1 Corinthians 11:23-29, Luke 22:17-20
Our gospel text is the very familiar basis for what we call the words of institution. It is Luke’s retelling of what transpired on the night that Judas betrayed Jesus. Jesus knows Judas is going to betray him and yet still invites Judas to the table.
(Apologies if there is some odd video things. I set the camera up backwards. Attempted to edit but may have some odd artifacts)
That gets all kinds of interesting because it calls into question who really is welcome at the table of communion. It’s an important question to wrestle with because our understanding of who is welcome at the Holy Meal is a huge factor in determining why different faith groups won’t play nice together. There is a reason the idea of two different denominations being able to take communion together is known as ‘full communion partners”. A concept which is really silly given that at all times we’re supposed to be the Body of Christ. Well, we actually always are the Body of Christ, but sometimes we don’t act like it so much.
To be real honest, I don’t know when it first came down that we should be apart when it comes to communion. I don’t know when it first came down that there is a right and proper way to do communion. I don’t know when it first came down that there is a right and proper way to understand what communion means. And I certainly don’t know when it first came down that if someone didn’t do communion in your right and proper way or didn’t understand communion in your right and proper way then they should be kept away from the table. To be crystal clear, we should always do communion really, really well. There is never a reason to use hot dog buns or Doritos for communion. But doing it well is different than doing or understanding it “properly”.
The idea of having a correct or proper way of doing or understanding communion likely has it’s roots in our reading from 1 Corinthians. Paul says straight up there in v27, “27 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.” It’s understandable where the idea of not being unworthy comes from. Apparently, at least according to Paul, you have to do it right. Or possibly you must be free of sin before you can take communion. Some of you might have had the experience of lining up outside of pastor’s office on the Saturday before communion Sunday so you could have confession and then be made “worthy” of taking communion. Yeah, like there was no sinning happening between confession and communion the next day. We are ALWAYS sinners, even when we’re not actively sinning. Do we need confession? Yes. That’s why it’s a spiritual discipline. Do we need communion? Yes. That’s why it’s a sacrament. Do we have to have confession before we can take communion? No. No, we do not.
Ironically, that’s why the confession in traditional liturgy today happens at the beginning of the service so that we don’t make the association that you must be free of sin to take communion. Since I’ve been here we’ve always had confession right before communion but I hope everyone has heard enough that being ‘right with God’ isn’t required to take communion.
Of course another possibility is that you have to do it right AND be free of sin before taking communion. Am I the only one who doesn’t see a fit within Lutheran theology and that statement? What we DO and our state of sin qualifies us for the meal? It just ain’t right.
It all comes back to Paul and his statement in our first reading. If you’re not worthy and you take communion you’re in big trouble! Except it doesn’t say that. It says if you take it in an unworthy manner. What’s the difference? Everything. What Paul is talking about is how the rich people in Corinth lord their being rich over those with fewer resources.
To explain that here are the verses that come right before our reading in 1 Corinthians, vv17-22 “17 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. 18 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. 19 Indeed, there have to be factions among you, for only so will it become clear who among you are genuine. 20 When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord’s supper. 21 For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk. 22 What! Do you not have homes 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!” Paul is absolutely livid with the rich people in Corinth!
All right, to expand on this. When we read Paul’s letters to the Corinthians we have to keep in mind that he is responding to letters he received from them asking questions about how to be church. Paul’s letters are correctives and encouragements for the mission start churches in Corinth that he had planted a few years before. In this case he’s responding to a situation where two churches have developed at the same communion table. Yes, that’s how I said it. Two churches developed at the same communion table. What’s happening in the churches is the rich people who don’t have to work are bringing supper with them and having a good old time eating and drinking to excess. That’s church #1. Meanwhile, the poor working stiffs are showing up after work with nothing and walk into the rich folks having it all and living it up. They’re church #2. That’s what Paul means when he says, “whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner.” Don’t come to the table as a jerk, basically. Don’t be all that when you celebrate communion when others around you are in need. That’s when you, ”will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord” not because you’re doing or understanding communion rightly or wrongly.
Being two churches is something to take seriously about our life together in most circumstances and it is something to always be aware of. We have an institutional split here with two congregations coming to two worship services. There are very few of you that will change your worship time. Which is fine so long as we keep in mind that there are people we don’t know and we should. Because we’re welcome to the same table.
The same table set by our lord and savior. Who gave himself for all of us and calls us to welcome others to the table.