Monday, January 27, 2014

Corinth's Communion (part 11)

Though Paul does write that “A person should examine himself first, and in this way let him eat the bread and drink of the cup” (11:28), the thrust of the letter, when considered within a diligently teased out knowledge about the context of meal practice and what it communicated about the church and the presentation of the kingdom of heaven that is the responsibility of the church, forces one to consider the “person” in the context of the community in an attempt to fully and rightly discern what it is that is taking place and what has the Apostle so exercised at this congregation. 

This is hardly a nonsensical deduction, as Paul began this section of the letter with a general address to the whole of the church that he would have intended to hear his words together as a community at the same time and same place.  He wrote “I do not praise you” (11:17).  This is clearly directed to the group.  When he writes “you come together not for the better but for the worse” (11:17), and then reinforces this with “when you come together as a church” (11:18), this is clearly group-speak and should be heard as such.  Hearing it in this way serves as a reminder that it is the actions of the believing community, composed of individual actors (but not necessarily the actions of individuals in isolation) that are the concern of the Apostle.  

The addition of “I hear there are divisions among you” (11:18) reveals Paul’s desire for unity as a group, while also serving as a lament that there are divisions.  Such a lament would militate against any type of practice that served to elevate the individual aspect when concerning oneself with the meal which identified one as a loyalist to Jesus and as a willing participant in the kingdom program of the Creator God for the world that was being enacted through the actions of the church.  It would seem that, owing to the attention that he is providing to this issue, the ongoing actions of the church of the Christ will be reflected in the meal table and then, as an outgrowth of their meal practice, enacted by the church community 

This is not to say that the Creator God does not work through individuals, but such a thought does serve as a reminder that no man (or woman) is an island unto himself.  So there is no need to devalue the importance of individual pursuit within the kingdom.  However, maintaining consideration of the context, which is that of a meal that is communal through and through, individualistic concerns, especially as Paul addresses this church, fall by the wayside.  Realizing this makes it possible to get at the root of the problem.   

It has become clear that an approach to that which serves to identify the church of the Christ, that being the communion table, that puts a premium on the individual heart or soul condition of the one that comes to the table, is almost counter-intuitive to what Paul believes is necessary and appropriate (and has no place in a reading of the first Corinthian letter).  Indeed, if the example provided by Jesus is considered again, as the meals of the Jesus tradition have come to devolve upon the communion table, one could, if hung up on individualism and anachronistic determinations of worthiness and examination, say that Jesus was Himself prompting violations that would bring judgments of weakness, sickness, and death, as He was consistently coming to the table and welcoming to the table (and thus breaking bread with) those identified as tax collectors and sinners, who were therefore most certainly examined and considered to be individuals of the unworthy variety.  This is quite the conundrum, and one is only forced to it if one continues to miss the main concern of the Apostle as he addressed what he had learned was happening in this church.        

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