Thursday, January 23, 2014

Corinth's Communion (part 7)

By countermanding the example that had been provided by Jesus in the context of His announcement of the presence of the kingdom of heaven in which He reversed and flattened out the social order, this church community in the city of Corinth was apparently guilty of not being a unique and shining light to the world.  It seems that they were indeed calling what they were doing the Lord’s Supper, and that they were speaking of it in terms of the messianic banquet, but with what was happening there, which is precisely the opposite of reversing and flattening out the social order, but rather operating with it and reinforcing it, Paul tells them “you are not really eating the Lord’s Supper” (1 Corinthians 11:20b). 

If one is going hungry while another becomes drunk and presumably satiated with as much food as desired (with serving taking place according to socially accepted honor-related customs) while all were sitting at the same table, how could this possibly be looked upon as the Lord’s Supper?  Paul could rightly ask where compassion and love and preference are on display in such a situation?  Most decidedly, those qualities are not present.  Paul does not deny that the members of this church community come from different segments of society.  He does not deny that there are individuals from all socio-economic levels coming together, nor does he level any part of his critique in this direction.  He accepts that this will be the case and does not rail against such things.  However, he does write “Do you not have houses so that you can eat and drink?” (11:22a)  The Apostle was not concerning himself with the facts of the eating and the drinking.  This was not the thing with which he took issue. 

Eating and drinking were fine, as long as the meal table was shared equally with all and sundry.  What appears to have concerned him was the fact that the entrenched forces of the world, backed up from time immemorial by the powers and rulers and kingdoms of the world and by the way that they went about gaining and maintaining power, were infiltrating that which was supposed to represent the kingdom of the Creator God---which was to model, based on Jesus’ example and insistence, an entirely different way of establishing and growing a kingdom---perhaps even an entirely different way of being human.   

Following up on his rhetorical inquiry about private houses in which the people could eat and drink to their heart’s content, Paul asks “Or are you trying to show contempt for the church of God by shaming those who have nothing?” (11:22b)  How horrible that this situation had crept into the church of the Christ!  By bringing the banqueting table and festal meal practices of the world into the church, and by attempting to erect and maintain, within the church, the same social divisions and boundaries that existed outside of the church, they were extending the shame (in an honor and shame society) felt by those that they supposedly referred to as brothers and sisters in their union with the Christ, while blindly referring to their perverted (in the sense that it was completely improper) meal table as the Lord’s Supper.  It is no wonder that Paul writes “Should I praise you?  I will not praise you for this!” (11:22c), before going on to talk about the Lord’s Supper as it is meant to be. 

In the recounting of what he is said to have received from Jesus and which he had passed on to this church (11:23), Paul makes it clear that Jesus gave the bread and the cup to all, and that none were left out.  That was not the first time that Jesus had done this, as the same thing can be seen to have  happened at the feedings of the multitudes over which Jesus presided---presumably, all shared equally.  With this in mind, can one even imagine engaging in a celebration, calling it the Lord’s Supper, and not allowing all to participate?  Of course not! 

It seems that many do engage in such a practice in their churches on a regular basis, as individuals are actively and purposefully excluded from participation at the Lord’s Supper.  This exclusion is often based on what might very well appear to be, upon a closer and far more informed and contextualized reading of the words of Paul regarding examination of self and judgment, a seriously flawed practice.  Some even exclude themselves based on this type of reading.  The exclusion of some from participation in the meal due to social custom, however, appears to be precisely what was taking place.  Standard meal practice, in which inequality was rampant, was in effect, and it was being referred to as the Lord’s Supper.  This could not possibly be that for which Jesus had gone to the cross as part of the inauguration of the kingdom of His God on earth, so it is little wonder that Paul was somewhat angry with this church.

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