Thursday, February 13, 2014

Proclaim The Lord's Death (part 1)

For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. – 1 Corinthians 11:26  (NET)

Here in the first letter to the Corinthians is what appears to be the very first, surviving, written record of the what has come to be referred to as the Christian practice of communion.  Though it was undoubtedly something that took place as part of a communal meal---as it refers to actions instituted by Jesus that took place at a meal, for the majority of modern believers, it exists primarily as a ceremony involving the bread and the cup, minus a meal. 

Even though the element of the community meal has been largely lost by the church, the communion demands to be understood within the context of the Passover, stretching the hearts and minds of its participants all the way back to the time of Israel’s Egyptian exodus.  Thus it serves to remind those that partake of the elements of the extraordinary, intervening power of the Creator God, and of His actions undertaken on behalf of His covenant people. 

Surely, the Christ-event was and should be thought of along such lines.  In addition to that, owing to what came to be understood as Jesus’ messianic presentation of Himself, as He did and as He taught (to borrow a sensibility from the opening of the Acts), the communion itself, when it is reduced to simply the bread and the cup, becomes a microcosm of the messianic banquet, which Jesus Himself was likely to have been consciously enacting every time He situated Himself at a meal.  The messianic banquet signaled, among other things, that the Creator God’s rule on earth had been established.  When Jesus joined a meal, and especially when He offered teaching and parables that had the kingdom of the Creator God as its subject, this also should be taken as a signal that said kingdom had come in and through Him, and that a new age had dawned---eclipsing the old age as the Creator God had begun reconciling all things to Himself through the presence of His Christ. 

As one considers the message that surrounds the Apostle Paul’s presentation of the Lord’s Supper, as he mentions his having received from the Lord what he had already passed on to this church community prior to the occasion of the writing of this letter, it is curious that he concludes his recollection with the insistence and directive that “every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”  It should be noticed that Paul makes no explicit mention of the Resurrection. 

Though there are Passover and messianic banquet sensibilities at play, along with all that is implied by those things, and though it is obvious that a resurrected Christ is implied in the phrase “until He comes,” Paul seems to restrict the proclamation of the communion to an invocation of the Lord’s death.  By focusing on the Lord’s death, quite naturally, there is a focus on the cross---on crucifixion.  It seems to, at least at this point as Paul writes to this particular community and as an attempt is made by an observer to be situated alongside this community so as to be able to hear the voice of the Spirit of the Creator God that was presumed to be at work through the Apostle, elevate the cross of the Christ to a position of primacy in relation to the Christian meal table and its celebration of communion. 

Though at first glance this seems a bit odd, especially when one considers Paul’s overt pre-occupation with the Resurrection and its implications (not to mention the great dissertation of the Resurrection that will shortly be heard by the recipients of his letter).  However, when observing the structure of the letter that Paul has provided to this point, there is a realization that this focus is not odd in the least.  In the first chapter of the letter, the Apostle writes “Paul wasn’t crucified for you, was he?” (1:13b), along with “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the Gospel, so that the cross of Christ would not become useless” (1:17).  Shortly thereafter, he adds that “we preach about a crucified Christ” (1:23a).  This letter kicks off and would appear to be premised by the message of the cross.  

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