Communion: Discerning The Body

December 7th, 2009

Yesterday, I led communion at my church, Hope Chapel of Austin, TX.  It was an honor and a responsibility, and I’m very happy that Pastor Geno entrusted me with it.

I think it went well.  It was both easy and difficult to prepare.  Easy, because of some excellent sermons & commentary on the Lord’s Supper that were percolating in my brain.  Difficult, to condense it to a concise, clear reflection.  The material on it in 1 Corinthians 10-11 is fairly rich, and I couldn’t begin to do it justice in 5 minutes.  I focused on an element that has not been emphasized, in my past church experience:  How communion relates to community and love and relationship, and what it means to examine ourselves.

There was so much more, though.  I’d like to do a series of posts expanding on it, from the gospel accounts and from more of 1 Corinthians.  I’ll try to get it done during the month of December.

You can listen to or download the recording at our sermon archive, if you’d like.  Or, here’s the transcript.  Also, here’s the short description from the archive:

What does it mean to examine ourselves, judge ourselves rightly, and discern the body? The answer is rooted in Christ’s physical body–his sacrifice–and in the gathered church as the body of Christ. We unite in love to participate in Christ, proclaiming the gospel and showing its power.

Good morning, Hope Chapel, my name is Tim Margheim.  Please hold the elements until we all partake together.  If you’re a guest, know we invite all Christians to join with us.  Parents, we leave it to you to determine whether your children are ready to participate.

Today I’d like to speak from 1 Corinthians 11, Paul’s discussion of communion, in order to draw out something that wasn’t often emphasized about the Lord’s Supper, in my upbringing.

We know that the Lord’s Supper is a thing of joy and grace.  But Paul wrote in disappointment with the church in Corinth, saying, “In the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse.”  They were taking this meal in a way that turned it from a blessing to a curse.  He cautioned them, saying,

Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.  Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.  For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged.

So Paul is concerned about the way we approach the Lord’s Supper.  What does it mean to examine ourselves, judge ourselves rightly, and discern the body?

The more familiar part of the answer is that we should take the meal seriously, remembering Christ and his sacrifice on the Cross, in our place, for our sins.  And judging ourselves rightly means that we know we can’t make ourselves worthy.  He didn’t say, “Only come if your life is where God wants it to be,” or “if you pray enough”, or “if you read your Bible enough”, or “if you’ve done enough good deeds”. There is a worthy manner of celebrating, with humble, repentant awareness of Christ’s sacrifice for our sin.  But we come depending on God’s gift, in the middle of our failures.  This is the gospel, the central meaning of the Supper.

But it might be less familiar that Paul’s main criticism was about the way they were treating each other.  He said, “When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat,” and “when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you”.  Some ate full meals while others went hungry.  Paul asked, “Do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?”  They came together, but they came divisively.

In this light, what does it mean to examine ourselves and “discern the body”?

In the fall, our elder Cotton Hance pointed out a double-meaning in the phrase, “discern the body”: On the one hand, there’s Christ’s physical body–his sacrifice.  On the other hand, we are the body.  And when they came divisively, they twisted the meaning of the Lord’s Supper.

If we remember the work of Christ to save us, we should remember what he saved us for.  He died, not just to save us as individuals from hell, but also to bring us together into a family.  He says “discern the body”, and in the very next chapter he says that we are one body, with many members.  That we need each other, and are called into the most excellent way of love–the love of the Spirit, by which all the world will see that we are Christ’s disciples.  We’re called to be servants, opening our lives and surrendering our time, allowing God to knit us together in true relationship–not just here on Sunday, but throughout each week, in Hope groups, in phone calls, in meetings in coffee shops, in inviting each other into our homes to share meals. This love, this community, where God’s kingdom is breaking into the world, is intended to be a light of hope, both proclaiming the gospel and showing its power, to a broken world of sinners in desperate need of salvation.

So now, having come together, let us examine ourselves.  Let us be one, in humble repentance, remembering the gift of Christ’s sacrifice, and rejoicing in the gift of his work among us.  Let’s pray.

Father, we receive, and we thank you for your work among us.  Please Father, continue your work of love.  Give us the peace and freedom of loving each other well.  Help us not to keep records of wrongs, and forgive us for sometimes failing each other, and give us hope for new change.  May we approach this meal today with love, and with openness, and with reverence; it is Christ’s body and blood, for us.  And may we approach our relationships with one other with something of the same importance, because together, we are Christ’s body.  May our lives display the work of your love, and may the world see Christ in us.  May we be quick to speak the words of life, the words of good news, calling the world to repent and receive this gift.   May we have the joy of baptizing many into the body of Christ, to be part of your family, adopted through Jesus.  And Father, may every celebration of this table be a renewal and a reminder and a proclamation of all the grace and peace and truth and love that is in Christ.  In the name of Jesus, as his body, by his work, we pray, amen.

So let us eat together, from Christ’s body, broken on the Cross for us.

And let us take the cup together, and drink from Christ’s blood, the new covenant with God, poured out for our sins.

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