Like many, I love Garrison Keeler and Prairie Home Companion. Last month they had a piece on their program which discussed the February discovery of gravitational waves in space and how they prove Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.
How scientists can now hear the sound of gravitational waves colliding from two black holes and merging into each other.
Keeler went through all the science about black holes and ripples and physics around the discovery proving Einstein’s theory. And then on the program someone asked Keeler, “How does the theory of relativity apply to my life? What does it mean?” Keller responded, “Well, the theory of relativity says that in any situation, what you think happened is not what another person thinks happened if you are related to each other.”
We have been studying the Apostle Paul for several weeks now and the question is appropriate, how does he relate to our lives? How does his story relate to ours? Paul is important because he is perhaps the key individual whom God used to spread the Gospel throughout the world. Paul started through Asia Minor and headed over to Europe founding churches and baptizing disciples eventually leading to the church in America.
Secondly, Paul helped broaden the church’s impact by including gentiles in the faith. The great debate at the Jerusalem Council in the early church was, did one have to be Jewish to be part of Christ’s movement. Paul successfully broadened it and gentiles were included. Third, while Paul often is criticized for being exclusive, as is often cited in debates around gender and sexual orientation, Paul was actually on the side of inclusion on the central issue of his day of race and ethnicity.
Finally, from Paul’s letters we learn about how the life of Jesus applies to the church. About how Christ’s actions in grace, words of love and modeling faith apply to our lives. And one example of this is this morning’s sacrament, communion. The words of institution of the Lords Supper and Christ’s ideas surrounding it, written down by Paul in his letter to the church at Corinth, help us understand the role of communion, as a way for all of us to grow closer to God. Let us pray. Loving God, may the music of your song, word and spirit, help us commune with you this day. Amen.
On his third journey, like his second, Paul headed up the coast from Jerusalem and Antioch over to modern day Turkey and Macedonia and he visited some of the churches he founded near Philippi and Thessalonica.
Then to Corinth and then to Ephesus. Where he stayed for 2 or 3 years.
From Ephesus he wrote letters to the church at Corinth on how to deal with issues in the church. The portion this morning deals with communion. Since this letter to the Corinthians was written earlier than the earliest Gospels, this may be the first recorded account we have of any words of Jesus.
The issue for Paul here was that the Corinthians were abusing their great feast.[i] The early church had developed a tradition of a main common meal. It was a kind of love feast. Building on the Lord’s Supper. It was called an agape feast. A kind of bring your own. People would bring their food and share it.
For people in the early church, the agape feast a key point of unity and inclusion.
It was especially important for poorer people who lacked food and depended on the sharing of others. For them this might be the only full meal they had each week.
Paul was concerned that Corinth was losing the art of sharing. The rich had stopped sharing food or eating with the poor or taking time or finding common connection or celebration. Their divinely inspired supper, meant to be a unifying event, was exacerbating differences.
Now there is a debate in Christendom today about what happens in the Lord’s Supper. What some in the family of faith think happens is not what other people in the family say happens during communion.
I have been in many services in other traditions where I am not allowed to partake because of a theological difference about what happens to the elements in this moment.
That is not Paul’s concern. For Paul, Church was to be the one place where barriers were down, it was kind of a new model, a new society for all to be together. That is what Paul wanted to communion to be.
Something special and spiritual occurs in communion. There is a transformation.
When Jesus said “This is my body.” He could not have meant the bread was literally his body because he was still in his body.[ii]
He did mean that the Lords Supper was a way into his presence.[iii]
For Paul communion was a reaffirmation of baptism and reminder of Christian identity. And indeed it is. Yet I think it can be more.
Paul and Jesus were more interested in what happens to the people than to the elements. And so are we. In fact, as inclusive as Paul was, I don’t think he goes far enough in considering what can happen to us during communion.
Anyone here in worship, wanting to take communion, are to me showing evidence that the Holy Spirit is stirring in their life, even if we haven’t settled all the questions in our minds.
If experiencing the Lord Supper can help someone struggling with doubt or someone grow in life or faith, that’s great.
If communion can help a child feel part of the tradition, please come.
If eating the bread can help anyone get to know God better through this sign of grace or feel they belong as part of the community, they are welcome.
If drinking the cup is what someone needs to feel a sign of God’s presence during a challenging time, they have a place here.
That is part of why I encourage us to say these are the gifts of God given for all.
Secondly, I believe Christ gives this sacrament of the Lords supper as a seal of God grace. God grace was given for all. Christ died a death sufficient for all. God’s grace is big enough for all. It is, however, up to each of us to receive it.
We don’t turn anyone away from church because Christ does not turn anyone away who would receive him. And Paul knew first hand because he was one who deserved to be turned out.
If we take our Lenten reflection seriously, we realize none of us are truly worthy of the table.
We welcome all because Christ welcomed all.
Jesus said, “This cup is the new covenant sealed in my blood.” That literally means the new covenant cost his blood.[iv]
The new covenant was not based on law, but on love. Grace offered to all. For all.
Matt Emerson writes in the Wall Street Journal this past Friday that the great work of many scientists this past century to detect the gravitational waves for Einstein’s theory, was a great act of faith as well as science. For they kept the faith over so many years in their belief they could find them, even when things looked bleak. For faith is “the conviction of things not seen.”
We cannot see Christ at the table. But we know he is here. We cannot see the spirit surrounding us. But we see its effects. We cannot see the connection, support and grace of the Lords Supper, but we know it’s real from its impact on people.
I love that we have a round table here. There is no head of the table other than Christ.
Paul wanted to build a Corinthian church where all were welcome and there were no divisions.
A place where they returned to the agape fest. A place of unconditional love. Love of God through Christ for all.
And like the beautiful music we hear and sing this morning, the experience of communion can make our hearts sing. As we now sing in our hymn, for we come as guests invited…by Christ here…to experience the pledge and seal of heaven…the love of Christ our Lord. May it be so. Amen.