First Mennonite Church
September 7, 2014
Two Incompatible Communions
Text: 1Corinthians 10:14–22
Today we are having Communion. Sometimes it is also called the “Lord’s Supper.” This Christian practice of eating the bread and drinking the cup in the context of worship draws it source beyond the time of Jesus. Jesus himself established it in the context of Israel celebration of the Hebrew Passover.
Breaking bread and sharing the cup is one of the practices Jesus explicitly commanded his followers to continue practicing (Luke 22:19). Therefore as was expected, wherever Christian communities were established, the Lord’s Supper was also practiced. In the letter to the Corinthians Paul addressed this issue in response to the Corinthian church’s inquiry regarding foods offered to idols (1Cor. 8:1). And although Paul gives more precise teaching on this subject in chapter 11, he uses the Lord’s Supper to show the great inconsistency between participating in the fellowship of pagan worship and participating in the Lord’s Table. Some of the Corinthian church members were participating in both. These church members did not realize there was a clear contradiction in what they were doing. They kept attending the pagan temple and participating in the rituals, which included eating foods that have been offered to idols. And then on the first day of the week—the Day of the Lord, they also attended the Christian gathering to participate in the Lord’s Supper. They believed that by eating the bread and drinking the wine at the Lord’s Table these would undo or cancel out any effects of their participation in the pagan temple.
Verse 14 begins with a forceful inferential adverb—therefore. Paul had just finished rehearsing Israel’s idolatry at Sinai and how they tested the Lord God by worshipping the golden calf. Exodus 32, verse 6 tells us “the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to indulge in jubilant merrymaking.” God immediately dismissed Moses with whom God was meeting on the mountaintop and sent him to see what the people were up to. Paul was fully aware of the seriousness idolatry is before God that he did not spare time and words to go over Israel’s experience during the exodus journey. Paul told the Corinthian church that God punished the Israelites idolatry by scattering their bodies in the desert. And so Paul writes: Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry.
Idolatry can be easily understood in the context of Paul and even in the context of certain cultures and places today. But for us who live in a post-modern context and of greater intellectual “enlightenment” the idea of idolatry might seem a bit out of place. But, is it that really the case?
Idolatry goes beyond realm of religious practices such as praying to images believed to have supernatural powers. Idolatry can be present in the most secular of societies or in the common and mundane aspects of life. Anything that grabs our attention, arouses our passion or obsession towards it or claims our loyalty other than God is an idol. Anything we believe we cannot live without is already an idol in our lives. To some it is their smart phones, to others certain beverages or foods, yet to others it could be their cars, and still yet to others their jobs or source of money. Relationships can also become idolatrous. Leisure and pleasure can also become idols. Producers of advertisements will never say: “Here is the newest golden calf; bow down before it!” Yet, what follows their sleek talk is that the latest gadget, the fancy car or turbo truck, exotic vacation, or whatever they offer, will give you upward social mobility, personal satisfaction and happiness if you only acquire it. Advertisers know very well that there is a deep longing in people for something to give them satisfaction, a sense of worth, and a sense of belonging. And so they offer us their modern idols.
Another popular idol in America is politics. There is an obsession either to support a given side or fight against a political side. This obsession is revealed at how little it takes for people and even church people to show their approval or rejection of politics agendas.
The Corinthian church members wanted to continue with their culture and their religion. They wanted to be part of those practices that have distinguished them as a people. Yet they also wanted to be part of the body of Christ. And the most visible way of belonging to the body of Christ is by participating in the breaking of bread and drinking the cup at the Lord’s Table. But Paul vehemently tells them these two form of participation are incompatible. You cannot participate in the fellowship of demons and of the body of Christ.
The Corinthian believers wanted to keep their cultural allegiance by participating in the pagan rituals of their people. They lived the six days of the week participating or immersed in their usual way of life, still embracing their old lifestyle giving themselves to idolatry and yet on Sunday they also wanted to show allegiance with Christ and the body of believers. And although Paul concurs with the Corinthians that “no idol in the world really exists” and that “there is no God but one” (8:4), yet what the pagans do in worship and sacrifices, they do to the demons (10:20). The idols might seem as simple objects made of silver, wood or stone, but in the context of pagan worship every act is real and imply a communion with the demons, says Paul. The same can be said of the Communion Table. From the outside what we have are bread and grape juice, but our participation of this in the context of worship goes beyond simple eating and drinking. It celebrates our intimate relationship with Jesus’ sacrifice and the communion we with him in the body of the church. Therefore Paul told the Corinthian church these two communions cannot go hand in hand. You cannot have a part in both the Lord ’s Table and the table of demons, Paul says. These two communions are incompatible.
So the question for us today is: what have we been pursuing on the last six days? So the question we must ask ourselves is: What have I wrapped my life, thoughts, or loyalty around that holds me bound to it?
Communion—a participation on the body of Christ means an intimate relation with Christ. Communion means accepting Christ’s offer of fellowship and Lordship. Communion means sharing in his Body, which is the community of believers—the church. Communion means an acceptance to belonging in the fellowship which follows Jesus, who offered himself for salvation of others—even those who crucified him.
When we come to the Lord’s Table to eat of the loaf and to drink of the cup, we identify ourselves with the One who is the Suffering Servant of God.
Our coming to the Lord’s Table should put the world around us in the right perspective. While the world around us insists we are the center of our lives and that the only reason we should live is to please ourselves our and follow our pursuits, participation at the Lord’s Table tells us that Christ is at the center. Communion reminds us that we do not live for ourselves. For whether we live or die, we do it in the Lord. Communion tells that Christ is Lord of everything. Communion also reminds us that those around the Table of Christ are fellow members in this one body and thus we eat of one loaf which is Christ.
Let us pray confessing to God any idolatry that crept on our heart. Let us confess to Christ if other lords have claimed our allegiance. Let us pray committing ourselves to each other’s wellbeing as members in Christ’s body. Let us pray giving thanks that we can eat and drink in celebration of participating in the intimate fellowship with Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Amen!