Monday, January 20, 2014

Corinth's Communion (part 2)

As Jesus invited tax collectors and sinners and those that would have been rightly identified by observers as being outside of the covenant to join Him at His tables, and as He did so with thoughts of the long-hoped-for messianic banquet clearly in the background, and as believers today (along with the early church) view the communion table in that light, it would seem ridiculous to raise such onerous limitations and boundaries that are productive of fearfulness and ultimately exclusion, around that which allows us for the mimicking of Jesus’ table practice and its associated and seeming inherent power to show forth the kingdom of heaven. 

When these words from the Apostle Paul are read, and as the communion table is considered, the thoughts that must be dancing at the forefront of the mind cannot be consumed by a concern for a personal salvation.  Rather, those deterministic thoughts must be the kingdom of heaven and its manifestation and advancement.  If the communion table is going to be correctly approached, the focus cannot be on the self, but on what the table and what happens there communicates about the kingdom of heaven. 

Based on what has been said to this point, it seems that this approach may be the right one, and that it is in approaching the table in this way that a better interpretation and understanding of Paul’s treatment of the subject is to be found.  Not only that, but bearing in mind the kingdom of heaven, and doing so in the context of the meal practice of the early church rather than one’s personal salvation, allows an observer to understand why it is that Paul even brings up the subject in the first place.

Most unfortunately, context is quite often neglected when it comes to Paul’s treatment of the communion in his first letter to Corinth.  So often, when the passage is referenced or quoted, the reference picks up at the twenty-third verse of chapter eleven.  There, Paul writes “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night in which He was betrayed took bread, and after He had given thanks He broke it and said, ‘This is My body, which is for you.  Do this in remembrance of Me.’  In the same way, He also took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood.  Do this, every time you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’  For every time you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (11:23-26).  These are the words that are regularly shared for the purpose of creating the familiar setting in which one partakes of the elements of the table. 

When this happens, the words of the Apostle are treated as if they were some type of instruction manual on how to engage in the church’s meal practice.  In a sense that is true, but that is only a part of the story.  In the regular time of communion, is it the case that the opportunity is taken to look at what precedes the “instructions”?  Sadly, no.  As is the case in so many other exegetical situations, there is a tendency to simply pull things out of context and use them for the purpose that is immediately at hand---reading into the text that which one desires to see. 

Making reference to the “instruction” portion of chapter eleven without making reference to what comes before or after, forces an analysis or exegesis into the unfortunate situations of being ahistorical and subjective, thereby causing the hearers of the exegesis to miss out on the aspects of the kingdom of heaven and on the reference to Jesus’ meal practice that was so instructive and important for the early community of believers.

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