1 Corinthians 11:17-34
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. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. 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.
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.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
Whoever, therefore, 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. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.
So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another— if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come.
Our reading tonight from Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians points us to consider what it means to be the body of Christ. Paul is speaking to a group of people who call themselves a church, the Body of Christ. But it appears that this body has some divisiveness: Paul writes, “I hear that there are divisions among you…”. Instead of working for the good of the whole they are emphasizing the parts, their individual needs are taking precedent over what is best for all. Paul calls them to consider how their individual parts might actually be used to make the whole stronger.
This reminds me of something my family and I have experienced recently. Last September our daughter drove to Arizona for a visit. She brought with her one year old 75 pound Weimaraner puppy…and then left him with us for six weeks while she returned home to attend to some issues she had to address. Mind you, we have two dogs, a 60 pound lab-mix and 50 pound Viszla. We figured though, that this would all work out – I mean Jessi, our daughter, was a participant in the raising and training of our two dogs, and she is currently a trainer, a professional equestrian, training horses to be ridden and people to ride horses. We thought that like us when she wanted her dog to stop she’d say stop. And when she wanted her dog to stay, she’d say stay. But instead she used the same words for her dog as for her horses…stay is wait, and stop is whoa. For about a week Dan and I stumbled through a series of words with these three dogs: stop! no… wait! no… stay! no.. whoa!
Curiously, though, the dogs figured it all out rather quickly. When one stopped, they all stopped. When one waited, they all waited. It really didn’t matter what words we used. Soon enough we all just adapted to the situation and learned how to blend our parts in a working whole.
Paul writes:” When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal…” If each of our dogs had insisted on their own words and commands we would have chaos. But because they adapted and blended their own needs for the whole, we end up having pleasant walks.
As the body of Christ, we come to our faith community as individuals – or to continue the metaphor in Paul’s Letter to Corinth, “We come with our own meals.” We have our own life experiences and education, our own homes and families, and ideas. We have our own experiences of God and our own hopes and desires for what community life will be like. This is particularly true during this time of transition as we gather to discern a potential new relationship between priest and congregation – each of us coming with our own ideas, hopes, and dreams for the future.
The relationship of a priest and congregation is like any other relationship. The two come together, each with their own language and ideas and experiences and slowly learn how to adapt and blend these into a whole. The priest does not define the congregation and the congregation does not define the priest. Instead each refines the other into a richer deeper whole.
So, the consequence of adapting and blending the parts into the whole is both richer and deeper parts AND richer and deeper whole body. But the purpose of the body, the reason for the body is not just to nourish ourselves. Ultimately the purpose of the parts, of you and me, becoming the whole, the body of Christ, the community of St. Potential New Parish, is for us to be able to nourish others in the world around us, and for them to nourish us. It’s a mutuality of relationship – you, me, us, them, God, Christ – blending and adapting our individualness into a whole, the cup, the bread, a meal. Thus we become a new covenant of thanksgiving for the love of God poured out in Christ, given to us, and shared with all.