Communion – 10.03.2021
[1 Corinthians 11:17-34]
Today I want to start with a very strange story, but the longer I talk the more it will start to make sense. What I want to show you is that Jesus wants to marry you…okay, not really, it’s even weirder than that. What I want to show you is that at the Passover meal – when Jesus offers the disciples the bread and the wine, the way he offered it to them, in their cultural setting what they heard was, “will you marry me?” Okay, I know – it’s weird, just stick with me on this. Let me show you the proposal ritual in the Jewish culture back in Jesus’ day. And I should mention, I just learned this a couple years ago, it comes from a cultural study done by Ray Vanderlaan, popularized by Mike Donahee, the lead singer to the band Tenth Avenue North.
Anyways, we start out like every great romance story – boy meets girl. And in Jesus’ day, when a man wanted to marry a woman, he would go home and talk to his dad. Dad, I want to marry that girl. She’s really awesome, can I please marry her. So his dad would go to her dad and they would agree on a bride’s price. Now there’s a popular misunderstand here. The bride’s price was NOT purchasing the woman. The bride’s price was payment for the opportunity to ask. So the two dads agree on a price. You give me, 20 camels, a donkey and a new xbox and your son can ask my daughter for her hand. IF the dad’s agree on a bride’s price, then the groom was allowed to go and propose. She could still say no, the price was to offer the question. And they would all sit down with friends and family watching and he would ask her to marry him. Now, in that situation it’s unlikely she will say no – but it’s always possible. And at the meal, traditionally, what the groom does is takes a cup of wine, and he slides it across the table and says, “this is my covenant with you.” And at that moment, the bride has a choice. She can slide the cup back and say, “no you smell funny, I don’t want to marry you” OR she can drink from the wine. Now IF she drank from the covenantal wine, at that moment her name would change. She would go home to her dad’s house, and she be referred to as “one who was bought with a price.”
Now after the engagement, the groom and bride would go back to their parents house. It was not tradition for them to hangout during the engagement. And so during the engagement, the groom would designate a friend, a best man, who would serve as a messenger to the bride. If he ever wanted to say anything to her, this was a little bit before text messaging was invented, and so if he had a message for her he would send the best man to give it to her. They would not see each other’s faces until the wedding day, AND they didn’t know when the wedding would be. You see, they would go back to their homes and the groom would immediately get to work. His job was to build the house for he and his bride. Back in the day, these Jewish families lived in something called an “Insula” which was the family home, and they added on to it, one family at a time. The groom’s job is to go home and start building his mansion. Actually, in Aramaic the word for “mansion” was more like “apartment” and what it meant was the new addition added on to the family insula. And he would work on it all day, for weeks until it was done. The groom would leave the bride to build them a home in his Father’s house, and here’s the thing. In this culture, the groom’s father was the one who had the privilege of deciding when the insula was done. The Father was the inspector, quality control. I figure the groom probably wants to throw up four walls and stick roof and then rush back to go get his bride. But the Father had to approve. Make the living room bigger, where you going to put the grill for fourth of July, you call that a fireplace? Build it better (they probably didn’t celebrate the fourth of July). So the son would build the mansion and then try to get dad’s approval, is it ready for the bride?
Meanwhile, the bride is at the family home. She is waiting for the groom to show up and bring her to her new life. She doesn’t know the day or the hour when the groom will arrive. Can you imagine trying to do wedding planning without knowing the day it’s suppose to happen? Then, finally the wedding day arrives, and the son rallies up his groomsmen, and they are pumped. They would blow these huge horns called “shofars,” and the party begins and the bride and the groom reunite, they run down the aisle and begin their life together.
Now, let’s rewind back to Jesus. Passover night, Jesus and his disciples are celebrating and remembering Israel’s freedom from slavery in Egypt. Now, traditionally there are four cups of wine that get drunk during the Passover meal. Each cup represents part of the story. The third cup is called the cup of salvation. It’s the cup that represents the blood of the lamb that was smeared over the doors of the Israelites on the night of the tenth plague. If you don’t remember, the blood of the lamb protected the people of Israel from death. The third cup – the cup of salvation, the cup of the lamb, that’s the one Jesus takes, and slides across the table and says “this is my covenant with you.” And what the disciples would have seen or heard there is, “will you marry me?” The poor guys are probably sitting there going, “heh?” Jesus, we love you – but we don’t like love you, love you. But they drink from the cup, figured they followed him through enough weirdness already – might as well see this through to the end.
