Come To The Table (Part 1)
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
When I was in High School we used to play this game called tapper. It had a very basic premise, one person would tap out the rhythm of a song, or tap out the words or the syllables of a song without singing or humming the tune. The other person would try to guess the song. So it would be played like this. (clap out Mary Had A Little Lamb)
Anyone know what song I was tapping?
While it sounds like an easy game, it’s actually a psychological test that teaches us something about the human condition. Usually when you are tapping out a song, you can hear that song in your head. It’s seems so obvious to you what you are tapping. You are hearing the song, the words, the melody in your head. When you are tapping it is impossible not to hear the music.
Meanwhile, the listeners can’t hear that tune, the music, or the words. All they can hear is a bunch of disconnected taps, like some kind of bizarre Morse Code. While the song is clear to you, the other person is having difficulty trying to pick it out. The listener becomes frustrated because you are forcing them to predict what is going on in your mind. When you tap out Mary Had A Little Lamb, you hear it. But when then they guess This Old Man you wonder how they could be so clueless.
The problem that a tapper faces is that we have this knowledge, the song, that makes it impossible for us to imagine what it’s like to not possess that knowledge. When we are tapping, it’s hard for us to understand what it’s like for the listeners to hear isolated taps rather than the song. Psychologists call this the curse of knowledge. Once we know something, we find it hard to imagine what it was like not to know it. Our knowledge has cursed us. And it becomes more difficult for when we think we can hear the song, but we are wrong. They are tapping out Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and all we can hear is the Alphabet song.
Every Sunday in churches around the world, play the tapper game. There are things that we do every Sunday when we gather together that we know, we have knowledge of, we can hear the music in our heads. But there are others who cannot hear the song, they don’t share our knowledge. So they have two options; they will leave or they will just go through the motions. I want you to remember that point, because the sermon is about to take a hard left turn, but we are going to come back to this point. So I need you to remember, people who cannot hear the song have two options: they either leave or they just pretend and go through the motions.
One of the defining traits of the Churches of Christ is that we take time every Sunday to participate in communion or the Lord’s Supper. Someone will come up front and usually they will read a passage from Mathew, Mark, Luke, or 1 Corinthians. Sometimes we might turn to the book of Acts so we can read 1 of the 2 examples of the early church taking time to participate in the communion service. We can look in the Bible and find an example and a command, so it has become a part of who we are. Every Sunday we stop for a few moments and take a little bit of bread and a little bit of juice as a way to remember.
This morning Scott read for us that passage from Paul’s letter to the Christians in Corinth. Paul needed to help them refocus on the importance and purpose of what happens when we gather at the table. But I would like for you to look with me at a part of the text that we almost never read on Sundays before communion. Let’s go back and read 1 Corinthians 11:17 Paul writes, Now, on this next matter, I wish I could commend you, but I cannot, because when you meet together as a church family it is doing more harm than good!
If you were a member of the Corinthian church this part of the letter probably came as a shock. Paul had lived in the city for about a year and he had taught and modeled what it looked like to live a life that was pleasing to God. Paul had taken communion with that church, led them in the practice, and emphasized the importance of communion with one another and with God. I would imagine that the Christians in Corinth thought that their communion service was one area where they were really in tune with God. Yet, two years later Paul is having to write this letter and he says that their worship is doing more harm than it is good.
Paul explains what he means: I’ve been told many times that when you meet as a congregation, divisions and cliques emerge—and to some extent, this doesn’t surprise me. Differences of opinion are unavoidable, yet they will reveal which ones among you truly have God’s approval. When all of your house churches gather as one church family, you are not really properly celebrating the Lord’s Supper. For when it comes time to eat, some gobble down their food before anything is given to others—one is left hungry while others become drunk! Don’t you all have homes where you can eat and drink? Don’t you realize that you’re showing a superior attitude by humiliating those who have nothing? Are you trying to show contempt for God’s beloved church? How should I address this appropriately? If you’re looking for my approval, you won’t find it! (1 Corinthians 11:18-22)
The first Christians would have what we call love feasts (Jude 12). This is a practice that Barton W. Stone, Racoon John Smith, Alexander Campbell and others believed were the cornerstone of a faithful Church Family. As a matter of fact, some of you might remember from our Church History Class a few Summers ago, our movement started because we wanted to give Baptism and Communion back to the people. The early restoration christians would have communion services or love feast that would last for weeks.
