Summary: A Sermon for World Communion Sunday.
How many of you used to be small? (That should be just about everybody, right?) And how many of you felt like life wasn’t fair because you couldn’t do everything the “big kids” did, and you certainly didn’t have all the privileges and freedoms that accompany adulthood. One of the most obvious ways this “old/young”, “minor/adult” dichotomy manifests itself is at large family gatherings. I know we’ve considered this before, but just think for a minute about Thanksgiving in your family. For my family, and for many others I’m sure, Thanksgiving is one of the very few times a year that we all get together. And, of course, Thanksgiving is not complete without a big meal with all the trimmings. Of course, with that much food piled on a plate, everyone is going to need a place to sit! Yet, if you are all gathered in a single-family home, it can be a little complicated to find that many seats together, can’t it? Certainly, that has been the case in my family. So the solution my clever relatives devised? Like so many others, I’m sure, we always had two tables set up. The main dining table was for the adults, while the kids were relegated to the “kids’ table,” which was usually in the kitchen, or at the very least, “somewhere else.” And so, in the end, even though we had gathered as family, the meal was never quite fully shared as family.
Such is the case with the Corinthian church as Paul writes to them in this passage you just heard.. Though the church is considered the Body of Christ, a family united with Christ as our head, the Corinthians had instituted some practices surrounding their observance of the Lord’s Supper that were more divisive than unifying. It was not unlike the family that gathers for a meal, but then does not actually share the meal together. Unfortunately, though, the divisions among the Corinthians were not so sublime as a simple “kids’ table” versus “adult table.”
You see, the Corinth of the ancient world was a bustling crossroads of the major trade routes to both the East and the West. It was known as a prosperous city, and the wealthy of the city certainly flaunted their riches. As was the case all around the ancient world, there was a deep division between the rich and the poor. This problem was magnified by the fact that many rich people in ancient times prided themselves on showing hospitality to the poor, but the rich would do so in such a way to shame the poor and let them know they were inferior. For example, it was not uncommon for a rich person to have a main dining room for themselves and their closest friends, where excellent food and wine would be served, and then another room (or even sequence of rooms) with food and drink of a poorer quality for the poorer guests. And now, it seems, this practice had crept into the sharing of the Lord’s Supper among Corinthians Christians.
The thing of it is, though, the Lord’s Supper is supposed to be a meal that transcends all divisions and brings all Christians together as one in the Body of Christ. At this time, when Christians gathered to share the Lord’s Supper, it was much like that night Jesus shared in the Upper Room with his disciples. The Christians shared a whole meal together, and during the course of the meal, a particular loaf of bread and a particular glass of wine was blessed and shared. The problem was, the Corinthian Christians were not sharing this meal in such a way. Those with homes large enough to host gatherings of the Christian community were generally the wealthier believers, but they did not serve the meal equally to all gathered as a family should, instead they continued the secular custom of keeping the best for the rich and giving the rest to the poor. And so this Lord’s Supper, which is to serve as one of the central acts of worship uniting the body of believers, was instead a way of solidifying the deep divisions in the community. And Paul was outraged.
James W. Moore of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Houston tells a story about one of his minister friends, Tom. Even though he has an extremely busy schedule, Tom does a fascinating thing each month when he takes time to go down to the homeless shelter in his city and work in their soup kitchen.
After the homeless people have been fed, Tom invites them to join him in a service of Holy Communion and many join him to the little chapel and share the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. They have shared soup together in the soup kitchen and then they come to share the bread and the cup together at the altar in the chapel. One day, Tom had an unforgettable experience in the communion service. As he was moving down the altar serving communion, he came to a man kneeling there who looked like he had been out on the streets for quite some time. The man looked up at Tom and whispered: "Skip me."