But the story is not over. Jesus tells the disciples, “I’m leaving. You won’t get to see me during this engagement. I’m going home to my Father’s house, because in my Father’s house there are many mansions. And I need to prepare a place for you.” But while you are waiting, I’m going to send you my best man – the Holy Spirit will communicate messages between you and me. And while you are waiting for the wedding day, you will be called the “one who is bought with a price” and even I don’t know the day or the hour – only my Father knows when I can come and get you. And when God says the house is finished, I’m coming with my angels and they’re going to blow their shofars and we’ll have the marriage supper of the lamb.
Isn’t that kind of awesome? It’s an analogy, obviously – all the dudes in here can calm down. Jesus doesn’t want to marry you. But without the history, most of us completely miss the fact that when Jesus gave us the tradition of communion, he uses the most intimate relationship to describe our connection. It’s all over the bible, the church is the bride of Christ. Jesus loves each of us so much, like a groom loves his bride. Today is the finale in our series called we are the church, and we’re going to take a quick look at what the bible teaches us about communion.
[read v.17-18]. In the following instructions I do not commend you. Basically what Paul is saying here, in the first half of the chapter he said, “good job on this stuff” and now he is saying, “on communion, not a good job – I do not commend you.” And the reason I do not commend you, is because you are celebrating communion, but there are divisions among you. Now in the modern church, we look around and think, “What else is new? Divisions in the church? That’s like saying there’s air in my lungs or electricity in the wall socket. This is not news, every church has divisions.” But that’s exactly the point Paul is trying to make. It shouldn’t be that way in the church. We can disagree on stuff, for sure, but we must always be united as people who follow Jesus. You see, apparently in this church there was a bit of a problem with the communion protocol. They would gather to celebrate communion in someone’s home, and some people would be late. And instead of waiting they would just start and when the others finally arrived, there was nothing left for them. I mean, can you imagine this? You show up for worship, kids were going crazy or you were feeling a little sore this morning so you’re moving slower than normal – and so you arrive a couple minutes late for worship and we all just sort of turn to you and say, “oh, we ate it all without you.” But that’s what we see, [read v.20-22a] I love that, “what!” [read v.22b] So the first thing we see in the text is a call for unity in the church, we may disagree – but we are a people who are united in the fact that we all want to follow Jesus. There’s an emphasis on community, and emphasis on being present with one another, this thing we do is NOT just between you and God but to do it right it involves all of us caring about each other. Down in verse 33 he sort of lays it out [read v.33-34a]. Communion is something that unites the church.
It keeps going, [read v.23b-26]. We started with community – wait for each other, take care of each other, communion is about presence, focused on sort of a horizontal level that brings us together. But then Paul says, we gotta remember that this whole thing comes from Jesus. He gave it to his disciples, and we keep that tradition going to remember what he did for us. To remember how much Jesus loves us. Communion is about presence, but it’s also about remembrance. Paul says, every time you do communion, every time you eat the bread and drink the cup you are proclaiming Jesus’ death, the body was broken, the blood was poured out so that you could be free from sin. Communion is all about presence, and it’s all about remembrance.
Now there is one more thing in the text I want to show you before we move on. You ever go to a Catholic church and usually somebody’ll warn you ahead of time – oh, you can’t take communion here. Right, if you’re not a member – you can’t take their communion. It’s not just catholics, there’s actually three or four traditions that don’t allow communion for outsiders. Now, as I said earlier, in our tradition we have the open table. Which I think is wonderful, but a lot of times when people like us – Methodists – when we look at the Catholic policies it just seems so mean. Why are they being so mean about communion? What do you mean children can’t have it? What do you mean I have to be catholic? That seems mean. Well the truth is they are not bring mean. The Catholic teaching is actually very compassionate, it’s a wonderful teaching, and it all comes from this last section. [read v.27-29]. Paul warns the church and says, if you’re taking communion in an unworthy manner, then you’re drinking judgment on yourself. The Catholic teaching is there because they want to make sure that people are taking communion in a worthy way. They say, “we know that our membership have examined themselves, because they took our class or whatever.” Now in our tradition we have the same thing, but it comes in what I say before communion. You might notice, I say the same thing every time. “If you believe in Jesus you are welcome to come and partake. If you believe that Jesus is the son of God, savior of the world, communion is for you.” It’s the same teaching, just played out differently. That’s why some Catholic priests, if you know them well – they may fudge the rules, because they know you’re a Christian, they know you’ve examined yourself, so they may actually serve you communion. We just want people to examine themselves to make sure we take communion the right way in our heart – united together as people without division who follow Jesus.
