider that the seriousness of the judgment he was suggesting should gives us cause to think of the seriousness of the nature of this! Paul wouldn’t be “laying it on” so heavily here if what he was talking about wasn’t of utmost importance!
So, let’s not dwell on the judgment here. But with that in mind, let us consider the seriousness and the depth of importance of what we do here. It’s much too easy just to go through the motions of something you’ve done time and time again. Let us strive, this time and every time, to see this sacrament in a new light. Let us give new thought to what we do here. Let us consider that this does not constitute doing “what we’ve always done,” as we celebrate this sacrament once again. Instead, let us consider that what we do here, whenever we gather at this table, makes us new!
I invite you to take this time now, as the choir sings, to think of the absolute importance of this sacrament in your life. Think of how we take this sacrament, and take it seriously. Think of how we share this time in the presence of the living God! Think of how we break bread here with Jesus himself, he who broke bread with his disciples, telling them of his ultimate sacrifice of love – for them and for us.