Resistance: Jesus’ Call for the Church
Communion as Resistance
As we continue this series on resistance, we have discussed that the early Christians were called by Jesus to “resist” the dominant Empire of their land. Jesus lived during the days of occupied Palestine, meaning that Rome ruled the area and placed the people of Judah under her thumb. The heavy taxes promise of peace, and control of the government system created another level to the echelon of layered oppression in Judah and Galilee. Now that Rome had manipulated the high priest, those Jewish leaders who were expected by Torah to care for the people, became “retainers,” meaning that they kept people in line so that Rome could rule. In addition to this, the Romans created a higher layer above the Jewish elite and enacted the reforms of Caesar.
When Caesar wanted a Roman eagle in the temple, the people had to assent—although they fought to oppose this. Instead an altar to Roma and Caesar was place outside the temple which communicated to the Jewish people, “Caesar is Lord—whether you like it or not.”
It is this world where the Messiah was born, “King of the Jews,” (Matt 2:2), “Savior” and “Lord,” (Luke 2:12). He came as a baby, lived among the lower classes, and moved the masses of oppressed to find hope, acceptance, and be welcomed to God’s mission. Rome had a mission to conquer the world. Jesus had a mission to take back his world. The church was sent out to proclaim that there was a new Caesar in the world, one who owned all, created all, and died for all.
The early Christians were part of a movement and mission to take this message of salvation to the world. However, once the message was preached, the people were baptized, and the congregation grew they continued to proclaim that message. They did more than preach the message, they lived it out, they practiced it, and they showed their world that this Empire where God ruled, was unique. When one came to a worship service they knew that this movement was unique. When Jesus’ people gathered they sent a message to those who visited, those who were part of their community, and those who heard the reports of what happened. The early Christians did more than speak words—they worshipped. Through their worship they proclaimed a new Empire, a kingdom of peace, and a sacred place where Jesus’ reigned in love, acceptance, and power.
Today, we came together to worship. Some of you drove in your vehicles to this location. Others rode Tri-Met. Others walked. Yet we all came for a purpose. Whether we came for a meal, came to serve, or just came because that is what we do as Christians; have we wondered what the ultimate purpose of coming is for?
- I hear that worship is a time to praise God—but we can also do this at home. That is why many stay home on Sundays.
- I hear that worship is a time to take communion and celebrate Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection—but we can eat crackers and grape juice at home.
- I hear that worship is a time to encourage each other and build each other up—but we also do that during the week.
- I hear that Sunday is the day Jesus rose and we should gather out of obedience to him. This is true but what is the message we proclaim when gathering?
- Even more, how is that message different from the message that is communicated by our world, our culture, our community?
The early church communicated something to each other weekly. They communicated something to visitors who came to see what happened in this remarkable community.
What was it?
Resistance. The early Christians communicated that they were different from the empire that ruled their worlds and the worlds of others. They taught that Jesus said things that were, many times, the direct opposite of what they had learned. Communion was one of them.
First, communion in the early church was different from our communion. We take a few minutes out of our worship to share symbols of the body and blood of Jesus. Yet the early Christians had communion as a meal. We understand this from Luke and Paul.
The church at Corinth struggled in their worship services because they neglected the poor. Paul indicated that they came together to eat and by neglecting the poor or eating before the poor, they profaned Jesus’ body and blood. In Greek and Roman culture meals were an important time to share food, friendship, and honor with other people. When groups met they traditionally shared a meal. Paul mentions “coming together” 4 times in this section and discusses “eating” as many time.
- In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk. Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? Certainly not in this matter! (1 Cor 11:17-22)
- Pero al anunciaros esto que sigue, no os alabo; porque no os congregáis para lo mejor, sino para lo peor. Pues en primer lugar, cuando os reunís como iglesia, oigo que hay entre vosotros divisiones; y en parte lo creo. Porque es preciso que entre vosotros haya disensiones, para que se hagan manifiestos entre vosotros los que son aprobados. Cuando, pues, os reunís vosotros, esto no es comer la cena del Señor. Porque al comer, cada uno se adelanta a tomar su propia cena; y uno tiene hambre, y otro se embriaga. Pues qué, ¿no tenéis casas en que comáis y bebáis? ¿O menospreciáis la iglesia de Dios, y avergonzáis a los que no tienen nada? ¿Qué os diré? ¿Os alabaré? En esto no os alabo. (1 Cor 11:17-22)
In the ancient world “dinner” or “supper” was a planned and prepared event. Invitations were sent out during the day (the same word for “calling” and “church”). Those who were wealthy did not work and could come during the day (after leisurely rising, going to the baths, and visiting people in town). They would arrive early afternoon and eat, snack, drink, and visit. Those who were poor would work during the day and then arrive later at night. The wealthy were given the best food first and the leftovers given to the late comers. The elite were given the best dining room while others stood. The elite were also seated around the table with the honorable one sitting next to the host. This was Roman and Greek cultural rules. You did not mess with the rules of etiquette. Slaves served, the honorable ate, and people got what was left. Some would be full, and others hungry. Some would be drunk and sleepy, while others awake due to their stomach growling. There are many writings in the Roman world that describe this form of injustice at a meal—but it was common practice.
Yet in the Gospel of Luke Jesus told his host that the honorable ones should take the lowest seat and that he should not invite the wealthy but those living on the streets (Luke 14:1-14). People were invited but all were welcome. For Paul communion was a meal that sent a message to anyone attending—the kingdom of Jesus is unique. All people share, all people are fed, and the host treats people the same—just like Jesus.
