How’s That for Love?

When asked to explain why my denomination seeks to prevent some people from joining in Holy Communion when so many other church bodies have no problem with inviting everyone to participate, I take them to the second half of 1 Corinthians 11.  

In this passage, Paul gives the church in Corinth a pretty good dressing down.  The early church tradition of having a literal meal in conjunction with worship has gotten completely out of hand.  People are confusing where the social meal ends and Communion begins.  People are eating too much of the communion bread and drinking too much of the communion wine.  There isn’t enough to go around, and some folks don’t get any while others are fat and drunk.  
Paul goes on to take the church to task for failing to distinguish the uniqueness of the bread and wine of Communion.  In other words, the bread and wine in communion are unlike any other meal we ever eat.  How does Paul go about showing this?  He quotes Jesus’ words at the Last Supper – the same words that I say every time we have Communion, and that are known as the Words of Institution.  These are not magical words that transform the bread and wine into flesh and blood.  It’s not my job (or ability!) to do that, nor is that what we say is happening.  Rather, the words demarcate which bread and which wine are dedicated to God’s use for this meal that He provides to us.  Yes, it’s the only bread and wine on the altar, so there’s no risk of confusing it with the dinner rolls.  However, the words still perform the function of telling everyone present that this bread and this wine are to be treated differently – the Lord is going to be using them, and that makes them extraordinary.
As an aside, this is why when there is leftover wine and bread, we don’t just throw it in the trash or dump it down the drain. We treat the consecrated bread and wine differently.  Why?  Because it is different.  God was using it to feed us.  
Paul isn’t done yet, though.  He continues on in verse 29 to say “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.”  That’s kind of scary enough.  But he then goes on to claim that this very issue – not discerning properly the special nature of this sacramental meal – can be a contributing factor to sickness, even death.  “That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.”  That’s a pretty strong statement.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard a pastor preach on that text.  I don’t think that growing up I ever heard this ever talked about.  And yet Paul is linking our participation in the Lord’s Supper to possible physical ailments and death!  
What do we make of this?  As near as I can tell, we try not to take it to be more than it is.  The Lord’s Supper and our discernment in receiving it is serious stuff.  Beautiful stuff, but serious as well.  If there could be serious ramifications to how we participate in it, it’s better to risk offending someone than tell them to come on up and join in the Feast without any regard for what that person believes or thinks.  It’s not our Feast to make those decisions with.  This is the Lord’s supper, and He sets the ground rules, not us.  Showing love in this respect (according to our denominational theology) is to ask the visitor or stranger in worship to either talk beforehand with the pastor or an Elder, or else abstain from the meal.  Partially as a way for the congregation to show love to them, but also as a way for them to show love to the congregation that they are part of for that short time.
More on this next time.

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