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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

World Communion Sunday, October 7, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | 1 Corinthians 11:17–34

Now in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, to begin with, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you; and to some extent I believe it. Indeed, there have to be factions among you, for only so will it become clear who among you are genuine. When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord’s supper. For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk. What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What should I say to you? Should I commend you? In this matter I do not commend you!

For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves. For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. So then, my brothers and sisters, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. If you are hungry, eat at home, so that when you come together, it will not be for your condemnation. About the other things I will give instructions when I come. (NRSV)

In early Christianity, the Lord’s Supper was usually celebrated in the midst of a common meal. Christians still gathered in homes for worship, and for the most part they kept the same entertaining practices of Greco-Roman society. So when they gathered for the meal, the wealthy and privileged were given a seat at the table, receiving the very best food and drink. Those with lesser means and the host’s servants stood on the outer edges of the room and were lucky to receive the table scraps. All of this was to demonstrate the wealth and power of the host. Paul is understandably upset. These class divisions at the celebration of the Lord’s Supper break the very heart of the body of Christ.

As I studied Paul’s exasperated words to the Corinthians, I began to sweat when I realized that I’m not too different from those early Christians. While I am not separating the wealthy and poor at our celebrations of the Sacrament, I am spending most of my days separate from those who differ. I live in a neighborhood with folks who look a lot like me. I dine at restaurants with friends who have similar incomes. I find my community with those who hold like values. I—we—live segregated lives. And I can’t help but think that Paul would have harsh words for our society too.

For Christians, the Lord’s Supper and social justice are fused; they cannot be separated. For it is in the sacrament that we are nourished by grace and reminded of our call to break down the barriers that separate. True celebration of the Lord’s Supper extends beyond the table and into the world. Without acts of mercy and transformation, our praise is empty. On this World Communion Sunday, as I leave the sanctuary with the taste of bread and cup still on my lips, I will renew my commitment to Christ’s gospel and the responsibility we each have to end division.

O Bread of Life,
who fills the hungry with good things,
strengthen my being for the serving of your world,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Written by Shawn Fiedler, Ministerial Associate for Worship

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