Our passage this morning is 1 Corinthians 11:23-34. May you find your week peaceful and blessed!
My kids all went to summer camp this year at Camp Crestfield. This was their first year going and Levi was really nervous about it. They all had an excellent time, though and I strongly recommend everyone here to send their kids or grandkids there for a week or two next summer. It’s an amazing program. I even signed up to be a chaplain there for a week next summer while my kids are there. But when I say Levi was really nervous about it, I’m not exaggerating. He was so nervous about it that he kept trying to convince me to let him go later.
“OK, Mom. . . how about. . .if I have to go. . . you can take me on the last day so I don’t have to sleep there?” And when that didn’t work, “How about I go the second day. Instead of today. . . take me tomorrow.” After spending the whole morning listening to him trying to wiggle out of having to spend 4 days in a cabin with new friends – and his cousin; I wasn’t even sending him alone for the record – I finally got him to get in the car and go on time when he was expected.
There were a couple things I had to do to get him to go. The first thing was to remind him about 400 thousand times that his cousins and his aunt would all be there the whole time, so it wasn’t like we were shipping him off by himself. The other thing I had to do was print out pictures of everyone in the family, including the pets. You see, my sweet little guy was really afraid that he would forget what we all look like in the four days that he was away. And I had to take a picture of him and make it the wallpaper on my phone so that he knew I wouldn’t forget what he looks like.
When we look at the passage in Matthew that Paul refers to in 1 Corinthians 11, Jesus is, in a way, preparing the disciples for summer camp. People are forgetful. We know that about ourselves and we know that about the people around us. Now, of course Jesus was no more likely to forget his disciples than I was to forget what my son looks like, but the disciples were getting ready to strike out on their own and they needed some sort of reminder of Jesus in the time after he left. They needed a photo album of Jesus, so to speak.
Knowing that, Jesus leaves them with a meal. What a great way to remember someone! Just think about how often we sit around a table remembering good times we had with loved ones who are physically gone from our lives. Sitting around the table is conducive to remembering. We talk about the good old days and the wild people we’ve known and loved while we sit back and enjoy a meal together. We go out to dinner to celebrate birthdays. There’s just something about a table. So that’s what Jesus left for the disciples to remember him by. He left them a sacred table around which they could gather and say, we do this because of Jesus. We do this because he touched our lives in a way that changed us forever. We do this to remember not only for our own sakes, but for the sake of others too. Paul says, what I have been shown by God, I’m passing on to you. This is how Jesus changed me.
Three key things that happen in this first worship service that we’re supposed to model ours after: thanksgiving, sacrament, and praise. Paul adds to it confession. Jesus thanks God for what has been given to them. He then blesses the bread and the cup. Then the disciples end by singing together. It could be argued that this was the first Christian worship service. One of books I regularly use for worship planning says this about Communion, “The Lord’s Supper is a physical, ritual action, mandated by Jesus, through which God acts to nourish, sustain, comfort, challenge, teach, and assure us.”
Paul says that when Christians come together in worship - he’s specifically talking about communion, but it’s believed that back then the church celebrated communion every time they gathered – he says that when we come together, we should do so only after “examining” ourselves. He does mean confession of sin in general, there is one specific sin he’s really wound up about right here. People had been coming to the table who had more to provide than others and those who had less to offer were being put off or even not served at all. Their worship and participation were seen by some others as being less valuable and they got pushed to the sides.
That happens all the time in the world around us. I used to work in a nursing home and it was terribly sad how many residents there were there who never ever had visitors. They were just kind of left there and ignored because there wasn’t anyone left in their circle who saw them as having anything to contribute. I knew some of those residents pretty well and they were incredible, wise, interesting people.
I’ve been in churches where children are discouraged. It’s not that people didn’t want children there, but they wanted them to be tiny, quiet adults while they were there. Every church will tell you that they want children, but many will tell you that they want the “seen and not heard” or even the “neither seen nor heard” variety. They are squirreled away in cry rooms or nurseries, often shoving their parents into the margins of worship with them.
We have so many people on the margins of our society that are essentially ignored or locked away: the very old, the very young. Those with mental or emotional illness, those with physical ailment or disability. Orphans and foster children, the homeless, those in prison, the formerly incarcerated, refugees, those trapped in the terrible cycle of poverty.
Oh, my dear brothers and sisters. . . if there is only one place in the world where they are welcomed, where they are sure to receive grace and love and acceptance regardless of how much society thinks they can or can’t contribute. . . let it be here.
Jesus left us the sacrament of communion as a reminder of his presence. But it’s more than just a time of remembering. It’s a time full of the Grace of Jesus. God is in this celebration in a way that we can’t experience any other time but in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. This is a time where all are invited to the table on equal ground. They are invited literally as in. . . I’m right now saying that you all are welcome to partake in Communion this morning regardless of church membership, your place in society, how much you plan on putting in the offering plate. . . all are welcome. This is also a time where we invite everyone together figuratively too. Next week we’ll talk about spiritual gifts – the stuff God makes us good at – and we’ll see how important it is for each person to give all they are able in every way. But we’ll also see that everyone is called to give different gifts. Everyone has something to offer whether we see it immediately or not. So as we join together this morning to celebrate Communion, we do so as equals. We do so as true brothers and sisters to one another, remembering that we are called to love one another as God first loved us. And what could we possibly have to offer God? And yet God loves us deeply and unconditionally. That is what we participate in today at the table.