Freely We Have Received, Freely We Welcome...
For the last two weeks I have been haunted by the question of the disciples in John 9: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (9:2) This kind of question, “Why did this happen to me?” or “What must they have done to end up like that?” are the kinds of questions that currently occupy much of my thinking. My academic work is about the intersection of trauma and human suffering with the ways in which the church speaks about God and how it lives its life in response to just how much suffering there is not only “out in the world" but in this room. And here is what I have learned thus far: The seemingly hard-hearted question that the disciples ask Jesus about the blind man is exactly the same question that too often we ask about others even now.
This is why Jesus’ answer is so confrontational: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” (9:3) What we shouldn’t presume here is that Jesus is suggesting that this man was born blind and that by “fixing him” or healing him that then God’s works will be revealed in him. God doesn't make mistakes. Jesus is not suggesting that this man was born blind so that God can show himself by “repairing” this man. This text was never about blindness per se, but about the ways that God reveals himself explicitly through the kinds of people that those in power presume are wicked sinners, or at the very least guilty by association. The religious elite, those with “spiritual authority”, presume that he is the way he is because of something sinful that he or his parents had done. Jesus is here to confront them (and us) with the reality that God chooses to reveal himself through the very people that often times we label as ungodly, unworthy, and unimportant.
Sometimes those people, those whom we act as if they are ungodly, unworthy, or unimportant, are born that way, and no matter if they desire to change or if they are pressured to do so by the demands of others, it is simply who they are before God and the world. For those people we presume that it is something they have done that has made them to be "that way." For others, they deem themselves to be ungodly, unworthy, or unimportant because of something that has happened to them or because of guilt about something that happened to someone they love. No matter the source of this status that marks someone as an outsider, the result is the same: exclusion. Exclusion imposed from outside or a self-imposed exile, both of which cause pain, suffering, loneliness, trauma, and harm to the body of Christ.
I confess to only recently having recently realized that this is the core message of the Apostle Paul in the text that I heard paraded week after week growing up as we prepared to participate as individuals who simultaneously took the bread and cup in what I call "communal privacy." (If you have ever passed golden trays in complete silence you know what I mean.)
For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 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.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. (1 Corinthians 11:23-28, NIV)
I always heard this text to mean this:
The Lord’s Supper is important. We are here to remember.
This is a time to repent, reflect, and remember by yourself, alongside everyone else.
It has always struck me as odd then that the rest of Paul’s instruction from 1 Corinthians 11 never seemed to read publicly:
For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment. Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world. So then, my brothers and sisters, when you gather to eat, you should all eat together. (1 Corinthians 11:29-33, NIV)
In a world that is ordered by inclusion and exclusion, by those who are in and those who are out, by those who belong and those who confront our systems of inclusion and exclusion, this Christian practice of gathering around this table is seen by the world as a scandal. We are told that we must come in a way that is not “unworthy”, and what we learn is that "if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves” we would not exclude others or ourselves. We would recognize that our place at this table is an act of grace. Freely we have received, freely we welcome all. “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:26, NIV) This morning we confess that Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again. So as you come this morning to receive a sign of God’s inexhaustible love for you, share with your brothers and sisters the embrace of God that you have received. We receive the words of Jesus himself this morning: “All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” (John 6:37, NIV)