What a mess! How many of you have heard Paul’s description of the words at the Lord’s Table in their context before? Words said millions and millions of times over the bread and the cup over the last two thousand years: “‘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.’” Add in Paul’s words to the Corinthians before these instructions and you get a biblical equivalent of John Belushi standing up in scripture and yelling, “Food fight!” And, not to be outdone, after the words of institution, your worst nightmare-ish vision of demon-Mom sending you off to bed with no supper for fighting with your brother.
All of this reminds me of a food fight my brother and I had in the kitchen of the house in which we grew up. The parents went out for dinner leaving two junior high-aged sons home alone and food on the table for OUR dinner. (Thanks, Mom! You’re the best!) I have no idea what the main course was but I do remember cherry jello with mandarin slices and chocolate pudding. I thought my brother and I did a fantastic job of what Paul asks of us, Examine yourselves. We did. We examined ourselves and the kitchen for spots of food. We rinsed our clothes. Mopped the floor. Wiped off cabinets and counters and the ceiling. Only to be called downstairs upon our parents return and to be asked by Mom, Why is there a mandarin orange slice in the kitchen curtain? Why is there a mandarin orange slice in the kitchen curtain? I thought about pointing at my brother. I am sure he was thinking about pointing at his brother. We took the question, Am I my brother’s keeper very seriously. Uhm, well, levitation? I mean, Keith – my brother – I think dropped an orange slice and it landed on the end of a spoon handle and, well, then my elbow accidentally came down on the spoon which then allowed the mandarin orange slice to defy gravity and fly ten feet across the kitchen to land in the fold of the curtain. I look at my brother for confirmation and I get a nod. The next morning I came down for breakfast and Mom was scraping out some dried chocolate pudding from the window frame molding.
My point, though, in sharing this story is this: If Mom has the power to pick out a mandarin orange slice in the rear fold of a curtain five feet above her line of sight – I exaggerate for effect – then how much more can God discern our hearts when we come to the table? And, I don’t think God is too concerned about mandarin orange slices in kitchen curtains or chocolate pudding in window molding as much as God is concerned about OUR concern for the Body of Christ.
Paul is on a terror in these lines of scripture: Now in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves. For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. Now there are many scholars who will take Paul’s little diatribe at face value and say that some wealthy people who were hungry couldn’t wait for the buffet that always accompanied the Lord’s Table celebration back then to start so they ate and got drunk before everyone else arrived, particularly before the poor and hungry folks who would like some food and drink as well. It’s like coming to one of our birthday dinners on time and yet all the food and drink is gone – including all of the pink, red and white M & M’s in the dishes at the table for February birthdays – and the rest of those gathered are having a grand time; full and content.
But Paul is NOT raging against some folks who decided to eat before the dinner bell rang. The earliest memory that I have – and I think I have shared this story with you all before – is sitting on the stairs of my apartment building where we lived when I was two or three. I am sitting about halfway up the stairs, looking at the open transom window above the door of my best friend’s apartment. There are smells of cooking and shouts of celebration as a birthday party for my friend is being held. And I am excluded, shut out, and alone. (Now, that’s what I remember. I was probably at his birthday party that he had for friends and neighborhood kids.)
It is the sting, the ache, the tears of exclusion, being shut out, and of being alone that are remembered. Remember me, asks Jesus. Paul passes along Jesus’ words: Do this in remembrance of me. The early 20th-century, Russian, Christian philosopher, Nikolai Berdyaev wrote, “The question of bread for myself is a material question, but the question of bread for my neighbor is a spiritual question.” This bread, my body broken for you, says Jesus. The next time you break bread think about the mess WE are all in together. And the next time you hear the words, My body broken for you, remember who the you…are. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves. What a mess! Imagine, the act of re-membering as an act of cleaning up after a food fight.