Sermon 18 July 14 1 Cor 11:17-34 “Re-membering not dis-membering the body”
Discussion/Reflection: What word does Paul use to describe the problem with their Lord’s Supper or communion (common union) celebrations? (18). What is the evidence he gives? (21,22). What have you always understood verse 27 to be about? You need to know that a word in this verse was mistranslated in the King James Version of the bible, and that has created a whole culture. The KJV warned against participating “unworthily.” How is that different than the NIV, NRSV and ASV’s “in an unworthy manner?” How does Pauls solution, which starts in verse 27, resolve the evidence? In verse 29, what does the call to “recognize the body” mean to you? Is it the bread as symbol? or is it the body of Christ? (See 12:12ff)
Summary: Past mistaken translations of verse 27 created a theology of self-examination as to one’s individual worthiness to participate in communion, and associated with that, a deep insecurity and need to prove/test one’s awareness of their ‘unworthiness’ to partake. The soul wretching angst this created still lives on today. A better translation still looks at the individual and does not discourage healthy self reflection, but focuses on the manner or attitude of one’s participation, not the state of their awareness of being deeply sinful inside. The passage for today has an outline that makes clear what Paul is after. First, he names a Visible/Practical/Human relational problem (17-22) that exists in the congregation. The problem is that they are Dividing or dis-membering the body of Christ by not waiting for each other and not partaking in more equal proportions. Paul has absolutely no praise for them in this form of brokenness. He reminds them of the most basic teaching that Jesus himself gave at the first Last Supper. In repeating that, he is identifying the: Theological/Spiritual root of the Problem (23-27). They are Forgetting how Christ’s sacrifice made them one and the same even if of different genders and races and status. Paul then proposes a Theological/Spiritual solution (28-32) to the problem: They need to Recognize the unified body. They are to examine themselves in relation to the body.
“anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing – without being aware of — the body of the Lord living around them today eats and drinks judgment on themselves.” (v 29)
Instead of starting at split times, and some pigging out and others getting little or nothing:
- look around as you gather and see the body of Christ living in and through his church
- The next sections are about Spiritual Gifts and “One body many parts” that are what makes it work well. If the parts are separated, if there are divisions, can the body work well?
- No, the body gets weak and sick
Paul finishes with a Practical/Human relational solution (33 & 34) to the problem he showed in the beginning – the “dis-membering” of the body. Be unified in focusing on Christ and his body on-living in these different people who come together to “re-member” or bring back together the members of the body of Christ. Practically, he says, just wait for each other, and make sure everyone gets pretty much the same quantity and quality of food.
So this passage is not about individual deep soulsearching or having your theology of communion just right. It is about being very aware, as you come together to commune around the gift Christ gave us, that all together you ARE the body of Christ. Given that understanding I think it is no coindicence that Paul next writes about how that Body works.
Note: if you want to study this more, I wrote an explanation in the past for other CRC congregations that might interest you. Heres’ a link.