Thursday, April 18, 2019

Sermon for Maundy Thursday - 1 Cor 11:23-32

                                                                                    Maundy Thursday
                                                                                    1 Cor 11:23-32

            “In the same way after supper he took the cup.”  We hear this statement Sunday after Sunday, as the Words of Institution are spoken over bread and wine in the consecration of the Sacrament of the Altar.  However, it is very likely that you haven’t stopped and thought about what this means.
            You know the celebration of the Sacrament of the Altar as an event in which the consecration of the bread and wine takes place at the same time – one right after the other.  You also know the distribution of the Sacrament to be one in which you receive the body and blood of Christ at the same time – one right after another.  The greatest delay you can experience is if you wait to receive our Lord’s blood from the chalice as I bring it around.
            However, the words “after supper he took the cup” indicate that the eating of the Passover meal separated the moment when Jesus gave the disciples his body from the moment when he gave them his blood.  Our Lord gave thanks over bread and gave it to them earlier in the meal. Then there was the eating of the meal.  And then later in the meal – “after supper” – he gave thanks over the cup and gave it to them.
            It appears that in some parts of the first century church, that pattern continued to be followed in the celebration of the Sacrament.  This is really not surprising. After all, the Words of Institution speak about events actually happening this way. For a Jewish Christian, this would have seemed very normal, since it followed that pattern they knew from the Passover meal. And it turns out that it would have also seemed normal for Gentile Christians as well since it also looked very much like the way Greco-Roman meals were eaten.
            However, we have our text tonight because it seemed too familiar to the Corinthians. They were so comfortable with it, that they were bringing the habits and behaviors of the world to this setting in which they received the Sacrament.  Paul introduces our text by saying, “But 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, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you.”
            It turns out that the Corinthian celebration of the Sacrament had become an occasion that was creating divisions in the church. He went on to say, “When you come together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.”
            The problem was that in the regular meal that took place in the midst of the celebration of the Sacrament, the wealthy Corinthian Christians were acting like they would at any other meal.  They were following the conventions of the Greco-Roman world. There it was assumed that at a large meal, the close friends of the host would sit in the dining room with him.  The rest of the people would be seated in other parts of the house, such as the central atrium that was open and had no roof.
            The host and his friends would get their food first.  They would also get the best food and the most food.  It was not uncommon for lesser guests to be served lesser food.  It would be like if you invited a large group of people to your house, and you fed filet mignon to those eating with you at the dining table, while people eating in other parts of the house received hot dogs.
            First century churches were house churches – they met in someone’s home.  Naturally the members who owned homes that were large enough for this purpose were those who were more wealthy.  The early Church didn’t have many people like that, but they certainly existed and were important for the life of congregations.  In Corinth, some of these individuals were acting in the normal ways of the world in the setting where the Sacrament of the Altar was received.
            In our text, Paul addresses this problem. The way he does it is important, because he does so by calling them back to the words that Lord Jesus spoke in the setting we are remembering tonight.  Paul writes, “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’”
            Paul took them back to what the Sacrament is and what it does.  It is the true body and blood of Jesus Christ.  Jesus held in his hands bread and wine.  He said he was giving them his body and his blood. As true God, Jesus can do things with words that no one else can.  He has the power to work miracles.  As true man, he is body and blood. As true God and true man in one individual, Jesus Christ performs the miracle of giving us his true body and blood using the means of bread and wine.
            However, Paul tells us that this is not body and blood in the abstract.  Jesus instituted the Sacrament “on the night when he was betrayed.”  He instituted it as he was about to be betrayed into the death of the cross.  Literally, Jesus says that he is giving his body which is “on behalf of you.”  He gives his body that died on the cross on behalf of you – in your place, as he bore your sins.  He gives you the cup that is the new covenant in his blood – the new covenant founded by means of his blood shed for you on the cross. Because you receive this blood, you know that you are included in the new covenant by which God forgives sins.
            In the Sacrament Jesus Christ gives you his true body and blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.  It is his body given into death on the cross; his blood shed on the cross.  This death was the means by which Jesus bore your sins and the judgment you deserved.  Now, as the risen Lord, he gives the saving benefits of his death to you.  He gives to you the very means by which he accomplished it. He leaves no doubt that the saving benefits are for you as an individual because he places this body and blood into your mouth.
            Paul takes the Corinthians back to the body and blood of Christ received in the Sacrament.  Yet as he addresses the behavior in that setting and the divisions it is creating, he is drawing upon something else the body and blood of Christ does – something he has already mentioned in the previous chapter.  There as Paul spoke about whether Christians can eat meat sacrificed to idols he wrote, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.”
            Here again, Paul makes it clear that in the Sacrament, Jesus gives us his true body and blood.  But in doing so he also emphasizes that it is the body of Christ that makes us one body.  It unites together those who commune.  Now this thought has nothing to do with the subject to which Paul responds in chapter ten.  Instead, it prepares for the argument Paul now makes as he deals with the problem of divisions at the Corinthian Sacrament of the Altar. The apostle does this because he is telling the Corinthians that division and the Sacrament cannot exist together.  Division is a violation of the very nature of the Sacrament.  Instead, the Sacrament is the Sacrament of unity.
            Where people are going to be commune together those divisions must be ended.  And that means there must be forgiveness. This was true in Corinth. This is true here.  If you are to commune with members of your family, you must forgive them.  If you are to commune with other members of this congregation, you must forgive them.  And in turn all of those people must forgive you.
            We wrong one another.  We hurt each other’s feeling by what we say and do.  We fail to help when we should.  The reason we are able to forgive is because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  He loved us and gave himself up for us.  As Paul told Ephesians, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave you.”  The Spirit who created faith in Jesus, leads and enables us to forgive because of Jesus.
            And we come to the Sacrament so that we can go forth and forgive others as well.  We come to this miracle – to Christ’s gift of his true body and blood, given and shed for you.  Here he gives us the benefits of what we will remember tomorrow night – his death for us on the cross.  Here he gives us the benefits of what we will begin to celebrate on Saturday night – the assurance that death is defeated and we will live forever with him.




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