Good Friday, a day on which we remember the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus, is a good day for a bit of self-examination.
There is, of course, another way in which we are called to regularly remember the broken body and spilled blood of Jesus: the Lord’s Supper. In a series of recent posts, we’ve looked at the situation in Corinth that prompted Paul to remind them of the meaning and significance of that final Passover meal Jesus celebrated with the Twelve before his death. Paul was angered by the way the ritual had apparently been turned into just another occasion for religious show, a pious overlay to hide how one group of believers was humiliating another.
In a text we don’t often hear at communion time, Paul sternly warns them to be more thoughtful:
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. 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. (1 Cor 11:27-29, NRSV)
Paul is not encouraging the kind of anxious spiritual navel-gazing that might come from taking that word “judgment” out of context. We are, after all, guilty of the body and blood; it was our sin that necessitated the crucifixion. But the judgment to which Paul refers is not a final condemnation, but God’s sometimes painful discipline of his wayward children (vs. 32). God holds us to account for the way in which our continued sin makes a mockery of the cross, even if we will be saved in the end.
Even so, the warning is a serious one. It’s impossible to know exactly what was happening in Corinth, but it seems that many of the believers had fallen seriously ill, and some had died (vs. 30). This may well have been a shock to the congregation, even as we today still wrestle with questions of suffering despite centuries of theology. Paul was bold enough to suggest, as a prophet might, that what they were really suffering from was a divinely administered spanking.
We should therefore examine ourselves before taking the bread and cup; self-discipline, after all, is an easier pill to swallow that divine discipline (vs. 31). And in particular, we should do so in a way that “discerns the body,” i.e., that makes us spiritually aware of the body of Christ, the church made manifest in the local congregation.
The cross is not just the bridge between us and heaven; it’s the bridge between us, between people who beyond a shared commitment to Jesus may have little else in common, or even social distinctions that hold us apart.
On this of all days, therefore, let us be aware of the price that was paid to create a new people from those who formerly were not (1 Pet 2:10).
And let us thank God for that mercy, as we seek to hear what he would have us do to put that reality into practice.