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A Reflection from the Daily Office

 

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you.”

1 Corinthians 11:23

We come to the heart of Paul’s revelation, and to the heart of the Christian life. We come to the apostle’s sacramental understanding of life within the New Age. It seems foolish to attempt to explicate that theology within a short reflection, but I found myself drawn to do that this morning.
Note, where he begins our text (he began this train of thought in Chapter 10, but we pick up the argument in the middle of chapter 11):
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you.”
Paul claims that he received the instructions for the Lord’s Supper (11:20) directly from the Lord, and not (as he says in Galatians) from his fellow apostles. Think about that for a moment. It was vital to the Risen Lord not only to reveal the reality of his victory through death, but to connect this victory with the ceremonial rite he established himself.
As a Jew, Paul would already be prepared for such a connection through the God-given, God-directed nature of the Passover meal.  He emphasizes this in the previous chapter where he argues that to ‘eat’ and ‘drink’ this meal is to ‘participate in the altar’. But that is not the focus of this present paragraph. Here the objective nature of the sacrament takes primary place:
For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”
THIS meal is the means for the Church to PUBLICLY PROCLAIM ‘the Lord’s death’ to the world!
To publicly proclaim that in and through THIS death, Jesus has become the Lord of lords and King of kings. That in his person, the Creator of all has judged and broken the power of evil AND given birth to his new creation, his new world. And we are to go on making such a proclamation (through the participation in this meal) ‘until he comes.’ The apostle is fully aware that, though the ‘New Age’ has been given birth through this ‘death’, the ‘Old Age’ remains, and will remain until the Lord returns.  The Church (and the world) now lives in this ‘between-time’, with all the complications that reality brings.
But while the objective reality of the sacrament is at the forefront of his thought, our subjective experience of that reality is not far behind.  We ‘proclaim’ that ‘death’ as the transformative moment within the cosmos every time we gather to eat this meal; BUT, whether we ourselves ‘benefit’ from it is another question.
The apostle speaks with horror of ‘eating and drinking’ in an ‘unworthy manner’.  Those who do so ‘will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord’ AND will find themselves actually ‘eat(ing) and drink(ing) judgement on (themselves).”  He goes on to comment that THIS is the reason why ‘many of (the Corinthians were) sick and ill, and some (had) died!’  He says this matter-of-factly, but not without hope! Even this act of ‘judgement’ –illness and death—is but part of the gracious ‘discipline’ of the Lord, a discipline for our good ‘so that we may not be condemned along with the world.’
So, what is his admonition to the Corinthians who find themselves ‘profaning the body and blood of the Lord’, and thus, being so disciplined?
They are to ‘judge themselves’ (11.31) before they come to eat, and do so in light of ‘discerning the body’ (11:29).
What might ‘discerning the body’ mean in this statement?
Three things come to mind:
First, we discern the ‘historical body’ of Jesus, the Christ, and confess that in and through his life, death, and resurrection, the Creator of all has acted decisively in history in order to fulfill his purposes for his creation. This is to take the PROCLAMATION emphasis of the meal seriously.
Second, we discern ‘the body and the blood’ of our Lord in and through the ‘bread and the wine’ of the eucharistic elements. We need to receive these things from his hands in order to ‘participate’ in his victory and reality. This is to take the PARTICIPATION emphasis of chapter 10 with utmost seriousness.
And Third, we need to discern ‘the Church’ –our brothers and sisters in Christ—as the present day ‘body of Christ’ in the ‘between time’.  THIS is the primary concern of the apostle in this section of his letter. THIS lack of discernment of the ‘Body of Christ’ is what led to the ‘sickness and death’ within the Corinthian community. THIS forms the emphasis of his teaching for the rest of the epistle (chapters 12-15).  His concern is for the CHURCH –real-live-groups-of-not-yet-perfect-human-beings—to BECOME and BE the CHURCH!
This, it seems to me, is the flow of Paul’s argument. What might that say to us today?
Are we as a community of faith, by the way we are living our lives, PROCLAIMING, PARTICIPATING in, and BEING that BODY in and for the world during this ‘in-between-time’?