16 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? 17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. (1 Corinthians 10:16,17 ESV)
We come tonight to the first of three services – the Easter Triduum – whereby the disciples of Jesus – us – go back to a Passover observance that is forever changed – to an arrest – then an execution according to the world – the perfect sacrifice according to our eyes and ears – and then to a burial – but with an anticipation unknown first time round of a resurrection.
We are here tonight because of Jesus’ death and resurrection and because we are not unaware that there has been nearly 2,000 years of Jesus’ disciples – our discipleship ancestors – who hand on to us their history, their tradition, their words as interpretations of how they saw Jesus and sought to follow him.
To help us focus on Jesus we listen to Jesus and to the prophets and the apostles – and those who speak in their trajectory or tradition – to guide us in following Jesus – thank you, Holy Spirit! – because following Jesus isn’t just a neurological affirmation but a lifestyle. A lifestyle that today has to deal with social media, globalisation, identity politics, denominationalism – that’s a biggie, and the history of the Church aligned with power in many countries and centuries.
But that’s what disciples always have to do when no longer in earshot or eyesight of the teacher – work out what to do in the current situation to be a faithful follower. When Jesus ascended into heaven he didn’t leave on the ground a compendium of instructions listing what to do in various contexts, centuries or countries. Back in those first years and decades, the issues were dealing with property – what to share, what to keep; how to view people – do the old labels of Jew and Gentile apply? What about meat – offered through the butchering process to a deity – which was now viewed a false god and its image an idol in the presence of Jesus? The ripple effects keep going.
In Corinth Paul was dealing with factions following him, Cephas, Apollos, Christ – thank you, Chloe’s household for writing to Paul! We find people had different views and practices it seemed about a lot of living and were struggling with issues of freedom and restraint. What are the boundaries? Were there any boundaries? Some things don’t change in essence!
And what Paul does is return people – point them back – to Jesus – not as a concept or a principle or even a new ethic – but as a person, crucified, dead, buried, risen and ascended. This Jesus – the Lord – with sovereign freedom chooses to serve us personally. That is the Gospel. But the freedom we in turn have by which we should serve others we find hard to work out – and we oscillate between slackness and zealous rule keeping. God’s grace should counter both directions and keep us centred on Christ but that’s the point we abuse, take for granted, minimise, make cheap, keep at a distance – God’s grace – meaning God – meaning Jesus – because we still struggle with discipleship and being a follower when deep down we want others to follow us. And that includes Jesus – c’mon, make an exception for me – it’s the loving thing to do!
We don’t shun much. In fact it’s probably regarded as bad form to shun and yet Paul told the Corinthians just before ‘the cup of blessing’ to shun the worship of idols – that was their wrestle of the moment – where their freedom was misleading them – where their ignoring of God’s grace deluded them into going.
What don’t you shun that you should? I’m not talking about persons – remember Paul sought to be all to reach all – but about behaviour. Of course you might think of answers individually but we could also think in groups – as family, as congregation, as a cohort linked maybe by activity – students, Air Force, citizenship. What is it that makes discipleship hard for us? What are our blind spots about discipleship?
This can be deep personal stuff. It is always dangerous in one sense to come into the presence of the living God – especially one who said that he would make a new covenant – remember you cut a covenant – and the new words are to be written on our hearts. It is actually a bloody business.
And that is why we are here. Struggling disciples who need guidance individually and collectively about what discipleship looks like today. What do I look like as a disciple? And when it gets all too hard, Jesus comes again to us – right into us – we don’t shed blood but receive it – his! – for the forgiveness of our sins – and the bread is our personal meeting – person to person with Jesus – or should I say body to body and that has both personal and communal dimensions?
We are not house churches in Corinth – factions following a celebrity apostle or the ‘main man’. No, we are Lutherans who can view our labels with pride and not be challenged by the state of the Body of Christ. That’s not good if true. Of course this one body is not an organisational unity – it never has been from the beginning of the Church. But perhaps after nearly 2,000 years, we don’t really hear the words anymore – ‘one holy, catholic / Christian – that almost says it!, and apostolic church’ and we do not see disciples of Jesus in terms of one Lord, one faith, one baptism? Christian unity is better seen in the ordo – the order of the liturgy – and the theology and prayers expressed – and this commits us to engaging in both the Word of God and the words of worship with all those who follow Jesus.
What does tonight tell us?
That Jesus is still serving his people – that Jesus only has one body – and that we disciples are more a communion than we probably think – all because Jesus is both priest and sacrifice for us.
That tonight of all nights – we individual disciples – so often struggling, wanting to look good, fearful – are not alone. We are never alone around the table of our Lord.
- 1 Corinthians 10:16 - 17