Where We Recognize Him
It is an event that usually feels solemn, weighty, important. The music tends to be slower, the room subdued. We hear the words repeated as individuals come up “the body of Christ broken for you, the blood of Christ shed for you.” As plates are handed from person to person, the words are echoed, and the response “and also for you” can sometimes be heard. For some it is a moment to be open and vulnerable, to allow Christ to fully enter into broken places and allow healing to occur. For others, it is a time of joy to lift prayers of thanksgiving. As we share Christ with one another, we feel the presence of Christ with us. We recognize the ways he is present with us, even when we don’t realize it, and in that we can rejoice.
Today we are completing a 2 part series. Next week, when Ted has returned from vacation and General Assembly, he will continue the series on Ecclesiastes that we are participating in this summer. However, we don’t often talk about what the sacraments mean, why we celebrate them, and how they call us to respond in our daily lives, and so we are taking 2 weeks, last week and this, to explore the font and table. And it is seems only appropriate that as we approach the table in a few minutes, that we explore what we believe about this sacrament.
Just as we believe that Baptism is the sign and seal of God’s faithfulness to us in our lives, the Lord’s Supper is the sign and seal of eating and drinking in communion with the risen Lord. We remember that during his ministry on earth with his followers Jesus shared meals with them, and with those he met. Those meals were a sign of the community we find in Christ, the acceptance he showed during his ministry, and an opportunity for him to minster to others. In these meals, Jesus celebrated the Old Testament feasts that commemorated the covenants of Israel. There was one particular feast, the one we remember most when we think about coming to the table. This feast was the Last Supper – the meal where Jesus gathered in the Upper Room with his friends and broke the bread and poured the cup, explaining that this was his body and blood, and that in them, there was a new covenant for the people of God. On Easter, the day of his resurrection, we reach our story for today – the day that Jesus makes himself known to his followers in the very familiar act of taking, breaking, blessing, and sharing the bread. In those acts, he showed himself, and his ministry continued.
When we come to the table, we participate in prayer, in a meal, in remembering. As we prepare to eat together, we give thanks. We thank God for what we remember that God has done for us, all the way back to the beginning of the world. God created and God redeemed. We thank God that despite the human sin that is ever-present, God continues to be at work in the church and in the world. After we say thank-you, we remember what Christ has done. In this remembering, the church is renewed and empowered by the memory of Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and promise to return. When we come to the table, we are sustained by Christ’s pledge of undying love and continual presence with Christ’s people. That’s a lot to ask us to experience in a piece of bread and a sip of juice! Yet, it is when we come together to share that sip of juice and bite of bread that we are nourished by the presence of Christ with us. The bread and juice that we use at our table do not turn into Jesus. But they enable us to closely encounter Jesus as he is with us in this meal. As we gather around this table, we remember all of those Christ ministered to – those who were of different ages, races, classes, genders, and beliefs. And we join them. Jesus shared meals with his friends, with his followers, even with his enemies – Judas was at that last supper too. And we remember all of that as we pass the plates and cups. We remember, and we are there too.
Switch gears and think about weddings for a moment. From the moment a couple announces that they are engaged – from the first time the bride-to-be holds out her hand so that grandma can see the ring, to the moment the now-married couple slips into the car and drives away to their new life together, there is a lot of planning. A lot. Even if a wedding is not on the scale that will land it in the pages of a wedding magazine, there is a lot of planning that happens. The list of decisions to be made and details to tend to grows and grows, and then eventually shrinks as things get checked off the list. Couples plan for this to be a day for them to remember with their family and friends. Like many events, there are three ways to look at a wedding – as you prepare and rehearse, what happens in the event itself, and then looking back on the day. It is not until all three have happened that a full understanding of what has taken place can be gained. In the planning and rehearsal, no matter how strong the relationship, there is a moment of “is this really going to happen? Is it all going to come together?” When the big day finally arrives, there is excitement, confusion, chaos – even at the best planned event – at the flood of emotions that accompany such an important day. It is only after the event, when it is remembered, that the significance can fully be felt. It is in remembrance, outside of the disbelief of planning and practice, and busyness of the day that we can realize what has happened, and recognize and claim its importance. The same thing happens with a graduation, the birth of a baby, a move to a new city, the start of a new job, being laid off, or when we retire. So often in life we plan, we rehearse, the event happens, and then it is in looking back that we see what it really meant, and how we have forever been changed by it. I think that is one of the reasons we take so many pictures at our big days — so that we can look back and remember them.
