In the second chapter of the first letter to the Corinthian congregation, Paul reports that he “decided to be concerned about nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (2:2), while also mentioning that if the rulers of the age truly understood the message of Jesus, “they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (2:8b). Though thoughts of the resurrected Christ naturally permeate the entire background of the letter, as there would be no church apart from a resurrected Messiah, and though there is a reference to the raising of Jesus in the fourteenth verse of the sixth chapter, the movement of this letter suggests Paul’s desire that the Gospel (Jesus is Lord) be closely (and foolishly, as he will point out) associated with the crucifixion, and therefore the cross.
Why should this be the case? Why is it that Paul apparently believes that it is the crucifixion, rather than the Resurrection, that should be the locus of attention and proclamation when the church comes together to take up the bread and the cup (share an egalitarian meal)? Is it because the cross, rather than being looked upon as a thing of beauty and as an object of grace, was considered to be the lowest place of ultimate suffering and complete shame? Might this be a reflection on the traditions then in circulation in which Jesus is understood to have instructed His disciples to take up their cross and follow Him---willfully going to the places of suffering and shame, because Jesus is Lord, as the means by which the kingdom of the Creator God is made manifest, established, and advanced?
Putting aside the fact that it was rather obvious that there were individuals in the church at Corinth that needed to be reminded of the willingness to endure suffering and shame that is demanded of those that proclaim loyalty to Jesus, which is made clear by the language that precedes Paul’s recitation of the tradition of the Lord’s Supper, the focus on the death of the Christ situates those who sit together at the meal table at the foot of the cross, as they are become identified with their crucified Lord, and are branded as He was, as foolish and shameful---as failures according to the way the world has always looked at such things.
What will it mean to be identified with a crucified Christ? As the new age, signaled by the Resurrection, looms large in the background, what will it mean to truly proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes? Paul provides his hearers with a guide in the fourth chapter of the letter. As the believer listens and considers the communion in which he or she gratefully participate, this guide is indelibly stamped by Jesus’ crucifixion as Paul writes “For, I think God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, as men condemned to die, because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to people. We are fools for Christ… We are weak… we are dishonored! To the present hour we are hungry and thirsty, poorly clothed, brutally treated, and without a roof over our heads. We do hard work, toiling with our own hands. When we are verbally abused, we respond with a blessing, when persecuted, we endure, when people lie about us, we answer in a friendly manner. We are the world’s dirt and scum, even now” (4:9-13).
May the believer indeed be empowered to be the spectacle of the cross to an on-looking world, proclaiming the Lord’s death at His table and in the world in which He reigns---demonstrating that reign by living as part of a community that embodies the cross (suffering and self-sacrificial love). Let not the members of the congregation of those that proclaim allegiance to Jesus as Lord take up the bread and the cup alone to signal their union with the Christ, but indeed, let there be a commitment to taking up that vile instrument of death and of the power that attempts to stand against the purpose of the Creator, gladly enduring its foolishness, its suffering, and its shame so that the Lord and God, Jesus the Christ, might be glorified and His kingdom might be extended. When sharing in the cup, let it be done as a sincere and faithful attempt to always and forever remain the humble tradents, adherents, and servants of the crucified King and the cruciform kingdom.