The Rev'd Carlos de la Torre
Christ Church, New Haven, Conn.
Corpus Christi
May 31, 2018

Blessed be the name of the Lord, from henceforth, and forevermore. Amen.

In his letter to the Christians in Corinth, Saint Paul reminds them of the tradition he himself has inherited. The very tradition that was passed down to him, which he has taught them about Jesus’ last meal with his disciples.

Saint Paul writes:

For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me. (1 Corinthians 11:23-25)

Richard Hays, former Dean and professor of New Testament at Duke Divinity School, writes, “[when Saint Paul speaks of what he has received] “he does not mean that he learned about the Lord’s Supper in some unmediated experience of revelation but that he received it “from the Lord” in the sense that it was Jesus himself who originated the tradition of sharing the bread and cup as a sign of his death and of the new covenant… Even though there were no written Gospels in [Saint] Paul’s time, the telling of the story of Jesus’s death and resurrection stood at the center of Christian proclamation from the beginning.”[1] In other words, to speak of Jesus; his love, his care for the poor and disenfranchised, and for those of need of healing and mercy, is to speak about his death and resurrection.

Saint Paul is not giving the Corinthians new information about the Lord’s Supper; rather, he is recalling to mind the story that he told them about the foundational redemptive event, a story that they themselves repeat - or should repeat - every time they gather at table.[2].

Before the Church, its rituals and order were hashed out, let alone solidified in any one shape, the Church gathered to break bread as Jesus taught his disciples on the night of his capture. This simple act of taking, breaking, and receiving bread and sharing the cup is at the heart of the Christian faith.

As simple as this act might seem, Christians in Corinth were having some difficulties.

What we would find in Corinth is a Christian church divided by wealth, class, and status. Christians with great financial would offer a great banquet to remember our Lord’s Last Supper. As was the costume, then and now, all were invited to participate in the Lord’s Supper, however, all were not allowed to participate. While rich homeowners would generously offer a meal in remembrance of our Lord’s Last Supper and share with their friends, they would offer nothing to the rest of the gathered body. And these were, of course, the poor, the widow, and slaves, some who were not even invited inside. It’s as if at Mass we decided to only commune those we knew or simply liked, those who were of a certain social class or economic background or a select skin tone.

There was something amiss in Corinth, most concerning, the Lord’s Supper was being corrupted. “The problem was not that the Christians at Corinth were failing to say the right words but that their enactment of the word is deficient: their self-serving actions obscure the meaning of the supper so thoroughly that it no longer points to Christ’s death and [resurrection]”[3] Rather, than pointing to God’s love, his care for the poor and disenfranchised, it was poiting to our human sin and greed. Preventing them from receiving the benefits of the Lord’s Supper, which are, as described in our Prayer Book, the forgiveness of our sins, the strengthening of our union with Christ and one another, and the foretaste of the heavenly banquet which is our nourishment in eternal life.

When Saint Paul retells the story it is to spotlight the death of Jesus as the central meaning of the supper. What Saint Paul’s reminds the Church in Corinth, what Saint Paul reminds the Church in New Haven, are the words of Jesus. That our Supper, our Holy Eucharist, in Jesus’ Last Supper.

In his commentary, Professor Hays points out that one of “the most striking features of [Saint] Paul’s recounting of the tradition is the emphasis he places on memory: The church is twice instructed to “do this in remembrance of me.” This act of remembrance links the Lord’s Supper with the Passover. The Passover is to be “a day of remembrance for you,” a day in which Israel recalls God’s deliverance others people from bondage. In the same way, the Lord’s supper is to be an occasion for the people of God to remember God‘s action of deliverance through the death of Jesus.”[4]

This is why when we celebrate the Eucharist in this place, the priest proclaims “Alleluia. Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us.” What we are doing in this place is offering Christ’s Passover, following his own instruction. And in following in Jesus’ command we are participating in his life, and he is present here with us in the substance of bread and wine. What more can we say to this great truth than, “Therefore let us keep the feast. Alleluia.”

 


[1] Hays, R. B. (2011). First Corinthians. Louisville, KY: Westminister John Knox Press. 197.

[2] Hays, R. B. (2011). First Corinthians. Louisville, KY: Westminister John Knox Press. 198.

[3] Hays, R. B. (2011). First Corinthians. Louisville, KY: Westminister John Knox Press. 200.

[4] Hays, R. B. (2011). First Corinthians. Louisville, KY: Westminister John Knox Press. 198-199.

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