The parallel between weddings, births, graduations, bread and wine is in the memory. Throughout his ministry, Jesus rehearsed this event. How many times did he gather for a meal, break the bread and distribute it? How many loaves did he break as he stood there with baskets of fish on a mountainside and watched as 5000 ate? How many meals with Mary and Martha? How many dinners with the disciples occurred that are not mentioned, but must have happened as they traveled from town to town. And each time he told them of what was to come – of his death and resurrection, and they did not quite believe that it would actually happen. They did not think the day would ever come when it would be the “last” time they gathered for a meal, they did not think there would come a day when they had to be the teachers and messengers of his word. When the event finally happened, when they entered into Jerusalem and then gathered in the Upper Room for the Passover feast, it happened in a blur. A flood of emotions were present at that meal, as well as confusion as they all wondered what would happen next. Trying to make sense of it was just not possible. Yet, four days after that last meal, three days after the death, there was time to remember what had happened, and try to make sense of it.
Two of the disciples set out that day to go to Emmaus. As they walked, they began to remember what had happened. They were joined by a stranger, who asks what took place. And, they tell their story. They remember the work of Jesus, what he did, and how he died. They preach the gospel. Even when Jesus interprets the events through the scriptures, they don’t recognize him. They have told him about his life and his death and disappearance, but even when he preaches back to them what he has told them so many times before they don’t recognize him. They reach their destination and realize the stranger has no place to stay. So, following an example that they had seen many times before as strangers welcomed them into their homes, they welcomed this stranger in too. It is at supper that he takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it and shares it among them, and in that action, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. As they then took to the road to go back and tell the others, they remembered the event that that had just been part of. They shared the words and emotions of what had happened as they struggled to make sense of it.
When we remember the last supper, when we remember that God has been with us since the beginning of time, and will continue to be with us, when we remember that no matter what human sin in on the earth, Christ is in the midst of it, we are making sense of the death and resurrection of Christ. When we come and eat bread and drink juice, we reflect on the first time that that happened. In this sacrament, is the ministry of Christ. Christ loved and served all – the broken, the sad, the scared, the annoying, the passive aggressive, the joyful, the thankful, the lost and forgotten as well as the faithful. Christ welcomed all, and that includes us. As we rehearse the sacrament in anticipation of the day we truly will sit at the never-ending table with all who have and will claim Christ, we also are in the event as it happens. As we are present in the taking of bread and cup for this day, we remember the first day. In one moment, we are at all three moments. In one moment, Christ recognizes us for who we really are, deep down inside, and we recognize Christ for what he ahs done for us. It is in the memory that we see the present and the future.
Do you see yourself as you hear the words, “this is my body, broken for you.” For you – not because of you, not in spite of you, but FOR you. For you as you were, as you are, and as you will be. In the breaking of the bread, Christ recognizes you. Christ hands you a piece of himself and sits down next to you. In this meal is the entire story of our faith and life together. In being recognized by Christ, we recognize him. We tell our story, and we are called to go out and tell others. We are invited to respond to seeing Christ by serving Christ. We are invited to respond to being seen by showing others.
So, as we approach this table, as we pass the bread and take the cup, look around. Recognize Christ in the faces of your neighbors. Let them recognize Christ in you. Delight in the joy we can take that as we eat together we share a common history, common faith, and common savior. Give thanks that as the bread is broken we see Christ in each of us – we recognize and we are recognized. May Christ be made known to you this day, and may you recognize him as he calls you to share the news of our common story. Amen.
Rev. Julie A. Jensen
First Presbyterian Church, Cartersville, GA
July 1, 2012