For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
1 Corinthians 11:23-26; text for Holy Thursday, April 18, 2019
What does it mean to ‘proclaim the Lord’s death’? The phrase catches at me as I read these verses. Three verses.
Three verses set in the middle of a longer argument Paul is making to tell the church in Corinth what they are doing wrong in worship, how they should be doing right. Three verses that aren’t particular to the situation in Corinth at all, of teaching that didn’t originate with Paul, as if this is merely the hook on which Paul hangs the argument that matters.
Or is this hook itself the point?
‘I received from the Lord’ — Paul is not the source of this teaching but its conduit — ‘what also I handed on to you’ — Paul is not the end of the teaching, nor meant to be its end. Paul received it in order to hand it on; handing it on was the reason for his receipt of it. The word was not given to be swallowed into silence but to be spoken on. It is a word held in trust, a word not given for Paul’s sake only but for the sake of those to whom he would speak it.
What have I received in trust? What have I been charged to speak on to others? What did not begin with me nor is meant to end with me? With you? With us?
Body-bread. Covenant-cup. ‘Do this,’ the Lord’s repeated instruction. ‘Do this.’
Is ‘this’ the taking and breaking? The drinking? The thanksgiving?
Paul repeats the teaching he received, then shifts from first-person quotation (what Jesus said) to second-person exhortation: ‘Eat this bread; drink this cup.’ For in doing this, Paul says, ’you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.’
It is not only that body-bread and covenant-cup proclaim the Lord’s death but that ‘doing this’ is a proclamation ‘until he comes.’ The cross is central, but it is not the whole. Paul’s words make plain that it is not the end: there is yet more to look forward to, more to live towards.
‘Do this,’ Paul instructs. His words do not only characterize the action as proclamation, they frame the time of proclaiming, the Corinthians’ ‘now,’ living between Jesus’ death and Jesus’ return. Which is our ‘now’ too; we live still poised between death and return; in this time of proclamation. Declaration. Statement. Witness.
‘This’ is not memorial but testimony. ‘This’ is not over, ‘this’ is not past. ‘This’ lives.
We live in the time between death and return. Whether we feel ourselves resurrected or waiting in the tomb for the voice that calls us out, still, we live in the time of resurrection. Jesus’ resurrection, the promise and foretaste of our own, the power that lets us live even while we wait.
Body-bread. Covenant-cup. Resurrection-proclamation.
The word did not come to be swallowed into silence but to be told aloud with our mouths and with our lives.
Until he comes. Again. And we live beyond all our imagining.