Is it not a sharing?
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This cup of blessing, which we bless, is it not our sharing, our Koinonia in the blood of Christ. The bread that we break, is it not a sharing – a Koinonia – in the body of Christ? I remember my father often repeating these words written by the Apostle Paul as he would serve communion. These four weeks I’m preaching here this summer we’re looking at the Greek word Koinonia. A word that’s often translated as fellowship, participation, sharing. Sharing in common. Last week we looked at the example of the early church’s activities in Acts 2 – how they continued in the apostles’ teaching, in fellowship, in the breaking of bread and the prayers. Today as we prepare to gather around the Lord’s Table I want us to look at the breaking of the bread, the sharing of the cup. What was it that Paul wanted to get across to the followers of Christ in Corinth who he knew so well. This cup of blessing which is our sharing in the blood of Christ. This bread that we break which is our sharing in the body of Christ. What does this mean for us as we gather around this table, share this bread, and share this cup? Let us pray…
I’m particularly drawn to Paul’s Corinthian correspondence – the two letters which we have in our NT. We know from the book of Acts that Paul spent about 18 months ministering in Corinth. He knew them well. He wrote numerous letters, letters which were written to address problems which arose in the churches in Corinth – I say churches as it’s thought that the church in Corinth in Paul’s day would have been made of many small groups that would have met in people ’s homes. As I said last week, the Jerusalem church described in Acts 2 certainly did not have this Christ following thing down, neither did the church in Corinth. Isn’t that heartening for us in churches that don’t have it all down – that face problems? That face issues? So these things of which Paul writes seem to be to have a special resonance for those of us who are involved in faith communities.
The second reason I’m drawn to the Corinthian letters is the context in which the Corinthian church lived. Corinth had been destroyed by the Romans in 146 BC. It had been re-established in 44 BC and was where the Roman governor of Achaea sat. It was a major trade centre, populated largely by freed slaves. A place filled with nouveau riche where status and money ruled. A highly competitive environment where wealth and status are prized. Remind us of anywhere we know?
And like us the church faced many issues, most of which were about honour in the community. Some Christians claimed to be followers of Paul, others Appolos, based on their respective merits. This was usual in Corinthian society where crowds would go to hear philosophers speak in the public square, supporting them the way we support sports teams. They were creating factions at the Lord’s Supper based on how much money people had. The people who had the most money eating and drinking their fill while those who had less, went without. Even certain spiritual gifts like speaking in tongues were held in higher esteem because they were so visible.
One of these issues was the question of eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols. In ancient Rome religion was everywhere. There was no such thing as separation of church and state. Even trade guilds had patron deities, and tradesman would participate in meals dedicated to these deities at which meat sacrificed to these same deities would be consumed. The question for the early church was “What do we do about such things?” The answer for some members of the Corinthian church was again to be found in their enlightened spiritual status. “We have knowledge that this meat sacrificed to idols is meaningless because, after all, there is only one God. Therefore it doesn’t matter if we engage in it, it’s good for business!” In chapter 8 Paul addresses this question. People, who claimed to be spiritually strong and thus able to eat meat sacrificed to idols with impunity, were, as one writer put it “laying claim to greater spiritual knowledge and power, and hence honour (in Paul’s words being “puffed up”, 1 Cor 8:1). Those who had achieved this honour were challenging the honour and progress made by those who still laboured as slaves to their scruples.” It’s not about the honour that is due to you, Paul tells them in chapter 8, or about being puffed up by how spiritually strong you are. It’s about how we’re all in this together, and if something you’re going to do, is going to cause one of your brothers or sisters to stumble, then don’t do it.
The Cup of Blessing
I realize that that is a lot of setup for what’s going on in this chapter, but I want us to have an idea of where Paul is when he’s talking about the Lord’s Table here. As I said last week, it is in table fellowship that social strata are erased. It is in sitting down at a table together that the social order is shaken up. It’s the way Christ operated isn’t it? When we sit down at the table and share the bread and the cup, a new reality is being signified. A reality that speaks directly against society’s messaging about what and who is worthy of honour and praise. The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? Paul starts where we always must start, and that is with God. Part of this sharing that we have with Christ is being caught up in the eternal fellowship that is ongoing between God the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit. Each time we gather around this table, this is one of the things we are reminded of. Our being caught up in this fellowship and being caught up in it together.
Why all this talk of blood though? Wasn’t Jesus sacrifice once and for all? Why all this talk of Christ crucified? This is what Paul writes to the Corinthians in chapter two – again speaking out against that impulse toward status seeking – “When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” (1 Cor 2:1-2) Do you ever wonder why Paul doesn’t say “Jesus Christ and him crucified, buried, risen, exalted, and returning”? It reminds me of when I was going through the ordination process and writing out my statement of faith. Out of all the people who read it as I was going through the process before my council, one said to me “You don’t actually mention Jesus’s resurrection.” I had done so in a less direct way, but maybe I was just being like Paul – I should have said that! I determined to know nothing but Christ crucified. The cup of blessing, which we bless, is it not our sharing in the blood of Christ? In the cup we are invited to remember Christ’s death. We looked at Luke this past Lenten season. When Christ appears to the disciples in Luke 24 he invites them to look at his hands and his feet. Look at the marks that are still there. The wounds that Jesus carries with him that are evident to the point that Jesus asks Thomas to reach his hand out and put it in Jesus’ side. These marks and Christ’s blood and our participation in it tell us something fundamental about who God is.
