October 4, 2015
The Body of Christ
On my first Sunday, I mentioned that I come from the Methodist Church. I am actually a very proud Methodist, and since Methodist Church is one of the mother churches of the United Church of Canada, I don’t stop being a Methodist even though now I am a proud United Church minister. The people called Methodists have a lot of distinct characteristics, but one of them (one of the most important ones, if you ask me) is that we love eating together. We love potluck dinners. Do we love eating together in the United Church? I think so. Now, that’s Methodist. I believe we learned this habit from our Methodist father John Wesley and his friends; early Methodists were big on small group meetings, and guess what people do when they gather. But the early Methodists were not even the ones who started this tradition of gathering and eating together. It was Jesus himself. Jesus gathered with people and ate with them, and the early Christians did it too. We are just following a long tradition. But why this fascination with eating? What’s the significance of eating together?
In the traditional Korean society, we lived in extended families. Women and children didn’t eat with the men at the same table. Not eating at the same table also meant not eating the same food, because you know, women and children were second class citizens. Jewish people were also taught not to enter the house of the Gentiles or associate with them in general. Jewish leaders were smug about their privilege (of both being Jewish and being upper class) that they used the Jewish law and other teachings they have received as an excuse to judge and alienate others. Sounds familiar? It does to me. Anyway, they hated Jesus because he defied those hate teachings and associated with all the wrong people; they considered it as an act of contempt on their “good old” Jewish values.
Eating together assumes tolerance, acceptance, equality, and potentially love. I am sure ancient Koreans and Jews were not the only ones that had an unequal eating custom, because most societies in the ancient world didn’t promote equality. That is why the theology and lifestyle of Jesus were big scandals; he preached the good news about the kingdom of God, which is based on radical love and equality.
In today’s Bible story, it is the Jewish festival of Passover and Jesus has his last Passover meal with his disciples. I’m not sure if you all know this, but Passover is a festival commemorating how God liberated the Ancient Hebrew people from the slavery in Egypt under the leadership of Moses. Anyway, it is the Jewish custom to gather in big numbers and have a ceremonial Passover meal. We call this gospel scene “the Last Supper”. From Jesus breaking bread and sharing wine with his friends in this scene came our Christian tradition of the Lord’s Table; the Holy Communion. In today’s story, Jesus shares bread and wine with his friends and say, “I will no longer drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God”. Everything Jesus has done and taught until this point is about the kingdom of God.
In the apocalyptic Jewish literature between 3rd century BCE and 1st century CE (or AD, as we used to say it), the reward that faithful people of God will receive in the after world is often depicted as a heavenly banquet, eating with God and other heavenly beings. Although the gospel texts were heavily influenced by this sort of Jewish thoughts, Jesus teaches the kingdom of God not only as an after world but also something that starts and enfolds in this world among the community of believers. That is why he taught, “be humble and serve each other” or “only those who do the will of God will enter the kingdom of heaven”. This idea about the kingdom of God being here and now is all Jesus; it didn’t come from any previous existing Jewish thoughts.
The topic of the kingdom of God (or the kingdom of heaven, as in the Gospel of Matthew) is very dear to me, and is in fact the topic of my graduate studies research. It is much too long and complicated to elaborate, but what I want you to know right now is that it came from an apocalyptic idea concerning “the other world” or “the after world”; but according to Jesus, the reward that faithful believers will receive in “the other world” starts with the community of the disciples living the will of God in “this world”. As it is written in Matthew chapter 7, “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord” shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my father in heaven”. Christian is as Christian does. We are not Christians if we do not live as the followers of Christ. The gospel texts are full of Jesus teaching scandalous ideas about unconditional love and acceptance towards all people, and how disciples should be humble and serve each other. This community of the disciples, the followers of Jesus, IS the kingdom of God.
Eating together is a manifestation of acceptance and equality. Also, even in our society that promotes equality, we don’t want to eat with someone we dislike. So by eating with someone, we are saying, “I love and accept this person”. When we share the Holy Communion, we hear Jesus’ saying, “do this in remembrance of me”. But what shall we remember about our teacher and Lord Jesus? I want us to remember the teachings and life examples of Jesus and remind ourselves what being his followers is about. We are disciples. We are the church, the family formed by Jesus. As we eat together with our church family, whether it’s a real meal or a symbolic meal of the Holy Communion, let us remember the radical love and acceptance that Jesus stands for, and use it as an opportunity to remind ourselves that we should follow Jesus by being humble, accepting, loving and serving other, and by living out our faith in our lives. As we celebrate the gift of the Lord’s Table along with other Christian brothers and sister in the world today, let us hear Jesus’ teachings of love. When we hear the words, “the body of Christ”, let us remember that we the church is and should be the body of Christ.
Rev. Sunny Kim