I Corinthians 11 – Head Coverings, and the Lord’s Supper
Cannon to the right of him, cannon to the left of him, into the valley of death, rode the apostle. In this chapter, Paul rides fearlessly onto two bitterly-fought battlefields in the 2,000 year-long internecine War of the True Believers.
First: the roles – one might even say ranks – of men and women. It is tempting to write “men vs. women” or “women vs. men” because gender strife is alas part of the curse of Adam and Eve: Genesis 3:16, “thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.”
I am quoting from the King James Bible because today I am in Hyde Park, minding the Lamoille Woodcraft store operated by the Mennonite Church. I believe I am something of a Righteous Gentile to them, having sold advertising to them years ago and commented favorably on the Scripture verse road signs that they have erected between Hyde Park and Imani’s home in North Wolcott. Today the church is having a wedding, and for the first time ever a non-Mennonite is watching the store! I am honored and welcome an opportunity to build a bridge of fellowship with this branch of the family of God. As for the KJV – it is a 1977 Thomas Nelson Sunday School version hanging around the store. There are no customers, so I am redeeming the time.
The Mennonites look and act a lot like the Amish, to whom I believe they are closely “related” in the faith. (They do however use the 4 C’s of So-Called Contemporary Christian Civilization: Cars, cellphones, computers, and credit cards. No sign of internet use, though.) Their women wear head coverings, not just in church but when out tending their large vegetable gardens or waiting on customers at their many Lamoille county retail operations and farm stands. According to my limited knowledge, they are the only church body in Vermont that seems to require this practice. I suspect the abandonment of head coverings by the rest of us would baffle and upset Paul:
“But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head; for that is even all one as if she were shaven. For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn; but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered. For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. For the man is not of the woman, but the woman of man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man. For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels.”
And now let the bride say: “Yeah, whatever, Paul.” I mean, what are we to DO with such teaching? Demand head coverings? Explain to the world we (say we) wish to win for Christ that because of what happened in the Garden of Eden, women must wear hats when they pray? Ignore it? Smile with amused tolerance, as at the outdated opinion of a much-loved elder?
I think we are hearing from Saul the Pharisee again. Like any good elder and “link to the sacred past”, he is teaching the Greek Corinthians to understand and honor their Adamic roots and identity. But then Paul chimes in with a Kingdom clarification, explaining this teaching without voiding it: Vs. 15 says a woman’s long hair is covering enough. And oh by the way man came from woman, too, and really they both come from God, so let’s not get too hung up on hierarchy. As he says in Ephesians, as Spirit-led and filled believers let us love and serve each other. This is the same technique as seen in Chapter 10, where Saul first refers to the cautionary history in the Hebrew Bible and then Paul clarifies it with Kingdom teaching of freedom in the Spirit.
And that reference to the angels…..hmmm and hmmm again…..maybe an uncovered, rebellious, serpent-obeying woman is equated with the angels who also rejected God’s plan? A “fallen woman” indeed and likewise “shorn” on the inside?
And then, on to Communion. It’s no big deal today, but Christians were killing each other by the thousands over it in the 1500’s and 1600’s. Catholics killed Protestants, Protestants killed other Protestants, Protestants killed Catholics, in part at least over the “disagreement” (a gentle word) over the understanding of the Lord’s Supper. The bitter irony of brothers killing brothers in the name of communally honoring Christ’s sacrificial death for the sin of mankind is just too obvious to discuss. Some good came of it: the American revolutionaries, of all faiths, looked at the endless European religious conflict and said, “yecchh…..we want a First Amendment.”
Paul’s beef with the Corinthian practice of the Lord’s supper is also tinged with ironic anger. In a supposed celebration of the ultimate act of self-sacrifice, the Corinthans are vying to see who can eat the most food and drink! Some pig out, the unlucky ones starve. One can just hear Jesus saying, “you call me teacher and Lord, and rightly so for that is what I am. Now that I have washed your feet, you should wash one another’s feet, you should do as I have done for you.”
And fat old Epecticus of Corinth looks up from the Lord’s table and with his mouth full of wine-mushed bread, mumbles, “Quod?” and grabs another loaf.
And overweight Guy grabs another pancake at the youth group fundraiser, while a quarter of the world starves. Some things never change – until I heed the Spirit.