When we’re thinking about what it means to share in the blood of Christ, we need to look at what the blood of Christ says about the nature of God. The sacrificial love demonstrated by Christ on the cross, dying in shame and humility was not antithetical to the nature of God. It wasn’t a way for God to be for one day only. Sacrificial love and humility are central to the very nature of God as God has revealed himself to us.
Let us then consider what it means to share, to participate in the blood of Christ. It doesn’t mean we save people, it doesn’t mean we offer atonement for sins, it means that we are coming to view people with the same sacrificial and humble love that was found in Christ. The same sacrificial love that led Jesus to pray to his Father to forgive the people who were killing him – this is the love we are sharing in. When we get together to share this cup, we are being continually reminded of this. There was a time in my life when I was amazed by the lengths that Christians went to forgive. I remember when Jason Lang was killed at school in Taber Alberta, reading about his father Rev. Dale Lang extending forgiveness to the young man who killed his son. I have a bit more understanding now, which I thank God for. We read stories of forgiveness offered by the people of the church in Charleston where 9 people were killed at a mid-week prayer meeting. Family members extending forgiveness. We should be amazed and thankful and inspired I think. We shouldn’t be surprised though. Sharing in this blood and pointing to this sharing regularly is going to change us. It’s going to form us. We will no longer think about things like pride of place or honour or puffing ourselves up or vengeance, coming to know that our honour is to be found in the sacrificial love of Christ and our reflection of him.
The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? One of the ways in which we think of the bread as we break it, is as Christ’s body, broken for us. Paul is pointing here to a different signifier for the bread. In breaking this bread together we are reminded of how we share together as the body of Christ. Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of one bread. I’ve always loved doing communion with a big loaf of bread where you tear a piece off. I’ve always loved the symbolism and how it points to what Paul is talking about here. Caught up in the eternal fellowship that exists between God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit through the reconciling work of Christ and his blood, we are also caught up with one another to be a part of this reconciling work as the body of Christ. Out of many made one. The body of Christ. Continuing Christ’s work in the world. That’s how we see our mission here at Blythwood, isn’t it? We need to work out what that looks like together. Recognizing that we all have a role to play.
What Paul is setting up here is the talk which is to come in chapter 12 about the church being one body with many members. “If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? The eye cannot say to the hand ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you….’ God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honour to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice with it.”
This is not what the culture says is it? Paul is saying “Do not bring your cultural baggage into the church!” It’s not about the “Top 30 Under 30” here – not there’s anything wrong with recognizing people or being recognized in a magazine – but you mustn’t make that your driving force. You mustn’t make that something that distracts you from what is going on here when we gather together to share this cup and this bread, because when we’re doing this we are actually sharing in the blood and body of Christ. Something’s going on that’s not readily apparent to the casual observer. Do you want God to make you aware of what’s going on? That’s my prayer for us this morning. That we might have the vision to see beyond these elements. They change. It might be port and big pieces of bread in an orthodox church. Welch’s and cubed pieces of Wonder Bread. It might be broken up Ritz crackers and orange juice at a camp. It might be grape juice and broken up pieces of matzah on a Saturday night in our sanctuary during our Out of the Cold season. Wherever it is and whatever we are using, something is going on that is not readily apparent. Paul is reminding us of it. We are in the midst of Koinonia – of participation, of sharing – in the blood and body of Christ and all that means.
I was saying earlier that one of the issues that the Corinthian church was dealing with was taking part in feasts dedicated to idols. Feasts at temples where food sacrificed to Roman gods was being consumed. Some of the members of the church who considered themselves stronger thought this was ok. “Flee from the worship of idols,” Paul writes to the Corinthians. “But there’s only one God, we have come to know this, so what harm can it do?” would have been the response of some. Paul answers this argument in v 20 – “No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be partners with demons.”
Now I know that often talk of demons is often thought of as superstition and we’re much more enlightened now. As one writer puts it though, “By the end of the twentieth century…anyone who does not believe in the power of evil afoot in the world is simply closing his or her eyes to the evidence of our times.” You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. The worship of idols being something that draws us away from the worship of God. We’re not in a situation where there are idol feasts going on and we’re trying to figure out what to do about them. What then are our idols? I came across this recently online. It was written by an MDiv student from Gordon Cornwell Theological Seminary in MA named Nicholas Mcdonald. It goes like this: ‘Hello I am an idol. Don’t be afraid, it’s just me. I notice that you’re turned off by my name: “Idol.” It’s ok, I get that a lot. Allow me to rename myself. I’m your family. Your bank account. Your sex life. The people who accept you. Your career. Your self-image. Your ideal spouse. Your law keeping. I’m whatever you want me to be. I’m what you think about when you drive on the freeway. I’m where you turn when you need comfort. I’m what your future cannot live without. When you lose me you’re nothing. When you have me, you’re the centre of existence. You look up to those who have me. You look down on those who don’t. I am never quite what you think I am. But that’s why you keep coming back. And no - I don’t love you. But I’m there for you, whenever you need me. What am I? I think you know by now. You tell me.’
The thing about idols is, they’re often not bad things in and of themselves. When we make them the centre of our existence they take us away from worship of God. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. This is what we’re reminded of every time we gather around this table. This is what we’re reminded of when we hear the words “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not our sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ?” We need to be reminded of this don’t we? We need to be around this table together, reminded that we are sharers of the body of Christ. Enabled and empowered to go from here and be Christ in the world. It seems that when our worship is turned toward idols to whatever degree that happens, it’s usually something we’re doing on our own isn’t it? As we gather around the table today as a family of faith, may we ever more be coming to find new meaning together in this Koinonia, this sharing, this participation that is ours with the blood and body of our Lord Jesus.