To the early Jewish believers, the Passover meal was more than a memorial feast, it was a meal that carried deep significance. Jesus was sharing the Passover meal when He established the Lord's Supper. Matthew and Mark both write as they were eating Christ took bread and wine as symbols of His sacrifice. (Matthew 26:26; Mark 14:22)
Then 50 days later in Acts 2 we see the early Christians gathering every day to share a meal and to take communion together. The love feast was vital to the early Christians as a way to draw them together, to provide a place for them to share their successes and failures, their blessing and struggles. Then they would take Communion as a way to turn their focus to Christ, who is the reason they could gather together.
In our text this morning Paul is addressing the church eating the Lords Supper in connection with a love feast. He says, when it’s time to eat, some folks just jump right in, some have more than others. Some are hungry, and some have even gotten drunk. The Love Feast, was the time that the church was supposed to spend together sharing life and drawing closer. But the way they were acting they were not getting closer together, they were being isolated, or worse becoming more splintered.
That’s why Paul says in verse 33, when you come together to eat, wait for each other. And if you are that hungry eat something before you come to the assembly. In Acts 2 we see the church growing and thriving because they shared everything, but here in Corinth the church is in trouble because they are allowing food to come between them. And Paul says that they were despising the Church and shaming their poorer brothers and sisters.
What should have happened was, the brothers and sisters would come together in fellowship, sharing in the process of the food brought by those who could afford to bring it. And having had all things common and having eaten their food with gladness, they would then extend that fellowship further as they in unison ate of the one loaf and drank of the wine declaring their allegiance to the risen and coming Lord.
Christians are supposed to gather together so that we can be encouraged and made better. But here in Corinth, the Lord’s Supper couldn’t draw them together or strengthen their bond because they were a divided assembly. They were divided over preachers, dragging one another into court, and in this text divided into the haves and the have nots. The selfish refused to share what they had and the bitter and the betrayed refused to fellowship. They were at the place, they had the emblems but they didn’t have the heart. They weren't eating the Lord's Supper; all they were doing was eating a little bit of stale cracker and taking a sip of wine.
Paul doesn’t want these Christians to just go through the motions. In the text that Scott read for us this morning Paul reminds them, and us, of the Love Feast. Paul says I taught you what I learned, that on the night of His betrayal, Jesus took bread as a symbol that He was willing to give His body as a sacrifice for those who are dying in their sins. Jesus knew that the passover table was surrounded by men who were needy, despised, arrogant, confused, and even one who didn’t believe and would soon betray Him. They might not have understood what they were eating, yet Jesus knowing who was at the table with Him, still offered Himself!
And then, under the symbol of wine, our Savior offers the blood of the new covenant. Jesus urged them, when you drink it, drink it in remembrance of me. Drink the cup to remember how deeply you are loved by your Creator, your Sustainer. Jesus knew how desperately those men needed His blood to cover their sins and selfishness.
Now 20 years or so later, there is a different group of men and women gathered at a table. Men and women who are needy, despised, arrogant, confused, and selfish. Men and women who are using this love feast as an opportunity to remain separate from one another. Men and women who refuse to share a common meal with hungry fellow disciples and in essence refuse to commune with Jesus. So Paul says if this is what you have turned communion into I wish that you would just stop taking communion. Either fix it, redeem the meal, or just stop. Because there are those among you who have become sick and weak; some have died. Every time you take communion you eat and drink a mouthful of judgment upon yourself.
