Communion Consequences
June 17, 2024

Communion Consequences


Text: I Corinthians 11:17-26, 33-34

We’re not celebrating communion today but this is a sermon about communion. Kind of. It’s a sermon about how, in lots of the ways that count every time we eat together is communion. And we’re a church, so we eat together a lot!

Like anyone who’s grown up in the church, I have quite clear memories of church potlucks from when I was a child.  They were in the basement (of course). There was always coffee in a big urn, which I didn’t drink and orange Tang (aka church juice) in a big cooler, which I guzzled. Often there were tiny tuna sandwiches and jello salad and deviled eggs. If it was a celebration, there would be a sheet cake. There was always a rush of kids jostling to be the closest to the front of the line. Because if you wait, the best things might be gone.  

While the church at Corinth probably didn’t have a basement, it’s these childhood recollections that are called to mind mainly because of the way Paul addresses the members of Corinth. They might be fully grown adults, but that’s not the tone that Paul takes with them. He says: 

Don’t you have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you look down on God’s churches and humiliate those who have nothing? What can I say to you? Will I praise you? No, I don’t praise you in this!”  

What I hear is: Hey, you kids! I expect better behavior from you! This isn’t how I taught you to eat together! Where are your manners?? I expect sharing! I expect you to wait your turn!  

Often, at his best, when I like him the most, Paul is very pastoral and affirming and loving. But this is the other Paul mode that I love. This is parental Paul. He may not have had his own children, but he is bringing some serious dad vibes to this party. 

When I think of the shared meal of the Corinthian church I remember not just the potlucks of my childhood but the many other shared meals I have eaten in basements and parks and homes with church members.  In this very room, even. In Corinth they ate together every time they gathered.  We hear in Acts that it was practice of the early church frequently to fellowship, pray together and to break bread, remembering the apostles' teachings.  

The Corinthian Church had a kind of potluck meal too.  It was certainly a case of everyone who could bring something would. But like the city of Corinth itself, in the church the wealthy were very wealthy and had many resources and could bring a lot to the table and those with little could perhaps bring nothing.  

The wealthy also often were hosts to church gatherings because they had the space. And they had leisure and fewer demands on their time, so the elites would often gather well before the whole group could meet and get the party started - eating the best of the food and the wine, even becoming drunk, so that when the poor arrived - of whom there were more but who had much less to share - there was little left.  These were perhaps slaves, or laborers with obligations, certainly with less flexibility. 

So you can see how this might have been distressing and the cause of some conflict.  Paul’s position is firmly and absolutely on the side of the poor of this congregation.  His parental tone is specifically directed at the privileged few in Corinth.  And I can imagine it must not have been a tone they heard directed at them very often: Should I commend you? I do not!! 😬

Paul goes on to remind them: For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you - and he relates to them - reminds them of - the words of Jesus and his instructions: this bread is my body.  This cup is a new covenant in my blood.  Remember me whenever you eat and drink them. So, my wealthy Corinthian friends, chew on this: Whenever you gather with your cronies, gorging on rich food and getting drunk, how is that remembering Jesus? 

There are lots of ways of interpreting communion. Interpreting it as narrative recalling the traditions of feeding and stories of shared food and provision throughout scripture; a symbolic understanding of the meal giving new life; a interpretation communion is a foretaste of God’s abundant feast in the coming Reign of Christ.  But at a very basic level, the communion meal is food - real food meeting the need of real hunger and some of the Corinthian church members are excluding other members from basic provision. The divide between people is becoming even greater.

There are consequences to communion.  Economic consequences and community consequences. Communion as it’s intended to be practiced - every time you eat and drink together - is not a community or economic structure that anyone in Corinth is used to.  Corinth is an economy where people literally own other people.  An economy where money buys status, where wealth and hierarchy are intertwined, where you spend yourself into debt to buy position.  

Juneteenth may have done away with slavery, but 150 years later, we are still feeling the consequences of enslavement and the divisions of race and class. And 2000 since the church at Corinth gathered for its church potlucks, we are still feeling the rift of between the wealthy and the poor. Maybe now more than ever.

The clergy group that I’m a part of here in Kirkland, the same one that is bringing our churches together to walk in the Kirkland parade as a witness for community and interdependence and non-violence, is also going to be hosting a potluck. An organization called Paths to Understanding that is rooted in the Lutheran church is promoting the idea of getting community members together so that we can be less isolated and learn more about each other across cultural, political and religious lines. 

The project is called “Potlucks for Democracy” and the Kirkland clergy will be hosting one in September along with the re-scheduled viewing of the documentary “God and Country.” 

Now listen, I do not actually think that democracy in and of itself is a theological good, nor do I think it is necessarily in and of itself a moral good. But I am behind potlucks. Because the consequences of communion are that ever time I eat and drink I will remember Jesus and my calling as his disciple: to build community and connection and human relationship

In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul is reminding the church that when they eat together they remember that their meal - and their entire life together  - should reflect God’s Reign (not a democracy btw). In spite of ethnic differences, religious origins, gender differences, age and status differences, they should eat together as one family.  

So when it comes to sharing food - and sharing life - how do we take what Jesus has handed to Paul and live it? When we have a potluck, we have no problem letting the kids go first - although I would monitor how many brownies are being consumed vs. vegetables. And we make sure that people who haven’t brought something have enough. And we offer a delicious almond desert for the gluten-intolerant among us (as a very recent example). That’s the easy stuff.

Our challenge these days is to reach beyond ourselves, sharing our tables and our resources with those unlike ourselves. With those whose place on the political or social spectrum is different from our own. Who share different religious views or different places on the economic ladder.

It’s possible that the only people who will show up at the Potluck for Democracy are other white progressive middle class Christians. After all, it’s hosted by churches in which that is mostly the demographic. But I hope personally to continue to seek opportunities in my communities to sit at tables with people and by doing so to inhabit the Reign of God together. May it be so.


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