Koinonia – Fellowship – part 3
This talk was given by Paul Wintle on .
The talk was preceded by readings from Matthew 26:17–30 and 1 Corinthians 10:14–22.
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… believers more than just a group of people who meet on a Sunday gathering to worship God. We learn that koinonia is something we can both be and do. Fellowship – a place we can feel at home in the company of other like-minded people; a place where deep relationships with one another and with God are formed and developed. It’s an outworking of our own faith.
Koinonia, that fellowship of believers, is also where we are. We can do fellowship-type things (because,) when we serve the community, where our very being presents Jesus as Lord to those around us.
Hospitality and meals
So, to start off today, I’d like you to imagine if you can a time or a place where you enjoyed hospitality. Somewhere, perhaps, you stayed, with a really comfy bed. A special meal at your favourite restaurant with somebody very special. Perhaps a romantic day out where you had nothing to plan or prepare for because it was all done for you; all you had to do was turn up.
The place I remember feeling probably most at home was not too far away from here. It was in a little place called Wrenbury, just outside Nantwich, and it was probably about this time last year. It was a Grade Two-listed barn conversion, a tiny little place. The most comfortable bed ever, one of those that you just fall in and it kind of hugs you. One of those beds that you kind of think I could never, ever get out ever again. Two doors away from the church bells that rang every fifteen minutes. The lounge had a really nice log burner. The seats in the lounge kind of hugged you as well. And the pub down the road did amazing food. I can’t quite remember what it was but it was some kind of Cheshire hotpot, and it was delicious, and probably rather expensive
Food connects people. It connects us with family, it connects us with friends, it turned strangers into friends. Indeed the English word ‘companion’ comes from two Latin words ‘cum’ meaning ‘together’ and ‘panis’ meaning ‘bread’ as in pain au chocolat.
Food connects people with people and the rest of the world. Consider what you had for breakfast this morning: tea, coffee, sugar, cereal, grapefruit. Much of it produced in another county or perhaps another part of the world. Food enables us to be blessed by people from around the whole globe, and, if purchased well, if it’s been fairly traded for example, then it blesses them in return.
Hospitality, especially food, is mentioned lots in the ministry of Jesus. It is used to describe salvation and judgement in Luke chapter 1 verse 53 and then again in Luke 6 verses 21 and 53. Jesus knew that eating and drinking were signs of friendship with tax collectors and sinners. His excess of food and excess of grace are linked. In his ministry, meals were what Tim Chester in this book A Meal with Jesus calls enacted grace, enacted community and enacted mission. It’s actually happening in practice and so hospitality and, in particular, food has a kingdom value. That’s one of the reasons we introduced Sunday sandwiches. It’s about grace and community and mission. It’s fellowship; it’s learning to be together.
Food and a table. Somehow stopping to eat together around a table forces us just to stop. To be together, to socialize, to go even deeper, to be present with one another. And it’s hard to do that by yourself. Food does something that breaks down barriers. It’s something we do quite a bit here at Main Street. Toasted tea cakes and coffee on a Thursday, the chance to meet people over a brew and a chat about the things that matter and the things that don’t. At Friday break there’s always snack time, which provides a great opportunity to chat and to share life together. I’m sure that many of us here have had the pleasure of being invited to somebody’s house for a cuppa or a meal. Because it’s fellowship. It’s somebody’s decision to say, I’d like to spend time with you, will you join me? It’s an excuse, a good reason, to be together.
It is at meal times that we get to know each other. It is at meal times that the lonely are brought into families. And it got me thinking, perhaps this is why coffee shops are so popular in our busy lives today. In his history of Starbucks a guy called Taylor Clark argues that the secret of its success is not its coffee but the pull of the coffee house as a place. It’s a neutral spot that’s not work and is not home. Starbucks research, apparently, showed that people wanted a cosy social atmosphere above all else. For those seeking a refuge from the world, the cup of coffee they bought was really just the price of admission to partake of the coffee house scene. Starbucks is actually selling us hospitality.
Significance of Communion
This is all a preamble really to saying that meals were central to the life of the early church.
In Acts chapter 2 and again in Acts Chapter 20, we have examples of the believers eating and sharing together. That’s where we began a few weeks ago: the believers shared in the apostles’ teaching, the fellowship, the breaking of bread and prayer.
Indeed, as we heard this morning, Jesus’ last act with his friends was over a meal. The breaking of bread here was part of the traditional passover meal. And then Jesus says something totally different, something that’s not in the script. “This is my body.” “This is my blood.” That’s not in the usual part of how we do things at Passover. And do you know why? Because this time it’s not just something that you do. It’s an offer, something that’s not forced upon us, something that we can choose to fellowship in or not. And more than that, it’s personal; my body, my blood, given for you. It’s in the plural; it’s meant to be done together as a fellowship of believers.
We usually hear these words that Andrew read to us, at the communion table. Some believers, often in the Roman Catholic traditions, believe that at the moment of consecration, at the moment of prayer, the bread becomes the body of Jesus. They would look at John chapter 6 as evidence and say it says, ‘eat the flesh.’ It is very physical, very graphic language. And so some believers take this to mean that, in communion, the bread and the wine become the very body and blood of Christ. It’s called transubstantiation.