Here’s my point with all of this. What I want you to see, walking out of here today, is that every single piece of this ritual was carefully orchestrated so that you would understand how much God wants to save you. God loves you, and I know I say that all the time – but this is not like the way I love nachos, or the way I love coffee. God loves you more than I love coffee, and I reaaaally love coffee. What’s going on here – with Jesus sliding that cup across the table and saying, “this is my covenant” – this is not “hey, I want you to try and be a good person and maybe come to church every now and then” This is Jesus saying, “hey, I want to be the love of your life.” Jesus didn’t come for us to build a big church. Jesus didn’t come for us to gather once a week for an hour and listen to some preacher. Jesus came to SAVE us. This is a key difference. Jesus didn’t come to teach you how to be a good person. Jesus didn’t come to help you live your best life. Jesus came to purchase you with his blood. To change your identity to “one who is bought with a price” – so that we will live our entire life following him. To offer you a new life and a home in his Father’s house. Communion, when you really understand it – is so much weirder than I thought it was, but it is also so much better.
Here’s why it matters. A long time ago church’s created this pipeline. By the way this idea comes from a guy named Phil Vischer. Church’s created this pipeline, this process of people growing up in the church. You put your kids in the nursery, and then when they age out of that they have Sunday school, and then when they age out of that we hand them off to Youth Group and then maybe to college ministry and then hopefully into a marriage where they make more babies and put them back into the nursery. And so we had this sort of circular pipeline for raising Christians, and parents didn’t have to do any of it. Think of it like a fire brigade. You know, where you pass buckets of water down a chain of people and then pour the water on the fire. This is what we did with children – we just passed them from program to program so their feet never had to touch the ground. They never had to deal with the real world, or have their beliefs challenged until they got to college. And parents could take all the work of discipling children and put it on a couple church staff and some volunteers. You teach my kid about God.
But happened? The pipeline broke down! In the last few decades we have witnessed the collapse of the pipeline, and now all the little fishies are floating out into the open sea without any of the skills they need to be a Christian in the world. Even the best churches, even the biggest ones with the most successful ministries, they get these kids up to college or whatever – and the real world crushes them. They’ve been carried along from program to program without any of the skills needed to chase Jesus with all your heart. And the modern church has no idea how to handle it. There’s a lot of panicking – oh no, the pipeline broke down, we must rebuild the pipeline! But here’s the thing. I look at the story of communion, this tradition that Jesus gave to us – and I don’t see any of the stuff we are freaking out about in the church. Paul didn’t look at the church and say, “you gotta get the pipeline back up and running.” Paul said, “be present with one another, without division, and remember how much Jesus loves you, remember what he did.” Be present and remember.
And so that’s my challenge for all of you today. Model your faith. Show the people around you what it looks like to pursue Jesus with your entire life. It takes community and communion. Since I got here we have been hard at work rebuilding the pipeline. We’ve upgraded the nursery, we’ve got Sunday school up and running, we’ve been working hard to rebuild our Youth Ministry, we brought back Life Groups, the next step after that will be a college ministry. But I want to be very careful not to make the mistakes of 20 years ago. We can’t carry kids, passing them like buckets of water, passing them from program to program never letting their feet touch the ground. We have to put down the bucket. Hold the child’s hand and walk with them. We have to show people what it looks like to love and pursue Jesus with our entire life. To engage the unbelieving world as Christians, as Jesus Christ taught us to be. We must be present and remember what Jesus did. Remember how much Jesus loves you.
Maybe Jesus doesn’t want to marry you, but I hope you can see in the scriptures today that He loves the church like a groomsman loves his bride. And so I’ll leave you with this. May you be present for your brothers and sisters in the church. Wait for each other without division. May you look at communion and realize that God did all of this because he loves you more deeply than anything else in this world. And finally may you take this little ritual of communion and let it inspire you to live an authentic faith, to be present and remember Jesus. Amen.