Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Communion - The Body of Christ (Part 3)

Songs, sung; sermon, preached; Scripture, read; prayer, prayed. Soft instrumental music is played and an ambiance of silence is created. It is time for the congregation to partake of the body and blood of our Lord. We grab a morsel of bread and a swig of juice from a tray, then bow our heads to meditate on Christ's body. In silence, we think back to that dark day two thousand years ago when Christ was crucified.

But what if "recognizing the body of the Lord" is more than a contemplation of Christ's physical body? What if it is a recognition of his body, the Church, as well? What if "remembrance" is less a retrospective reflection and more a present participation? What if "proclaiming the Lord's death until he comes" means we echo his self-emptying humility?  How would this change the way we take Communion?

The clearest reference to the Lord's Supper outside the Gospels is found in 1 Corinthians 11. The Corinthian church was a diverse group made up of men and women, rich and poor, strong and weak, Jew and Gentile. This diversity often (sadly) led to division.

The Corinthians argued about church leaders (1 Cor. 1:10-12, 3:1-9), marriage (1 Cor. 7), whether or not to eat food sacrificed to idols (1 Cor. 8, 10:14-33), financial support of missionaries (1 Cor. 9), and spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12, 14:1-25).  Sandwiched in between Paul's specific instructions concerning these divisions is the text about the Lord's Supper.

In the early church, the Lord's Supper was eaten as part of a larger meal sometimes referred to as the love feast. The flexible schedules of rich Christians allowed them to arrive early with an ample supply of food and start eating. By the time the poor, working class arrived, most of the food was gone.

I want to encourage you to reread 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 with this context in mind. Then, I would love for you to come back here and share your thoughts.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Everyone Cut... - The Body of Christ (Part 2)

Sunday night I watched The Tale of Despereaux on DVD, a story of cowardice and courage, heartache and healing, retribution and forgiveness. After a fatal accident on Soup Day, the Kingdom of Dor mourns. The king grieves, soup is banned, and a thick darkness covers the land. The kingdom turns its hurt into hatred for all rats. Princess Pea turns her pain into sharp words that pierce the servant girl, Miggery Sow. Roscuro sets out to make amends but is met with blind rage and disgust. Grief unites Miggery Sow and Roscuro in a plan to pay back the princess. The kingdom grows ever darker and the king drowns in the song of his sorrow.

The characters were caught in a web of hurt, and the more they fought to free themselves, the more they enslaved themselves.

There have been times when I have found myself tangled in this very web. Eye for eye, tooth for tooth. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, bloody their nose. If someone forces you to walk one mile, make them run two. If you are insulted, humiliate. If you are punished, retaliate. If you are ignored, dissociate. It's a hurting world hurting others. "Everyone cut, cuts back again - and double."

Enter Despereaux Tilling. Despereaux was a mouse who believed a different story - one about courage, chivalry, honor, and love. His nonconformity secured him an exile from Mouseworld. His own father pounded the drum that sent his son to the dungeon of Ratworld. His mother bade him farewell without pleading his innocence or offering to take his place. Talk about hurt.

But, unlike the other characters, Despereaux refused to cut back. With a single act of forgiveness, the web unraveled.

There are forces in this world that are strong; forces like anger, bitterness, hatred, and grief. But there is a power greater still. In its light, shadows scurry. In its might, slave masters succumb. In its sight, strongholds crumble. It is a dressing for open wounds and salve for sorrow. For what force can stand in the face of forgiveness?

Monday, January 17, 2011

How Beautiful - The Body of Christ (Part 1)

How beautiful the heart that bled
That took all my sin
And bore it instead.
How beautiful the tender eyes
That chose to forgive
And never despise.
How beautiful, how beautiful, how beautiful
Is the body of Christ

- "How Beautiful" by Twila Paris

As these words filled the gymnasium at the OCC Preaching and Teaching Convention, I looked around and saw the faces of those I knew; people I had worked beside, suffered with, and sweated on. I saw the feet of those I had bruised in an attempt to make myself look taller. I saw ears I'd rung and hearts I'd stung from a subtle slip of my tongue. I saw eyes flooded with tender tears of forgiveness and arms open in welcome.

Why did these thoughts cloud my mind in the middle of a verse so clearly describing Christ's body?

Because when I looked out at these people, it was Christ I saw: his face, his feet, his ears, his eyes, and his arms. His body. For that moment, Christ's physical body and his body, the Church, were not so easily distinguished. As, perhaps, it should always be.

How beautiful, indeed.