Summary: Communion service for Black History Month: discerning the body means seeing our connectedness, understanding one another, and living in hope beyond our history. For Montgomery Hills Baptist Church; reworking of message done in 2000 at Takoma Park Baptist
Several years ago my wife and I went with a group on a tour of Italy. It was a wonderful experience, most of it. Most of it, but not all. The part that was less than wonderful came when we had a few free hours in Florence. Margaret and I decided to set out on our own to find the Uffizi Palace and the Ponte Vecchio. Using our sketchy map, off we went in what seemed to be the right direction. The farther we walked, however, the more obvious it became that we had it wrong. What to do? We needed help.
We tried reading road signs. Well, now, I took Latin in high school. And it is true that Latin had at one time, hundreds of years ago, been spoken on the streets of Florence. But ancient Latin was not much help today. So maybe we should ask somebody on the street? Well, the trouble is, you see, the Italians were so Italian. They gestured, they waved their hands, they spoke vigorously, but who could understand them? The Italians were so Italian and we were so American – or, in her case, Anglo-American -- that we could not make any connection. So we tramped along, we hiked bravely, in the heat of August; we tried to figure out where we were. We were hot and tired and frustrated and felt kind of stupid … until straight ahead of us, across a wide intersection, here appeared a beacon of light, a haven of hope. Our weary eyes beheld a balm in Gilead. Can you guess what that was? Can you imagine what made us feel comfortable and hopeful and refreshed, just to look at it?
Golden arches. Big Mac. Coke and fries. We traveled halfway around the world, to a land filled with exquisite cuisine, to a city known for its architectural gems, to find joy in fizzy drinks under the golden arches of McDonald’s! Why? Because we perceived that there, in that spot, around those tables, there was a little piece of home, and somebody might understand us, and we could get a touch of refreshment for the journey. Praise the Lord, even for Mickey D’s!
For all of us need a place that is home; all of us need to be understood; and all of us need refreshment for the journey. To discern where all that comes from is a blessing indeed. But to ignore all that brings a terrible judgment. So Paul says of the Lord’s Supper:
Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves.
What might this mean?
First, consider that the Table of the Lord is a place of connection and community and not of isolation. The Table of the Lord is not just about your private walk with God, all by your lonesome. It is about connecting, before God, with other believers. We call it “Communion” for a reason; the word translated “Communion” essentially means “fellowship”. It means not only a personal relationship with God; it means also connection with other believers. The Table of the Lord means that we are not alone; if we are in fellowship with the Lord, we are in fellowship with one another at the same time.
So the Bible says that when we come to the Table, we are to “discern the body”, and that, in fact, if we do not, we are eating and drinking judgment to ourselves! It means that if we come to the Lord’s Table, just to have some little private séance with Christ, we are way off the mark and do damage to our own spirits. We are here to connect with the community of faith.
Have you heard about the old fellow whose prayer was very clear, but also very wrong? This fellow prayed, “God bless me, my wife, my son John, and his wife; us four, and no more!” Suppose I come to this Table, and I don’t really care about what is happening with my brother or my sister. Suppose I come, wanting just to have a good time in the Lord. I have never really seen, nor ever truly understood who it is that is sitting on the pew with me. If I do that, I am not discerning the body, and I am in trouble. I am eating and drinking judgment on myself. If I come to this Table and think I can achieve reconciliation with God, but have no interest in reconciling with my brother whom I have wronged, or with my sister, who has wronged me, or even in interacting with those who simply share this place, then I leave this Table judged. I leave unblessed and unforgiven if I do not discern my need for others and their need for me.