Paul has been tapping out the beautiful song of redemption and they can’t hear it. Paul has been desperately trying to share the song of salvation with them. He wanted them to hear that every time they shared that love feast they were proclaiming Christ’s death for men and women who are needy, despised, arrogant, confused, and selfish. But they couldn’t hear the song because they had found comfort in their own custom, their own tradition. They had turned this love feast into something that was a hollow shell of the blessing God intended for His children to experience.
Paul wanted them to hear that it was important for them to share communion until Jesus returned. He wanted them to know they when they took that bread, took the cup that it was a proclamation that Jesus didn’t stay dead, He was alive and would come back to gather His Children. Paul continued to tap out the song of redemption, but the Christians in Corinth couldn’t hear it, so they did what we have done, they either left or they went through the motions.
I want to take a moment here to be extremely honest, and I will try to be as gentle as I can. The Churches of Christ have often prided themselves on the fact that we are Bible reading, Bible believing, and Bible practicing people. We have searched through the Scriptures and found 5 acts of worship; singing, praying, giving, preaching, and taking the Lord’s Supper. And every Sunday morning all around the world people gather in buildings, much like this one, and declare their righteousness based on their ability to do those 5 acts in a decent and orderly manner.
September 2 1982, my dad baptized me on a Thursday night in the baptistry of the DeGualle Drive Church of Christ; I was 9 years old. The following Sunday the preacher announced to the church that I had been baptized and he gave me a book, Introducing The Churches of Christ. I still have that little brown book in my office, and remember reading through those 52 chapters time and time again trying to make sure that I knew everything I had to know to be pleasing to God. I spent a lot of time in Chapters 11 and 12, to make sure that I knew how to take communion and how to pray. I devoured those 10 pages, because I wanted to make sure that I did everything right so that God would be happy with me. I knew that the bread had to be unleavened, and those matzo crackers found in the grocery store were fine. I knew that Jesus said He took the cup of wine, but what he really meant was unfermented grape juice, so we used Welches because we knew it was 100% red grape juice that could remind us of blood. And for the last 1,941 Sundays I have taken a small piece of cracker, and a small sip of grape juice, believing that I had done what was required to take communion and put a check beside that act of worship. But what I have actually done is just gone through the motions.
This morning Paul is tapping out the song of salvation. He is reminding us this love feast is supposed to build our faith as we declare that Jesus is alive and coming back. He is calling us back to the table so that we can build community with one another. Jesus offers us the gift of communion so that we will grow in our faith, grow in our sense of community, and our love for one another and for Him. But that’s not the song we hear, and that’s not the song we tap out for those who are coming behind us. We hear a song that says the way we take communion is fine, just check off the box and move on to the other acts of worship and get to the restaurant. This was good enough for my parents, my grandparents so let’s just do what we have always done. And instead of drawing closer to one another, instead of building up community and our faith, we just go through the motions.
Is that what happens when you take communion? As you sit in your pew, pass that tray to the right or the left, maybe bow your head to pray, or read a passage from Matthew or Luke’s gospel, have you grown closer to your brothers and sisters. Do you celebrate and declare that Jesus was alive and would soon return to make everything right in your life and the lives of the members of this church body who are struggling and facing difficulties in their lives. Or do you hear the tapping of Scripture and find yourself content to just put your own check mark by the column that says communion.
This morning I am afraid that if Paul were to join us for our love feast he would tell us the same thing he told the church in Corinth. If this is what you have turned communion into, maybe it would be better if you just stopped. I have mentioned several times over the past 6 months that we are going to make some changes in our worship practice. And we are starting with how we participate in the love feast of communion. You have noticed that there have been some changes made in the auditorium. We have cleared out some things in this room so that we can share the song of salvation together. And that is coming in the next few weeks.
But today we want to take a moment to offer you the chance to clear out some things in your own life that keep you from declaring that Jesus is alive and that He is coming back. We are gathered in this room today needy, despised, arrogant, confused, and selfish. We must be honest about our sins, before we can be honest about the Salvation offered to us by Jesus Christ. This morning the sermon leads us to the table. So if those who are serving this morning will head to the back. Let us take a few moments to reflect so that we can actually participate in this time of remembrance instead of just going through the motions.