Since early in my Christian walk, the ceremony involving little pieces of bread and micro-shots of grape juice never made sense to me.
I’m speaking about communion.
Yes, Jesus did say, “do this in remembrance of me,” but when He said that, the ceremony I’m familiar with didn’t exist yet.
Different theological streams each do it a little differently, but in my case it was always some variation of dim the lights, quietly reflect and get real somber about what Jesus did for you. It was sort of a purification ritual, at least, that was my intuition about how a lot of people were processing it in their hearts. Some people seemed to think that taking communion was really important. It’s interesting to note that in my church at the time, they did communion every Sunday morning and again on every Sunday evening for anyone who wasn’t able to attend in the morning. This has been more than a decade ago, but I was politely scolded for not taking communion at church one time. The reason I didn’t, was that I felt some things weren’t right in my relationship with God at the time, and that being the case, I felt like I might incur some kind of judgment if I did take it while in that state. I’m pretty sure I put together that idea listening to readings of 1 Corinthians 11:27-29.
Traditions have a way of tumbling along rather blindly. Equally as important as the script people are given, are the stories they create from that script.
1 Corinthians 11:17-34 is the context of what I want to cover here. 11:23-25 are often used as the script for the ceremony itself, but there is so much going on here. (As an aside, I will note that these verses are the only ones I’m aware of that cite any kind of tradition attributed to things Jesus said at the last supper, which is fascinating considering the tradition that communion has become.) Basically the context is one of Paul correcting the church for it’s tendency to interact together in a way that is both dysfunctional and contrary to it’s professed purpose for coming together (11:17, 11:20).
I want to share two words in this passage that are unlocking some meaning for me, located in one verse, in one phrase: “recognizing the body” (11:28). Earlier in my spiritual walk, I thought of “body” as meaning Jesus’ earthly body, which was broken for me, because the purpose of communion was to meditate upon what Jesus did for me. Years later, somebody suggested that the “body”, or “the Lord’s body,” depending on what translation you’re reading, is the church. “The body of Christ” is a well-known metaphor used to describe the church. On top of that, here’s where it gets real crazy: the word “recognizing”, sometimes “discerning”, which in the Greek is ‘diakrino’, is also translated as “doubt(s)(ing)” in Acts 10:20, 11:12, Romans 14:23, Matthew 21:21, Mark 11:23, and James 1:6. The Strong’s Concordance defines the word;
“to separate thoroughly, that is (literally and reflexively) to withdraw from, or (by implication) oppose; figuratively, to discriminate (by implication decide), or (reflexively) hesitate: – contend, make (to) differ (-ence), discern, doubt, judge, be partial, stagger, waver.”
It is a compound of “dia” (through) plus “krino”, meaning distinguish or decide, and often translated ‘judge’.
When I see these words; “separately thoroughly”, “withdraw”, “oppose”, one angle I take on this phrase “recognizing the body” is that it’s a call to be close enough to have conflict. Unless you are interacting that closely you will not, shy of a special revelation, be able to discern who the members of the Body are around you. I don’t just meaning discerning that they are members, I mean discerning who each is individually; bearing with each one, even to the point of contention. The person who does not engage this process eats and drinks judgement on himself because he lives a lie if he lacks this connection and still calls it ‘church’. That’s the point of 1 Corinthians 11:27-34; it was Paul’s word of correction to the church about how what they said they were doing, and what was actually happening, were two different things.
And yet today there remains a pattern of pulling a few verses from this passage to bolster a tradition of holy crumbs.
At this point I want to clarify that when I see verse 29 promising “judgement” for the person who does not recognize or discern the body, I don’t assume some special act of judgement by God, I look at “judgment” as the natural consequences of that person’s duplicity. Carry that thought into the next verse:
“This is why many are sick and ill among you, and many have fallen asleep.”
The judgement is the crap that happens, or simply a lack of good things that should be happening, because of a lack of Bodily effectiveness, stemming from a lack of authentic connected-ness. Good news doesn’t ‘just happen’. Crap ‘just happens’. Judgement is the default. Objects of worship apart from God render their own judgment. The standard is higher than that: you can’t claim that it’s the church unless you know who it is that you are communing with. More precisely, it won’t function as the church unless you know who it is you are communing with.
How can I steer this rant toward practical application?
Sometimes, spiritual change comes through natural means. The expression of spiritual power may come through a natural means of healing. I’m talking about a meaningful conversation with a close friend. Among brothers and sisters, that’s as good as prayer. The same, I daresay, if Christ lives in you and also in me. We need not look at the sky, or at the backs of our eyelids for our words to become effective prayers, but we definitely need to look into the eyes of a trusted brother or sister. Start there. In agreement, in conflict, in intense discernment.