Participating in the Gospel – a matter of ‘This and That’!

[] The Good News is ‘that’ … and … ‘that’ (1 Corinthians 15:1-11)

Paul taught the new believers in Corinth the essentials of the gospel as a simple formula, summarised in four key points, each introduced by the adverb ‘that’:

that ‘Christ died …’
            and that ‘he was buried’
            and that ‘he was raised on the third day …’
            and that ‘he appeared’ again and again to many witnesses.
All four Gospels culminate with the story of ‘Holy Week’ – filling out those key points.

[] So, ‘this’ is what we should do (1 Corinthians 11: 23-26)

Paul encouraged those young disciples to partake regularly of the covenant meal as Jesus’ intended way to keep those gospel essentials alive in their experience. When he spelled it out, also as a simple basic formula introduced by a ‘that’ (1 Corinthians 11: 23), he repeatedly used the adjective this (as do all the first three Gospels at the Last Supper). Jesus highlighted ‘this bread’– designating it as this is my body which is for you’ (though still intact throughout that final meal) – and this cup’; and he emphasised the action of eating and drinking, do this.’ 

[] Our ‘participation in’ the body and the blood of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:15-16)

John’s is the only Gospel that does not record this part of the Last Supper. That is because he had already used the seminar that followed the feeding of the five thousand to teach participating in Jesus’ death (John 6:32-59). Jesus’ teaching on that occasion was based on the text about manna in Nehemiah 9:15 (‘You gave them bread from heaven’; see John 6:31). He explained, ‘I am the bread from heaven.’  He ended his message by swopping the simple verb ‘to eat’ for a stronger one ‘to feed on’ (1 Corinthians 10:54, 56, 57, 58) – literally ‘to chew’! The final stage of digestion (assimilation), turning one’s food into stored energy for healthy living, is thwarted if this first stage (ingestion) is mismanaged. In breaking bread we should not just remember, but appropriate Christ’s victorious death by the musing of faith. ‘Feed on him in your hearts by faith’ (Anglican liturgy).

[] We must prepare to participate (1 Corinthians 11:28)

Not only did Christ die ‘for our sins’, he died to sin’ and we ‘have been baptized into his death’ (see Romans 6:1-11). So, what we should be doing in the covenant meal is not simply ‘a little of this and a little of that’ but ‘totally this and that’. The crucified Christ’s famous last words, ‘It is finished’, must also be my statement of faith as far as sin is concerned. I cannot afford to leave issues unresolved – half dead or half buried. I either sort out grievances or, when that is not possible, I must reckon the matter finito. Grudges soon stink! I must bury the dead beast completely; to leave even its tail poking out will give others a handle to trigger unwholesome reactions in me! I must examine myself and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup’ (1 Corinthians 11:28).

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