Friday, March 30, 2018

Holy Supper, Public Protest: a Maundy Thursday sermon from Jerusalem

Maundy Thursday Reflection
29 March 2018
Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, Jerusalem
Joint English-Arabic-German liturgy

1 Corinthians 11:26
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Maundy Thursday communion in Jerusalem
Photo by Ben Gray/ELCJHL
Hear these words from the First letter of Paul to the Corinthians, chapter 11:
“For as often as you eat of this bread and drink of this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

There are so many ways to think about Holy Communion:

We call it the Lord’s Table, or the Lord’s Supper.

Luther’s Small Catechism calls it the Sacrament of the Altar, and teaches that it is: “the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ himself, for us Christians to eat and to drink.”

It is also a rare moment at the beginning of each week, when we stand shoulder to shoulder with folks we don’t know—and perhaps folks we don’t like—and discover that after all, we share the same hunger and thirst for connection with God, and with each other.

In practice, however, Holy Communion sometimes takes on other meanings.

For some, coming to the table is seen as an exclusive reward, reserved for those living a “godly” life.

Some view it as a visible sign of unity within a congregation, available only to those who confess the same creeds or vote the same way.

And many have experienced Holy Communion as a gateway to God—a gate that is often closed to them. Pastors and priests have sometimes acted as gatekeepers, assigned to protect the real presence of Jesus from the real presence of humans who lack enough faith, or the appropriate age, or an acceptable lifestyle, to come to the table.

How did bread and wine become so complicated? 

My friend Katie, a pastor in Chicago, recently recorded a video interview with her 5 year old daughter Betty, on what she knows about communion. I just love how Betty explains it:

“Who is communion for?” her mom asks. “Is it for old people?” YES.
“Is it for people in wheelchairs?” YES.
“Is it for children?” YES.
“Is it for bad people?” YES.
“Is it for dogs.” No! says Betty emphatically.

And then: “Why do we receive communion?”
And in all her 5 year old wisdom, Betty answers: “Because Jesus does it, and we try to do what Jesus does. Also…because we’re Lutheran.”
Amen, Betty!

But even if we know who Holy Communion is for, and we know why we do it, what is it that we do when we come to the table?

Hear again the words of the Apostle Paul, who wrote:  
“For as often as we eat of this bread and drink of this cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

Of all the ways there are to think and theologize about communion, I often forget that both Paul and our liturgy call it a proclamation.

To proclaim means to announce, to declare, even to shout out, as someone with power, news that the public needs to hear.

Walking to Gethsemane
Photo by Ben Gray/ELCJHL
Therefore, as often as we eat this bread and drink this wine,
we proclaim the power of self-emptying love, for the sake of others.
We announce that vulnerability requires more courage than violence.
We declare that God’s heart breaks, just like ours.
And through eating, we shout to the whole public what we have known through the cross and resurrection of Christ:

That goodness is stronger than evil, love is stronger than hate, light is stronger than darkness, and life is stronger than death. Amen!

“For as often as you eat of this bread and drink of this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

Dear siblings in Christ,
dear fellow diners at this extravagant feast of love,
remember today that this is not just any meal--this is an official proclamation.

This is counter-cultural eating. 
When we come to this table, we are doing something subversive, perhaps even dangerous. 
For when we receive the free gift of Jesus’ living presence in, with and under bread and wine, we are engaging in radical protest against the empire of death,
and against the powers-that-be who say nothing can change,
who say there’s nothing we can do,
who say we simply must accept a certain level of inequality,
a certain level of violence,
a certain level of oppression,
a certain level of loneliness and isolation and hunger in this world.

But we come to the table and simply by eating, we say: NO! We come to the table and join the ancient and modern protest against all such fake news, and with all the saints we proclaim:

Christ has died. And Christ is risen! And Christ will come again! Amen!

Dear people, for this reason, the walk to the Lord’s table is always a march for our lives, and for the lives of our neighbors.

But unlike other marches or protests, which are often accompanied by fists raised in the air, we come to this one open-handed.
We come with palms open, ready not only to resist but to receive.

We come to the table in open-handed protest,
We come in open-handed proclamation,
We come in open-handed gratitude,
Trusting that because of the cross of Christ, there is always enough: 

Walking the Way of the Cross
Good Friday 2018
Photo by Ben Gray/ELCJHL
There is enough bread.
Enough wine.
Enough grace.
Enough forgiveness.
Enough wholeness.
Enough land.
Enough freedom.
And yes, there is enough love—for you. For me. For neighbors. For strangers.
Even, as Jesus said, for our enemies.

So come to the table this day, ready to resist! And ready to receive.

And may the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.