We can expect a big weekend for sermons on 1 Corinthians. Eastern and western liturgical calendars realign this year for the celebration of Easter, and Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians offers some of the most direct and explicit discussions in the New Testament on the significance of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. 1 Corinthians 5.6-8, in particular, is central to the lectionary cycles of the celebration of Easter, and will be read in Catholic and Orthodox services either tonight or Sunday. The New American Bible version of the passage runs:
“Brothers and sisters:
Do you not know that a little yeast leavens all the dough?
Clear out the old yeast,
so that you may become a fresh batch of dough,
inasmuch as you are unleavened.
For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed.
Therefore, let us celebrate the feast,
not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness,
but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”
In the spirit of Good Friday, I include some excerpts from the 15th sermon of John Chrysostom, bishop of Antioch, in his commentary on 1 Corinthians. I’ve cleaned up the text a bit to make the old Eerdmans translation (available at ccel.org) a little more readable:
Do you not know that a little yeast leavens the whole lump? “For,” says the apostle Paul, “though the offense be his, if neglected it can lay waste to the rest of the body of the Church. For when the first transgressor escapes punishment, so also will others commit the same faults.”
In these words, the apostle indicates that their struggle and their danger is for the whole Church, not for any one person. For which purpose he makes use also of metaphor of the leaven…
“Purge out the old leaven,” that is, this evil one. Not that he is speaking only about this one; rather, he glances at others with him. For, the old leaven is not fornication only, but also sin of every kind. And he said not, “purge,” but “purge out;” cleanse with accuracy so that there be not so much as a remnant nor a shadow of that sort. In saying, “purge out,” he signifies that there was still iniquity among them. But in saying, “that you may be a new lump, even as you are unleavened,” he affirms and declares that not over very many was the wickedness prevailing. But though he says, “as ye are unleavened,” he means it not as a fact that all were clean, but as to what sort of people you ought to be.
“For our Passover also hath been sacrificed for us, even Christ; wherefore let us keep the feast: not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” So also Christ called His doctrine Leaven. And further the apostle himself dwells upon the metaphor, reminding them of an ancient history, and of the Passover and unleavened bread, and of their blessings both then and now, and their punishments and their plagues.
It is festival, therefore, the whole time in which we live. For though he said, “Let us keep the feast,” he did not say it with a view to the presence of the Passover or of Pentecost; but as pointing out that the whole of time is a festival unto Christians, because of the excellency of the good things which have been given. For what has not come to pass that is good? The Son of God was made man for you; He freed you from death; and called you to a kingdom. You, therefore, who have obtained and are still obtaining such things, how can it be less than your duty to “keep the feast” all your life? Let no one then be downcast about poverty, and disease, and craft of enemies. For it is a festival, even the whole of our time. Wherefore, says Paul, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, Rejoice.” Upon the festival days no one puts on filthy garments. Neither then let us do so. For a marriage hath been made, a spiritual marriage. For, “the kingdom of Heaven,” He says, “is likened unto a certain king which would make a marriage feast for his son.” Now where it is a king making a marriage, and a marriage for his son, what can be greater than this feast? Let no one then enter in clad in rags. Not about garments is our discourse but about unclean actions. For if where all wore bright apparel one alone, being found at the marriage in filthy garments, was cast out with dishonor, consider how great strictness and purity the entrance into that marriage feast requires.