My sermon this morning was on an aspect of communion: discerning the body of Christ.
Here is a bit of it —
Today is World Communion Sunday, a day many churches around the world observe communion with a focus on Christian unity.
The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 11:29 that when we partake of communion, we should first “discern” the body of Christ. Paul says “For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves.” Some translations express it as “recognize” or “honor” the body. Its meaning is viewed in various ways.
Many view Paul to mean that when we partake of the Lord’s Supper, we must first discern, recognize, and honor other Christians, “the body of Christ,” the greater church.
What does it mean to discern, recognize, and honor other Christians?
It involves a distinguishing, mindfulness, thoughtfulness, and personal specificity that is often missing these days. It conveys a sense of discerning one from another, as opposed to simply lumping all in together, for example.
More common today is a blurring, over-categorization, blurring, and objectification.
Clues in Language
Our language sometimes sends clues on when we are not discerning. Referring to “Democrats” do this or “Republicans” do that, declaring “immigrants” cause crime, “refugees” are dangerous,” “White Evangelicals always …,” etc., can sometimes signal a failure to recognize the subjects are images of God or are part of the body of Christ and can fail to engage in a discerning, recognizing, and honoring referred to by the Apostle.
Or we refer to people with labels, such as “prisoners,” “murderers,” “homeless,” or “illegals,” instead of “people who are incarcerated,” “people who have been convicted by a jury of murder,” “people who are homeless,” or “people who are undocumented,” for example.
And the way we think of other people sends clues. Do we think of the people at the border as threats? Or do we think of them as members of the body of Christ who are in need?
Another example is the way we greet one another —- typically with “how are you?” And what’s the typical response? “Fine.” Is this discerning? No. But this is so common.
I See You
To help us understand the concept of “discerning the body of Christ,” think about the common greeting in the African Zulu tribe.
A common greeting there is “Sawubona.”
Its literal meaning is “I see you.”
This is both a literal indication of you are in my vision and a metaphorical indication of you are honored by being in and on my mind and valued.
In this way, the Zulu tribe member indicates they have discerned, honored, and recognized their fellow tribe-member.
That is the kind of discerning, honoring, and recognizing that we should do of other Christians, the body of Christ.
The “Sawubona” —- “I see you” kind. The meaningful kind.
Christ Asks …
I’m reminded of Christ telling us in Matthew 25 that whatever we do for the least, we do for him.
As Christians, the Apostle Paul asks us to see— to really see — to discern, to honor, to recognize the body of Christ – to discern, to honor, to recognize other Christians as we go — to not just quickly dismiss or ignore them, but to really see and acknowledge them as part of the body of Christ. To see the person who is a refugee, to see the person who is incarcerated, to see the person who is oppressed, to see ….
This, of course, as we prepare for communion, causes us to recognize that we have more of a Christian duty. We are to love others as ourselves. We are to follow Christ’s example. We are to love our neighbor. Whatever we do or do not do for the least of these, we do or do not do for Jesus.
Thus, in seeing these individuals — in really seeing them — in doing so, Christ asks us to discern, honor, and recognize each of them just as we would discern, honor, and recognize the actual body of our savior, Jesus Christ.
To discern, honor, and recognize each individual as we would discern, honor, and recognize the actual body of Jesus Christ is a call of communion as we are called to the table.
Sources and Notes
Zulu terms: https://exploringyourmind.com/sawubona-african-tribe-greeting/
Unleavened bread? Keep in mind that while it is of course highly likely (nearly certain) Jesus used a loaf (or form) of unleavened bread, when the New Testament quotes Jesus speaking of it, Jesus does not use the word for unleavened bread (azymos …), but simply uses the word for bread of either kind (artos and its forms). While many folks like to use unleavened bread when they can and have access to it and can afford it, etc., the words of our Lord do not ask us or command us to use it. Jesus wants us to join in communion with the body, regardless of the kind of bread. And keep in mind that in some parts of the world (and in some people’s circumstances), bread is unknown and/or unavailable. It is not the particular nature of the item that is in focus here.
This is also a verse that is part of the dispute over transubstantiation.
Picture by congerdesign from pixabay
“DEARLY beloved in the Lord, ye that mind to come to the holy Communion of the Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ, must consider how Saint Paul exhorteth all persons diligently to try and examine themselves, before they presume to eat of that Bread, and drink of that Cup. For as the benefit is great, if with a true penitent heart and lively faith we receive that holy Sacrament; (for then we spiritually eat the flesh of Christ, and drink his blood; then we dwell in Christ, and Christ in us; we are one with Christ, and Christ with us;) so is the danger great, if we receive the same unworthily. For then we are guilty of the Body and Blood of Christ our Saviour; we eat and drink our own damnation, not considering the Lord’s Body; we kindle God’s wrath against us; we provoke him to plague us with divers diseases, and sundry kinds of death. Judge therefore yourselves, brethren, that ye be not judged of the Lord; repent you truly for your sins past; have a lively and stedfast faith in Christ our Saviour; amend your lives, and be in perfect charity with all men; so shall ye be meet partakers of those holy mysteries. And above all things ye must give most humble and hearty thanks to God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, for the redemption of the world by the death and passion of our Saviour Christ, both God and man; who did humble himself, even to the death upon the Cross, for us miserable sinners, who lay in darkness and the shadow of death; that he might make us the children of God, and exalt us to everlasting life. And to the end that we should alway remember the exceeding great love of our Master and only Saviour Jesus Christ, thus dying for us, and the innumerable benefits which by his precious blood-shedding he hath obtained to us; he hath instituted and ordained holy mysteries, as pledges of his love, and for a continual remembrance of his death, to our great and endless comfort. To him therefore, with the Father and the Holy Ghost, let us give (as we are most bounden) continual thanks; submitting ourselves wholly to his holy will and pleasure, and studying to serve him in true holiness and righteousness all the days of our life. Amen.”
This is the explanation found in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. This is still said in Anglican churches sometimes at the old-style, early mass.
Thanks much Mark.