The old saying goes, “You are what you eat.” Scripture talks a lot about food, what we eat, when we eat, and how we should eat. What is the significance of eating in our lives? How can the meal we have at the Lord’s Table inform and instruct our lives? What are we doing as we partake in bread and cup? All are welcome at God’s Table and to worship with us this World Communion Sunday!
I Corinthians 11:23-33
For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
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. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgement against themselves. For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. So then, my brothers and sisters, when you come together to eat, wait for one another.
A PDF of the sermon as distributed at Calvary is available for download and printing.
During my three years at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago, I made it a practice to attend our community worship held each week in the chapel. It was the first and only time in my life where I would partake in communion every, single week. I grew up in a church that took communion about quarterly and then at some special services, so not that often.
Here, at Calvary we share communion every first Sunday of the month. And today, we observe World Communion Sunday, remembering, as Alison shared with the children, that through this act, we are connected with Christians all over the globe who partake in this same meal.
Communion, for many of us is a ritual, something we do regularly and ceremoniously that helps order our lives. But perhaps you’ve come this morning a little bored of this ritual, or perhaps this ritual has become empty or devoid of meaning. Or perhaps some of you are wondering “What is communion anyway?” and “Why do we do this every month?”
Well, communion is actually more than just a ritual. It is a sacrament- something that points to more than just what is happening here, but points to God, “a visible sign of an invisible reality.”
John Calvin, a leader of the Protestant Reformation to whom the Presbyterian church traces our roots, described a sacrament as “an earthly sign associated with a promise from God.” These same reformers, narrowed down the number of sacraments.
The Catholic church then, and still today, upholds seven sacraments with some beautiful traditions around them. But Calvin and Luther and the likes of them only kept the two sacraments they saw expressly instituted by Jesus in the Bible- baptism and communion. Jesus himself was baptized by John the Baptist. And he shares communion with his disciples at his last supper, instructing them to do this in remembrance of him.
Today, the World Council of Churches recognizes that the sacrament of communion holds a multitude of meanings all at the same time. It is most often known and understood as a memorial and remembering of Christ and the last meal he shared with his disciples, but it is more than that also.
A document created and agreed upon at the World Council of Churches in 1982 includes that it is: an invocation of the spirit; a communion of the faithful, a meal of the kingdom to come, and a thanksgiving to God (Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry. World Council of Churches, Geneva, 1982. Pg 10-17).
Today, we hear Paul writing about this practice to the early church.
Back then, the Lord’s Supper, as it is sometimes called, also included an actual supper, a full-on community meal, from the Lord’s Table to the meal table.
Paul and these early Christians were trying to figure out, what all this meal meant, what were they doing when they came together at this table?
Through Paul’s writings, we learn that communion isn’t just some rote, meaningless practice, nor is it just about the act of eating the bread and drinking the cup while in the church. Communion’s reach extends far beyond that, or at least it should.
When Paul warns about partaking in the Lord’s Supper in an “unworthy manner,” when he admonishes the church to examine themselves before the meal, it wasn’t a call for personal piety and being holy enough or good enough or pure enough to receive communion. The truth is we will never be deserving of the grace we find here at this Table.
But it was about trying to align our actions and our way of life to God’s Way, so that in our daily living and practices, we would live out the radical inclusion and welcome and abundance God spreads for us at this Table.
See, the church in Corinth included those who were wealthy and those who were poor; those who were Jewish and those who were Gentile. It included those with land and fields, and those who worked those lands and those fields.
And Paul was hearing that those who owned the fields would come early and begin eating without waiting for those who would come later, those who would come after working the fields. So, the wealthy would already be fed by the time the workers would arrive, and those who came later would eat the leftovers.
Paul asserts that this is not behavior worthy of communion. Jesus, throughout his life and ministry, stressed that the first shall be last and the last shall be first, that blessed are the poor, the meek, the ones who toil and strive. His was an upside-down message of good news for the least of these.
So, for Paul to learn that the wealthy, the landowners, the ones with servants and fields in Corinth are getting first dibs at the community meal; well, that was contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ that he had received and experienced and preached.
So Paul admonishes them, tells them to wait for one another, to put aside their privilege, to put aside what’s most comfortable and easy, and to do what is most loving, most welcoming, and most equitable.
Because, you see, communion is not just what takes place in the confines of this sanctuary; communion is a way of life.
And let me warn you, it’s is not something we should do lightly or without serious consideration. When we partake in this meal, it is partaking in a radical act of welcome, of abundance, and of gratitude.
