Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Corinth's Communion (part 4)

Obviously, Paul has more than what is generally thought of as the communion in mind.  Most believers, for better or for worse, only experience the communion as a part of a church service.  Rarely, if ever, is the communion experienced as a component of a community meal, which was the common experience of the early church.  This, of course, kept the meal practice traditions of Jesus at the forefront, while also serving as a reminder that said meal practice was firmly ensconced within the Isaianic messianic banquet and its associated expectations and demands of the people of the Creator God.  Naturally, this more accurate duplication of the “Lord’s Supper,” as it took place within a world that had very certain and defined parameters and social constructs around its meals, while standing against those same constructs, would have created a dynamic that is all too unfamiliar for most western world believers. 

So yes, there is a tendency to forget, or perhaps never even truly realize that Jesus and His disciples did not simply go through a communion celebration in the way with which so many believers today are familiar.  It must be reiterated that the Last Supper/Lord’s Supper was a meal.  Paul provides this reminder, writing “In the same way, He also took the cup after supper” (1 Corinthians 11:25a).  So right here in this text is a reminder that the basis for Christian communion sprung from an event that took place at a meal. 

Not only that, but it becomes quite clear from Paul’s writing that what is thought of as the specific practice of communion in the early church (sharing of the bread and the cup) was also taking place at a meal.  However, because the communion itself (the bread and the cup) is so often referred to as the “Lord’s Supper,” the meal aspect (and therefore the messianic banquet aspect) is unfortunately screened from view.  This represents a massive loss of understanding.  What is lost is an extraordinary depth for conceptions concerning church practice and the kingdom of heaven, and this deserves to be recovered.

If Paul provides “instructions,” “warnings,” and “correctives” during the course of his treatment of communion, common sense would communicate that he did so in the context of dealing with a significant problem in the congregation to which he was writing.  This is a legitimate conclusion to reach, and it is reinforced by what comes before Paul delves into his “passing along” of what he had “received from the Lord” (11:23a).  It is what precedes this that is so incredibly instructive for understanding why it is that Paul takes this route, for understanding the meal practice of the early church, for understanding the role of the communion in particular within that meal practice, and for understanding the kingdom implications and the way in which the church of Jesus was charged to represent that kingdom through meal practice and communion. 

Something was taking place in Corinth that, for Paul, was apparently odious in the extreme.  Whatever it was that was taking place ran contrary to all that was represented by the example that had been provided by Jesus.  If one considers the tone that Paul is clearly taking throughout this letter, and then hear words such as “Now in giving the following instruction I do not praise you” (11:17a), this should be heard as the sharp rebuke that it is.  When Paul writes, “I do not praise you,” he is providing a contrast with an earlier statement in which he writes “I praise you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions just as I passed them on to you” (11:2).  In viewing the letter as a whole, and not isolating different sections from each other, this becomes quite the stark and glaring contrast to Paul saying “I do not praise you,” and then going on to add “Should I praise you?  I will not praise you for this” (11:22b) before launching into “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you” (11:23a). 

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