I can’t quite believe it has been over a month since I posted last! I have several posts brewing about our long-range planning process, but when I have sat down to write, words have failed me. The ways in which I see the Holy Spirit moving among our group and among the church are exciting and inspiring. There is more to come as I beging to wrap words around the process. Also about Palm Sunday and…. and…. and….
Until then, here is the meditation I preached on Thursday for the Maundy Thursday meditationlast week.
Jesus knew. Jesus knew when he sat down at the table that he was eating with those who would betray him – -that one already had. He knew when he sat down that three times more, a friend would deny knowing him, deny following him. Jesus knew. And he sat down anyway at the table. He blessed the loaf and broke it, he blessed the wine and poured it, and offered it to all of them, each and every one. And he knew that these people gathered around the table were not perfect. He knew that his fingers had brushed the fingers of sinners as they dipped bread into oil together.
The question asked at the Passover meal is “why is this night different from any other?” That question would have been asked that night, and answered in the traditional way. But Jesus knew it was different for other reasons this year. It was different because it would be his last. He knew when he entered Jerusalem that he would not leave alive, and he knew when he sat at the table that he was sitting with the one who would deliver him to the authorities, and the one who would deny him.
Who was at the table – -those who supported him, those who followed him, those who would betray him and deny him. Those who didn’t have a clue what was about to happen. Those who followed him since he first called out to them, “follow me” and those who were more recent additions. There were some serving, some watching, some listening, some not. There was a crowd – -those pictured in the portraits we have seen, and those who are outside the frame.
Gathered for one last time. Jesus and his people. They gathered one last time as he proclaims that we will proclaim his death and resurrection again and again, until he comes again. They gathered to see his hands, to witness the hands that would be pierced lift the loaf and tear it. Perhaps he struggled, perhaps it was easy. But the bread that had been whole was torn into pieces. It was not a neat slice, but rough, ragged, and unpredictable. These hands that had raised the dead and cured the sick were predicting what would happen to his body.
Did they get it – -that this was it? Did his people know that this was the last time he would bless their meal, that this was the last time he would be whole among them? Would they hold his words close to their hearts in the coming days? Did they wonder over them as they looked at the cross and followed the procession? Did they know what he meant, as he poured the wine, when he proclaimed that this was the new covenant poured out in his blood? Do we know now?
When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, he wrote to a people who seemed to have forgotten the message of the Gospel. The act of communion had become a status symbol and a show of wealth and power. The Corinthian congregations celebrated communion as part of a larger dinner gathering. Hosts’ homes were open to the outside world so that passers by could see what was happening, and who the invited guests of honor were. Imagine a house with the front wall missing so that everyone in the street walking by could see what was happening on the inside, or a celebrity being seated at the best table in a restaurant by the window so that everyone knows that they are there and who they entertaining that evening. The guests of honor arrived first, and brought the best food and wine. They ate and drank to their satisfaction, leaving little for the guests who came later – -those who were the social inferiors and had to finish their day’s labor before they could come and bring their less glamorous offerings to the table. When those who had lower social stations were denied food at the table of the Lord, Paul saw something that was not right, and he wrote to correct them, reminding them “for I received from the Lord what I am handing on to you.” This meal is the same meal that Jesus was part of, passed down from hand to hand, person to person, generation to generation. Just as Jesus welcomed the sinners to his table as equals, the Corinthians were called to do the same and welcome everyone, as equals, to their tables. Paul’s words are to instruct the Corinthians, and us, to break down the walls that divide us from each other and from Christ so that we can come together as one.
Paul knew that there were those in Corinth, just as there are those at our own tables, who hunger and thirst. Not only for physical food and water, but in a deeper way. In our own way, each of us hungers for something more substantial than food and more quenching than water. We hunger and thirst in ways that can only be satisfied by Christ. By being seen and known by him, which is what we experience when sit down together and remember this night and this meal, that they were not for some, but for all.
This night is about seeing barriers broken down and destroyed. It is about recognizing that God created all people in the image of God, and in God’s eyes, there is no distinction. At this table, there is a place for all, and no place is better than any other. We are called to come together in common around this table and experience the Lord together. We come and break bread and pour wine with “the least of these” and the “best of these” and “all of these” in the name of Jesus Christ, who commanded us to do so.
What are you hungry for? What barriers are you hungry to break down? What righteousness does your soul thirst for? At the table, you find the food and drink to satisfy them. How do you hunger for Jesus? On this night, especially, we hunger to experience Jesus up close, to sit right next to him, to eat and drink with him before he goes. We come to be nourished so that we can be more Christlike; so that we will have greater capacity to help our neighbors in need and break down the barriers of race, class, and gender that divide us as a society. When the disciples gathered with Jesus in the Upper Room, they came together as a community and collapsed those barriers that divided them – reunited in covenant with each other and with God, just as we are this night.
It has been said that worship without service is incomplete. We are drawn in to worship the Lord and propelled out to serve in his name. Just as when he washed their feet, the Master becomes servant, as do we. We come to the table hungry and thirsty, but for what? Transformation? Love? Acceptance? To understand what Jesus was telling his friends at this last meal?
Once, there was a child who was sitting in church with his mother. It came to be time for communion, and the little boy whispered loudly “I’m hungry, and I’m thirsty.” The mother replied back, “I know. We will be finished with church soon, and then we can get a snack at coffee hour. Just be still a little bit longer.”
“NO.” said the little boy. “I’m hungry and thirsty now. I want to go.”
“Oh honey,” sighed the mother. “Sing the hymn with me.”
“NO. I’m hungry and I’m thirsty for Jesus and I want to go to communion.” And with that, he took her hand and marched her up the aisle towards the communion table.
What are you hungry for tonight? What are you thirsty for as you sit here? Christ sets this Table of Life and Christ invites all of us to partake in the meal. When we eat this meal in a community that takes seriously the claim that we are all created in God’s image and we are all of equal status in God’s eyes, then we all come and break open not only the bread of life, but our very lives themselves. We break them open for one another to experience each other in community. When we pour out the cup, we also pour out our lives in covenant with one another as well as with God. We are to bring our whole selves to this feast, to come and be broken open and emptied and to allow God to fill us. To be broken and transformed.
The loaf, broken and torn, reminds us of a body on a cross. The fruit of the vine, poured and flowing, reminds us of pierced sides. Yet we also remember when his hands tore the loaf and poured the cup, when he promised to come again. He promised all who were there, all who believe, and all who follow him. No matter how broken, how battered, how hungry or thirsty. There is a place at the table of Christ for each of us to come on this night that is not like any other. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.
Rev. Julie A. Jensen
Maundy Thursday, April 21, 2011