We heard a message today on having a critical spirit. We also took communion. I’m the resident communion guy at the church so I’m always asked to say something as we get ready to receive. My pastor set the stage by noting how we’re to examine ourselves before partaking. I went a different direction by bringing attention to the sociological factors at play in Paul’s comments on the Lord’s Supper in his first letter to the Corinthians. In short, there were factions within the churches at Corinth, and it seems that one was composed of folk who saw themselves as having elite status (at the very least they were people of means). As such, when they gathered for table fellowship they excluded those who had less than them, hence Paul’s statement that “when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry…” and his biting question, “or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?”
Put another way, they were critical of their less fortunate brethren because they focused on their lack of means and status, and as such excluded them. Paul flips it though and tells them that they need to be critical of themselves lest they partake of the meal in an unworthy manner and become identified with those who crucified the Lord. This is, after all, the reason that there are many who are weak and sick among them. The manner in which they presently partake robs the sacred meal of its meaning, which Paul reminds them of when he rehearses Jesus’ words of institution from the Last Supper. The body was broken for us, the blood is the blood of the new covenant that we’ve all entered into, and as often as we eat and drink we’re to do it in remembrance of him, proclaiming his death until his return.
This reverse criticism that Paul commends here is twofold. First, properly discerning the body is a matter of recognizing what Christ did (he died, enacting a new covenant) and who he did it for (us). Proper discernment here yields an understanding of Christ’s sacrifice for all the saints, indiscriminately. He didn’t simply die for the haves while leaving the have-nots in the lurch. We unite around the Lord’s table because we have been united in his death. Earlier in the letter Paul says that cup and the bread are a participation in the blood and body of Christ. He says that we are one body because of the one bread, and that forms the second part of this reverse criticism.
The idea isn’t so much introspection (although introspection is part of it, hence Paul’s statements about not being judged if we judge ourselves) as it is the recognition of all the body’s members. We examine ourselves as members of the body; united to others under the headship of Christ. He goes on later in the letter to make much of the unity in diversity that is exhibited in the body. Some parts seem more important or glamorous than others but all are necessary. Who is anyone to exclude someone that Christ died for from the Lord’s table? From the very place in which they are intended to be one? So I’ve said all this to say that there is a time and a place to be critical, but such criticism should be the type that recognizes that Christ bears our faults, while we, as his body, bear his merits.
(Not quite as tight and focused as I intended it to be when I started writing but I had to get this out before I stopped thinking about it. Now go enjoy your football game, and when I say football, I don’t mean soccer).