Since the Reformation in the sixteenth century, more church groups have taken on a more memorialist kind of position, that at the communion table we remember Jesus’ death and his resurrection. We remember his body and blood. Broken and poured out for us. So the words of Jesus take on a more symbolic meaning. This is like my body, this is like my blood, it’s a representation. And this memorialist position is what many churches seem to hold to today and so we remember what Jesus did for us. And that’s important.
But let’s look and see what Paul says in his writings. Let’s look again and see if there’s another way of looking at it. 1 Corinthians chapter 10 and verse 16, “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body for we will all partake of the one loaf.’ That’s in the NIV version.
Suffice to say that 1 Corinthians 10 isn’t about communion but this word participation comes up and it’s that very word again – koinonia.
Corinth was a very cosmopolitan pagan city with statues and altars, and other Gods were being offered food of all sorts. The question being posed by the Corinthian church here was, is it okay to have a meal around the other altars? And Paul is saying, well, no actually, he says, because of what happens, the spiritual significance of what happens, at the Christian communion table, at the Last Supper. This is what we need to gather around.
So this NIV translation of 1 Corinthians 10 and verse 16 as “participation”, the RSV and the AV has “communion”, and the Good News and the New English versions translate this word as “sharing”. So it’s this familiar word that we’ve come to know over these last few weeks, koinonia, an action and a place, a horizontal and a vertical relationship with each other and with God. It’s Paul’s word for what communion is all about: participation in the blood of Christ. It’s a koinonia. Paul recognizes that there’s something special and spiritual going on here at the table.
So the context of 1 Corinthians 10 is idol feasts, statues, sacrifices, and the absence of the true and living God. And so it’s not okay, Paul says, to partake in these kind of meals. So if you have a feast at the altar of another god then there’s something, some kind of undercurrent, if you like, spiritual undercurrent contacting you, connecting you, with whatever that god represents. Paul is saying that the Christian should not get involved in that kind of eating. In the same way when we partake in communion at the table there are spiritual realities representing and underpinning that too. God is here, not simply a reminder but spiritual realities. The life of Jesus, no less, coming to the fore when we celebrate, the bread and the wine. We are participating in the blood of Christ; we are involved in this; we are somehow involved in the sacrifice of Jesus. This is what Paul, I think, emphasizes in 1 Corinthians 10. There’s a spiritual parallel between what we do and what others do; what they do with their god feasts; what we do with ours.
And so Paul reminds the Corinthian believers of the First Commandment: to have no gods before the true and living God. So I kind of wonder, humour me, I wonder if the memorialist position of communion, that is to say the remembering-only of Jesus, what he did on the cross, is really what Jesus is saying when he says remember me. When we come to the table, it’s not just a remembering of what Jesus has done for us in His death and resurrection. It is. But it’s not just this. We are involved; we are, as a community together, partaking.
In the Message version or translation or interpretation of 1 Corinthians 10 verse 16, Eugene Peterson states that we are taking into ourselves the body, the very life, of Jesus. There’s something very profound, something very spiritual, that’s meant to take place when believers come together in communion, the very real presence of God. To come into this presence and to take into ourselves the very life of Jesus. This symbolic act of consuming bread and wine or juice enables us in a very real way to have the presence of God residing in us as individuals, as a community, as a fellowship of believers. And Paul talks a lot about being in Christ, in his work in the New Testament, and so Christ lives in us, we are in him.
And so, to come full circle, meals are important. They’re important for us to come as a fellowship of believers, to come together. This meal, which we call communion, is not only a memorial of the death and resurrection of Christ. It’s so much deeper than that. It involves us participating in his life as he participates in ours. This participation enriches and deepens and changes our lives. This meal is significant. It’s a meeting point with the living God. It’s a sacred moment. It’s a solitary activity, whilst at the same time a Christian faith community activity.
As the fellowship of believers we come to share in the fellowship and, as we come into the presence of the living God, we are able to break bread together.
As we do this, we’re going to do it perhaps a little bit differently today. I will say some words. We will spend some time in silent reflection, pausing to reflect on anything that we know that stands between us and God – we call it sin. I’ll then invite you to come forward to receive the elements, the bread and the wine. For those who can’t, we will bring it to you. So Moira will be on one side with bread and I’ll be on the other side with the wine and we’ll kind of do some kind of like loop kind of thing. I hope it works.
So for those who are unable to come forward we will bring it to you. And during this time we will listen to a Taizé hymn called Eat this bread. Then, following from our time of communion, Martin will come and pray. So please remain in an attitude of prayer during this time
I’ll say some words from the second order for Holy Communion.
In this feast comes the root of our joy,
in this feast gleams
the glory of the heavens high,
In this feast Christ comes, the King of greatness.
As the Lord Jesus, the same night
in which he was betrayed, took bread,
I take these elements of bread and wine,
to be set apart to this holy use and mystery;
and as he gave thanks and blessed,
let us draw near to God and offer him
our prayers and thanksgiving.
So let’s have a couple of moments of quiet reflection. If there’s anything that’s between you and God that needs to be dealt with, please use that silence to do that.
This talk is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License
Words from the second order of Holy Communion are from Book of Order of the Church of Scotland, third edition 2005, Copyright © Panel on Worship of the Church of Scotland 1994. Used by permission.