Friday, 29 March 2013

Reflections for Good Friday: 4, The Body on Which we Feed

Talk 4: 1 Corinthians 10:14-17, The Body On Which We Feed
14 Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. 16 Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.
What I have been trying to emphasize in these talks today is the importance and significance of Christ’s body — something which is often not greatly considered in our branch of the Christian Church, but which was of immense significance to the New Testament Church.
We tend to think of ourselves as individual Christians and of Church as a collection of Christian individuals.
We believe in Christ, and we acknowledge our debt to him: “In Christ alone,” we sing, “ my hope is found, He is my light, my strength, my song ...”
It is a great song, and I love to sing it, but there is something not quite right — not quite biblical — about the way we sing. Indeed, there is something not quite right about a lot of what we do in church, as a church.
At one end of the spectrum, you had the lonely isolation of your typical old-style churchgoers (now less typical, I’m glad to say) — people who would turn up to a service once a week, always the same service, always the same time, always the same pew — but who had no relationship with anyone else in the same building that owed anything to their churchgoing. It was a private matter, between them and God.
Then, at the other end of the spectrum, you have the modern worshipper — face turned heavenward, eyes closed or staring upward, arms outstretched, lost in wonder, love and praise, yes, but at that point oblivious to those around them. As we used to say in the seventies, ‘tripping out’ on Jesus.
Then look at the Bible:
16 Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.
We are reminded here of the death of Christ. It is not just his body, it is his blood that is taken and consumed. We are, at this point, in the moment of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. As Paul says a little later,
For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Cor 11:2)
Notice, it is his death, not his resurrection that is proclaimed by the elements in the Lord’s Supper. So where is his resurrection? Here I am tempted to quote the inscription on the tomb of Sir Christopher Wren in St Paul’s Cathedral,
LECTOR SI MONUMENTUM REQUIRIS CIRCUMSPICE
which being translated means,
Reader, if you require a monument, look around
For that is what we should do in Holy Communion. If you want to see the living Christ, look around you. The wine we drink, the bread we eat, are a participation in the blood and body of Christ. But where have they gone?
The answer is obvious: into you! But the lesson is sometimes missed, which is why Paul has to spell it out: because we all share one bread, we are one body — his body.
And he emphasizes it in his instructions in chapter 11:
For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. ... 33 So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for each other. (1 Cor 11:29, 32)
Yes, the body of the Lord is given to you in tokens of bread and wine. You should know and respect that. But it goes out into the all the believers, and you should know and recognize what is going on there. What it means is what we read in 12:27: “you” and it is you plural, “you are the body of Christ”.
If you want to see the living, resurrected Christ, look around you.
The other week, I was sitting in Chelmsford cathedral during a Diocesan Synod debate about mission. Above the chancel arch is a statue of Christ — a modern statue of Jesus with his arms out.
Now I don’t much like statues in churches, but as I was sitting there listening to the debate on mission, I thought to myself, “It would help us if people realized that when they look at that statue of Christ, everything from the neck down is themselves.”
As Ephesians 1:22-23 puts it,
And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.
This is the other outcome of Good Friday. Our sins are forgiven, we are reconciled to God, through the death of the body of Christ on the cross.
But precisely because of that, his body takes on a new life, lived in us and through us. We are the body of Christ, crucified for sin, dead to sin and now alive, living out the kingdom and proclaiming the gospel to the world.
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