A Word Problem
A Word Problem
The Corinthians had a math problem, believe it or not. Well, it was a word problem - everyone’s favorite kind of math problem, I know. But it kinda boils down like this. They needed to figure out the most appropriate, the most faithful way to engage in celebrating Communion. And that kinda maps to a math problem that at one point you might have been familiar with, because this reads to me like a min/max problem. Now don’t start to panic on me, we’re not really going to do a math problem in the sermon (at least not today). I just want you to look at this graph on the screens.
Now on one hand, the Corinthians understand that they shouldn’t have people who worship idols communing. It follows similar logic to the reading the week before last, at very least it is a stumbling block for those who are weak in faith. There’s also the reality that it is disrespectful to the body and blood of Christ. So that’s this one end and I don’t think we need convincing that it’s inappropriate to have people who don’t believe in God at all to join in the Lord’s Supper.
Now on the other end, you can take it to the extreme that you have to be 100% pure on doctrine and on the same page with every single thing you believe. But if that were how they decide to practice, they’d have like one person communing because people don’t always understand all the same things or they differ on their practice. And Communion is an incredible gift from God, so it wouldn’t be appropriate or faithful to limit it to just one or two people.
So the trouble the Corinthians are having here is this point here, at the top of the parabola. They are looking for the right balance point, the amount of agreement about God and faith that should be there for people to come to the table and celebrate the Lord’s Supper together. And if I were a math teacher, we’d throw some numbers in there and I’d ask you to calculate the maximum for this graph. But I’m not a math teacher, I’m a pastor, and this has a point.
Because this issue of who it appropriately invited to the table is still something we have to deal with today. In fact, we even have theological language dedicated to this conversation. We that point at the top ‘confessional agreement.’ Now I want to use this phrase but I want to make sure we all know what I mean. Confessional in this sense doesn’t mean the same thing as confessing your sins, confessional agreement is talking about the confession of faith that you have. So for us at Edgewater the confession we hold to is the teachings of the Evangelical Lutheran Church as described in the Book of Concord. Confessional agreement is holding the same core faith together. And that’s what we have decided that peak is, this standard of confessional agreement. To join with us at the Lord’s Supper, you need to believe the teachings of the Lutheran Church.
And that might come across as exclusive or unfair or unloving to people who may want to come to the table who aren’t there. So let’s look at this in a bit of a different way. Imagine you’re out to dinner with your wife or your husband or your significant other. It’s a nice, fancy dinner at your favorite restaurant. You’re both dressed nicely and looking forward to date night. It’s not just any date night either, it’s something special like your anniversary or something. So you’re both sitting there, enjoying each other’s company; having meaningful, intimate conversation; and your good buddy Billy rolls into the restaurant in his ratty gym clothes. Billy sees you two and pulls up a chair, starts snacking on your bread sticks and talking about your fantasy football league.
There is something wrong with this picture. Billy does not belong there. You love Billy, you don’t want to withhold a nice meal from Billy, in other circumstances you would love to spend the night hanging out. But there’s something special about this meal, a special relationship between you and the person you were eating with, and while you love Billy - this isn’t the time and place to share everything with him.
And that’s what we’re saying when we say we invite those who are in confessional agreement to join us for Holy Communion. We love Christians and others who aren’t in agreement with us, we don’t necessarily want to exclude them from the sacrament, and in other circumstances we would love to join together. But there’s something special about this meal, a special relationship between all of us, and while we love those outside of our church body as well - this isn’t the time and place to share everything with them.
κοινωνία with Christ
κοινωνία with Christ
Because this meal is something special, this celebration does mean something incredible. Paul reminds the Corinthians that
1 Corinthians 10:16 (ESV)
The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?
Now, I’m going to do something I don’t know that I’ve done yet, I want us to take a second and look at the Greek word that Paul is using here when he says “participation.” That’s not a bad translation, but the word that he uses is κοινωνία and that would’ve meant even more than ‘participation’ to the Corinthians. You see, κοινωνία more fully defined is a close association involving mutual interests and sharing, it describes an attitude of good will manifesting in a close relationship, it’s a sign of fellowship and proof of brotherly unity. So when they hear that Communion is κοινωνία with the body and blood of Christ, that’s incredible news!
That means that they are being invited into a close relationship with each other and with Christ where they are loved and cared for. That means that Christ is treating them with love and good will that draws them into a close relationship with Him. That means that they are being given a sign of fellowship and proof of brotherly unity with the Son of God. And, as Paul said to the Romans,
Romans 6:5–8 (ESV)
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.
For one who has died has been set free from sin.
Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.
Paul is reminding them that Communion unites them to Jesus, who suffered and died for them, who took the punishment for their sins. And that they are united to His resurrection and to His victory over sin, death, and the devil.
The Uniform of Righteousness
The Uniform of Righteousness
And when we approach the Lord’s Supper together, we are invited into that same participation. We are united with Christ, we are clothed with Christ. His righteousness is ours. It’s like wearing a red shirt at Target, you are identified with Target, marked as an employee - you have the uniform on. In the same way, when we share this meal together, we put on the righteousness of Christ, we are marked as His own - we have the uniform on. We take this gift seriously because we know that it unites us to our God - to His life, death, and resurrection in an incredible, inexplicable way. And every time we celebrate this meal, we are reassured that we are His and that we are saved. Amen.