God sets this abundant table for us. And we don’t get to decide who gets an invitation. We don’t get to decide who gets the best seats or the best food. We are all loved enough, and we are all loved equally. We get to show up and give thanks and be fed. It is, of course, not always easy. Most family meals aren’t. We’ve been so conditioned to look out first for ourselves, taught this myth of scarcity that there won’t be enough to go around; we’ve bought into the fear that pervades our culture, that we can hardly comprehend or grasp an alternative way. And quite frankly, add to that the fact that we don’t always get along with those whom God welcomes, so yes, it is sometimes hard.
Taking communion weekly at my seminary’s community worship was sometimes hard. We’d go up to take communion by intinction as we do here, and I’d see these classmates of mine go forward. And I would get up and join them.
I lived on campus during this time, so I’m with these people all the time, and I probably know them way too well. And McCormick, while a Presbyterian seminary, was intentionally diverse, theologically and racially, several denominations represented, and purposefully designed so that there was no racial majority. So the students didn’t agree on everything, and we discussed some serious and difficult and uncomfortable stuff in our classes.
So I’d go up to partake in this meal with these people, God’s broken and imperfect people: people who thought my infant baptism didn’t really count; people who thought, as a woman, I should never be ordained; people who said and did some of the most obnoxious things in class; people who were just rude or annoying; who typed too loud taking notes, who were clique-ish when they were training to be pastors. Clearly, I had issues with some of these people.
And I would walk up to the front of the chapel with them thinking, “Why God? I don’t want to share a meal, let alone my love or my church with this person or that person. They’re horrible. I really don’t like them.”
But it didn’t matter. I didn’t have to like them because God loved them. And that is enough.
Through communion, we catch a glimpse of God’s kingdom, which is just another way of saying how God would order this world. And in that vision, all are welcome, even those I may not like, even those I may not welcome. There is enough for all. And it’s not always easy. It’s messy and hard and sometimes uncomfortable.
But Jesus never said following him would be easy, just that he would be with us always.
We are not God; we are human. So sometimes trusting and accepting God’s way goes against how we’ve been wired and trained in our society. But this foretaste of God’s kingdom which we sometimes catch at communion, it is beautiful, too, because it’s bigger than us, and it appeals to the very best of who we are. When we eat of this bread and cup, it is a call to echo God’s abundant table in our living and in our giving.
Today, we kick off our Annual Giving campaign, and some of you have already received contact from the team. The theme this year is “The Grateful Heart,” and the scripture we read aloud together this morning from Chronicles is its focus. Partaking in communion should challenge us to give and to give a little more than we ever have before and perhaps even more than we might feel comfortable with. Because giving freely and joyfully is an act of gratitude for the abundance God has provided for us, and it is an act of faith that in God there is and will be enough.
Partaking in communion should confront us when we feel tempted to look inward, put America or ourselves first, to build walls, or to turn away neighbors.
Partaking in communion should open us to the voices of those who are the most marginalized and oppressed in our society. It should make us look around at our own dinner tables and board room tables and take notice of the voices that are missing, silenced, or unheard. Feasting at God’s Table should put us in a posture of listening to those who ask us to say with our words and show with our actions that black lives do actually matter; that being a Muslim doesn’t mean you are a threat or a terrorist; that being a woman doesn’t mean you are a second-class citizen; that being poor or homeless doesn’t mean God loves you any less.
God’s radical welcome includes those we may not feel comfortable sharing a table with. Whatever your politics or policies might be, God’s love forces us to put the humanity and life of each human person first, be they immigrant or refugee; rich or poor; black, white, yellow, or brown; be they gay, straight, queer or questioning; no matter who they are and what labels we may assign to them, we are to acknowledge and uplift that he or she is first and foremost a beloved child of God.
This is a table without borders or travel bans. This is a table where the immigrant and the citizen sit together, where people of every race and nation find a home. There’s no room for hate or fear at this table because it is full up with the love of Christ. There’s no room for injustice or inequality at this table because each person is afforded the full dignity of being a child of God.
This is a table where the hungry are satisfied; where the weary can sit and rest; and where all those who gather are challenged to go and make the world a little more like this Table.
(Invitation to the Lord’s Supper)
you who have much faith and you who have very little,
you who have been here often and you who have not been for a very long time,
you who have tried to follow and you who have failed.
Come, not because it is I who invites you, but our Lord.
It is Christ’s will that those who so desire, should meet him here.