- When you come together to eat, wait for each other. If anyone is hungry, they should eat at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment. (1 Cor 11:33-34)
- Así que, hermanos míos, cuando os reunís a comer, esperaos unos a otros. (1 Cor 11:33)
We also know that ancient potlucks were a time for those bringing food to share with their friends and neglect those without. For Paul, communion was a time to care for everyone. Communion was a time to show that all people were equal in the eyes of Jesus. Communion was a time to say to each of us that the church doesn’t display power, prejudice, and discrimination. The church serves and cares for all—both physically and spiritually.
A second key point of communion in the early church is that it was a time to proclaim the values of Jesus’ kingdom. In an ancient Roman/Greek meal the god Zeus, or Dionysius (the god of wine), or Caesar was considered present. Toasts, sacrifices, and prayers were offered to these deities. If Caesar was invoked his laws, stories of honor and war, and divinity were to be praised. If the gods were called, they were asked to join in the meal. After this first course of food and wine, the second course began. The second course was called “the second cup” and when the wine was held up the second stage began. This was called the “Symposium.” During the Symposium people partied and continued to drink, had sex with the slaves (male or female) or women in prostitution who were invited to attend. Fights broke out and the Symposium was utter chaos. In Plato’s Symposium he wrote that Socrates and his guests, still suffering from a hangover the previous Symposium, decided to dedicate that time for a philosophical discussion. The Symposium was the time of discussion or celebration at a dinner. For Paul this was the second course of the worship/meal.
- In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” (1 Cor 11:25)
- Asimismo tomó también la copa, después de haber cenado, diciendo: Esta copa es el nuevo pacto en mi sangre; haced esto todas las veces que la bebiereis, en memoria de mí. (1 Cor 11:25)
- In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table…A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. (Luke 22:20, 24-26)
- De igual manera, después que hubo cenado, tomó la copa, diciendo: Esta copa es el nuevo pacto en mi sangre, que por vosotros se derrama…Hubo también entre ellos una disputa sobre quién de ellos sería el mayor. Pero él les dijo: Los reyes de las naciones se enseñorean de ellas, y los que sobre ellas tienen autoridad son llamados bienhechores; mas no así vosotros, sino sea el mayor entre vosotros como el más joven, y el que dirige, como el que sirve.
Notice that the early Christians saw their worship as part of a meal, and they used the Roman/Greek style to worship. First, they shared the Lord in a meal. Jesus would have been praised, prayed to, and honored during the meal. For Paul, at Corinth, those without were neglected and not cared for during the meal. The second section would have been the time of celebration and teaching. Those who did not eat would have had a hard time with this part. Some would be falling asleep, drunk, and have full bellies. Others would be weak, falling asleep from hunger, and have difficulty worshipping. For Paul Jesus was being dishonored. The same Lord who shared that they must serve at their meal, was being ignored. The same Lord who said, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer…” (!!Cuánto he deseado comer con vosotros esta pascua antes que padezca!—Luke 22:15) was not able to eat with the poor.
In other words, the Christians at Corinth were reflecting their culture in worship—not their Lord.
The Christians at Corinth were treating their brothers and sisters at Corinth like Romans, not followers of Jesus.
The Christians at Corinth were giving honor to those who had honor in their society—not those who were vulnerable and needed love from Jesus’ disciples.
Jesus reminded them, “You are not to be like that…” “mas no asi vosotros…”, but they had become like their rulers, their leaders, and their patrons. However it was not just the Corinthians. James told his readers the same. Jude told his readers the same. John even told the story of Jesus wearing a towel and washing his disciples’ feet because the early Christians may have forgotten that story as well.
Today, we are called to this same resistance. However, I want you to know that what we do at Agape, and what we have always done, is that form of resistance.
First, have you ever wondered why we always seem to have breakfast on Sunday mornings? Have you noticed that you tend not to eat the breakfast when it is out? You know why, don’t you? We want those without food to eat and have a good breakfast. That’s why we do this. We wanted to model our church after the early Christian worship. Is it any wonder that two of the books I have written (The Better Way and Jesus Unleashed) deal with these two books of the Bible (Luke and 1 Corinthians)? You bring hot food, cold food, fruits, vegetables, eggs (and sometimes Krispy Kreme) because you know that people can’t worship on an empty stomach. You show up early to make coffee because you know people are cold. This is Biblical—it is a form of resistance. We are telling people we care and that they are important. We tell people that our worship involves body and soul.
For those of you who have eaten the breakfast—I hope you realize that this is a spiritual act of people who love Jesus and you. I hope you tell them thank you and are helpful to them.
Second, have you noticed that we don’t parade a group of males up front, or males and females, or people with suits? We don’t expect people to “dress up” for communion. We just ask someone to pass it—just we would at our home. We sit side by side, together, and we take communion out to those who struggle to come inside. We include all people in our communion stations, we listen, and many of you make it a point to pray with someone. We are equal and we try to communicate that. I remember years ago when a women in prostitution was standing next to a young couple making faces at their baby. The mom smiled and hugged her. They were are a communion station. Now—I remember that she went over and slapped Lem on the butt, and we had to address that—but I know she felt welcome and she and the family had communion together.
Finally, have you noticed that we always say, “Everyone is welcome to take communion?” We do not believe that profaning the body of Jesus or taking communion in an unworthy manner means saying the wrong words or screening who takes communion or not. We believe that refers to how we treat people, God’s people, and the vulnerable in society. That is how the world treats people—not us. The table of the Lord is always open—and if you read about Jesus’ meals and table fellowship you will find that he includes all to the table—and so do we.
When we take communion we send a message to our guests, each other, and our world that Jesus is among us, eagerly desires to eat with us, and that we care for each other so that we can worship in body and soul.