23 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, 24 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.” 25 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.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
1 Corinthians 11: 23-26
On Wednesdays at 11:45 a.m., the faculty, staff, students and friends of Union Presbyterian Seminary gather for worship. A member of the seminary community bakes sweet-smelling communion bread. The wine is poured; the table is prepared. Everyone gathers around and has a seat.
We hear Paul’s words, or others like them, and they wrap around us in a blanket as familiar as a pair of old pajamas. We know these words and the words know us. As the celebrant intones “I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you” we may hear a childhood pastor’s voice. Someone tears something from the loaf, hands it to us and declares, “Broken for you.” We receive the nourishment of Christ’s body not for ourselves alone, but for the whole Body of Christ in heaven and on earth — all the generations who came before us, and those who will come after us in an infinite, unbroken chain.
As we hear and remember, it is also good to recall that Paul wrote these words for a church that had gotten it wrong around the table. Just a few verses later he calls them out for doing more harm than good at the Lord’s Supper. One Corinthians is a sermon offering an alternative to the division between the social and economic haves and the have-nots, a division that by some accounts has become even deeper in our own day.
It’s ironic; Christ’s table is the place where we bring our common hunger. No matter our position or situation we eagerly come to be made one and to be made whole. The words that wrap around at Christ’s table have been handed down to us through countless generations. They represent a experience that is familiar, yet startlingly dynamic and new. These words are sturdy, having withstood the test of time, yet they represent something that is as brittle as the ties that bind our hearts in Christian love. We can make them stronger by stretching them. We can grow to fit into them more perfectly with repeated wear.
Tonight is Maundy Thursday, a night when many of us will gather at to remember Christ’s commandment to love one another. Tonight the Incarnate God illustrated this basic instruction by wrapping a towel around his waist, kneeling on the floor and washing fishermen’s feet. He emptied himself, taking the form of a servant in order to prescribe the unity and community he intends. With the faithful of every time and place let’s join in that memorial. Let’s pray that God will make the Church the body broken and the blood poured out for the sake of the world. Let’s makes this Institution, so familiar and mysterious, our home.
In that spirit, let us pray together…
God of humble grace, make us instruments of unity and peace this Lenten season. As we journey towards Easter, through the trouble, the struggles, the darkness we face, remind us that we do not journey alone, that we are surrounded by communities near and far, joined by God’s great love for the world made known through Jesus Christ. Remove the pride that leads to fractures and estrangement and grant us your peace. Make us eternally one, in the unity of God the Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer. Amen
Rosy Robson is a second year M. Div./MACE student from Black Mountain, NC. This past summer Rosy served as a parish intern at First Presbyterian Church in Annapolis, MD. She looks forward to serving in various capacities in other ministerial settings throughout her time at Union Presbyterian Seminary.
The Rev. Dr. Susan DeWyngaert is pastor of Woods Memorial Presbyterian Church in Severna Park, MD.