4/19/2019 10:53:43 AM
After Supper: Jesus' Dinner Party (Sermon Manuscript)
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.
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
Pastor Marc's sermon on Maundy Thursday (April 18, 2019) on 1 Corinthians 11:23-26. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below.
There’s a moment at the start of every dinner party I try to host when I stare at a completely empty table and say - to no one in particular - “now what?” It’s sort of a code word I use to help my brain take what I want to do and turn it into reality. I have a vision of what I want the experience to be like and I hope to make that experience a reality for all my guests. And so, yesterday afternoon, as I was standing in the center aisle here at church, I looked around and said to no one - “now what?” We don’t always talk about worship as if it’s a dinner party but, on some level, it is. There’s a little food, a little drink, and special dishes we don’t use for anything else. Our worship includes a lot of words, some music, people who show up early, and others who are always fashionably late. We assume we’re already on the guestlist but we expect that some people will show up that we don’t know. And if we’ve been coming to this dinner party for awhile, we already know where we want to sit before we even step through the front door. Over the last 2000 years, the church has created a worship event that is designed to feed our connection with God and with one another. And that act of feeding and connection is really what the best kind of dinner parties try to pull off. They do not try to impose anything on you; instead, they invite you into an experience that lets you discover more about yourself and about your reality. To make that happen, a dinner party needs to know why it exists and what core essence makes it unique and different. And that’s why, in our reading from 1st Corinthians, Paul took a moment to remind the church what dining with Jesus was all about.
The church in Corinth was a Christian community that Paul founded sometime in the 40s or early 50s. He was with them for about 18 months before heading off to a new town to plant another church. The church in Corinth, like all churches in Paul’s day, was small - with maybe only two dozen members at most. Yet within this small community, there was an incredible amount of diversity. Some in the community could read while others could not. Some were rich while others struggled to make ends meet. And some who gathered for worship were free, able to move around the city at ease, while others were slaves, with no control over the violence done to their own bodies. Each one of them, had committed themselves to be part of Christ’s church. Yet this new, small, and vibrant faith community - was conflicted. They argued over many different things including who Jesus was and how their faith should inform how they live. We don’t know all the details about every argument in that church but we can infer from Paul’s letters that these conflicts were driving the community apart. Not everyone agreed with everyone else and instead of affirming or living with those differences, they chose to silo themselves off into cliques of their own choosing. They still gathered together as followers of Jesus - but they didn’t have any real regard for one another.
Now, in the first faith communities, eating together mattered. When they came together to worship, their prayers, conversations, and songs also included a potluck meal. We can imagine they came to church carrying not only their version of morning coffee but also a Roman casserole dish with something for everyone to share. Except - sharing was something the community in Corinth wasn’t doing. And, in fact, the people weren’t even gathering together at the same time. Those who were financially secure had a little more freedom in what they could bring to worship and when they would show up. Those with money would show up to church first, uncover their hotdish, and start eating. While those who needed to work long hours just to survive would arrive in the worship space a little later only to discover that worshipped had already started without them. The wealthy would have already eaten, leaving nothing for those who could bring only a little. In that communal space, people ended up creating a private meal and worship event only for themselves. In Corinth, being late meant that you were poor. And there was nothing fashionable about having to show up after the event had already started. Those with any kind of financial security started things when they wanted and they could bring whatever they had. They were dictating and creating a church that matched their lifestyle, point of view, and experience. And it was obvious, in that worship space, who was elite and who was not. Worship wasn’t really about spending time with Jesus. Instead, it was becoming another opportunity for the social divisions that mattered in the wider community to manifest themselves even around Jesus’ table.
So Paul reached into the traditions he was given to remind the church that, because of Jesus, we live with a different set of values. In this, the earliest written record of Holy Communion that we have, Paul laid out the essence of what Jesus’ dinner party is all about. The “now what?” of Jesus’ table wasn’t focused on the design of the dishware, the menu, or the look of the centerpieces. The Lord’s table, instead, is an inclusive event that does not distinguish between rich and poor* nor does it let our divisions get in the way of what Jesus has already done. As followers of Christ, as those with faith, and as those who have been baptized - Jesus has already made a place at His table for you. Our seat doesn’t depend on how much money we make, on what food we can bring, or even if we believe we truly belong there. The “now what?” of knowing Jesus is all about sitting with him and making sure we don’t get in the way of anyone Jesus’ calls to sit by our side. We live this way because: Jesus once gathered his friends and took bread, telling them this was his body and they should eat. Jesus also took a cup, gave thanks, and told them to drink.* Paul reminded the community in Corinth, and he reminds us, that the essence of the dinner party Jesus throws is one where God’s love overcomes the social divisions we love to perpetuate. When we gather around His table, our “now what?” isn’t to keep the barriers between us up because we are not here by ourselves. We are here with God and everyone Jesus calls. We are to be with each other - because that’s how we become the diverse, loving, inviting, empowering, caring, loving, and united people God has designed us to be.
* Melissa Florer-Bixler. Christian Century. Sunday’s Coming - Email sent on April 10, 2019
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