Our reading for Thursday, April 4, 2019 is 1 Corinthians 11:17-22.
17 In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. 18 In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. 19 No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. 20 When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, 21 for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk. 22 Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you for this? Certainly not! –NIV
Though I do not know of any communion service I have witnessed where participants leave drunk on wine I do believe there are persons who leave believing they are accepted by God when they are not. There are participants who experience nothing at all of the grace of Christ while others simply view their participation as a requirement they have checked off before moving on with their life unaffected by grace. Worse it is to think that there are those who harbor bitterness and resentment for people holding to differing opinions from their own or who have behaved towards others contrary to what the witness of Christ calls for us to live.
There is no true communion where sin and evil has not been addressed or when grace has not been shown to all. I know that I have taken of Holy Communion with the wrong motivation and with unconfessed or unrepented sin. At these times I did not discover grace and it is only due to the grace offered by Christ’s Holy Spirit that I recognized his absence as the means of God’s grace was reduced to mere empty ritual.
We can use ritual to hide from our sin. We can deceive ourselves and never face the truth about who we are and what we have become and done. The danger to accepting Holy Communion in this way is that we reinforce our denial and eventually kill our conscience, separate ourselves from the Holy Spirit and endanger our souls. The Apostle Paul heard from a distance how the church he loved was treating one another. Worse, they justified their actions as faithfulness to Christ. As they indulged themselves with the communion meal they would gather together in their divisions and exclude grace and fellowship to those who were different than they.
Communion in the first century was a ritual in remembrance to Christ’s sacrifice but it was also a fellowship meal unlike today’s experience of Holy Communion. The meal was lost as the church grew and it became impossible to partake as such a large community. In many ways what we have lost is the sense of community and fulfillment of the sentiments expressed in Psalm 23 by King David, “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies; my cup runneth over.” What we have lost is the sense that in Christ those who might be our enemies in the world become participants of God’s grace with us. We have disconnected from the witness to Christ by our failure to forgive as we ourselves have been forgiven.
Divisiveness, dissension and selfishness rule the day and we become the children of heresy rather than the children of God when we do not adhere to the foundational truth of scripture. We (the church) will never be uniform but we can be united in our common need for grace. We can disagree with one another if we endeavor to walk in the truth we know and look to God’s Word for the truth with openness and sincerity of faith. Even if we should not reach agreement we can continue in fellowship and pray for one another if we embrace a humility that is willing to admit we ourselves may be mistaken in our understanding and opinion.
Until these conditions are met in us and our faith communities we shall not participate in real communion with Christ or others. As we approach Holy Communion in many churches this Sunday may we be enfolded in such a spirit.
Brian Homan, pastor