discerning the Body

a sermon, based on 1 Corinthians 11.23-26, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on Maundy Thursday, April 13, 2017

“I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you.”

The Apostle Paul speaks of the tradition bestowed by Jesus that the Christian church, ever since, has understood as instituting the Eucharist.

On this Maundy Thursday, I bid that we focus on why Paul wrote as he did.

Looking at the biblical context at Paul’s immediately preceding words,[1] we see that his reference to the received tradition is an admonition to the Corinthians who had forgotten the table hospitality of the common agape or love feast. The Christians of Corinth, during their weekly gatherings for Eucharist, also would partake of a common meal (consider it an ancient potluck supper!), the food and drink brought by the various members. However, the practice, thus, the problem arose when folk ate and drank all of their provisions, leaving nothing to share with late arrivers, often slaves, servants, or laborers, in other words, the poor, who, thus, would be deprived of anything to eat.

Paul’s point about tradition, therefore, isn’t about Eucharistic etiquette. He isn’t instructing us to use the words, “This is my body…This cup is the new covenant in my blood”, over the bread and the wine (though we do!) or that we must use bread and wine (though we do!). And Paul’s point isn’t about Eucharistic theology. He isn’t theorizing about why we do Eucharist in remembrance of Jesus (though we do!). Paul’s point is about love and justice or rather its lack. He challenges the Corinthians’ indifference to the unconditional and universal care for all within the life of the community.

Looking again at the biblical context at Paul’s immediately succeeding words (words that the lectionary framers must have considered too harsh to be read in the polite company of the Christian community gathered for Eucharist!), we see the seriousness, the severity of his challenge to the Corinthians and to us: “All who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves.”[2]

One meaning of “discerning the body” is to see that the Eucharistic bread is the body, the real presence of Jesus through which he provides us with a physical means for our spiritual consumption of his very nature. Yet I believe that Paul wants us to see the holy presence, the sacred body of Jesus not only in the bread, but also in the gathered community, which is the body of Christ.[3]

Look around you. Behold the body of Jesus in us. Behold the body of Jesus is us.

Therefore, this Maundy Thursday and every time we gather, three things I pray…

That we see Jesus in us

That we see in the bread and wine spiritual food that we partake to strengthen our souls and spirits to love one another…

That, in that strength, we leave this place to seek, to see, and to love Jesus in every person we meet.

 

Footnotes:

[1] See 1 Corinthians 11.17-22

[2] 1 Corinthians 11.29 (italics added)

[3] See 1 Corinthians 12.27: Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

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