1 Corinthians 11:23-26
Around the Table
Tonight we start the last leg of the journey to Easter. Tonight we dive deep into the last days of Jesus’ life here on earth. Tonight we go through a time of celebration and a time of contemplation. Tonight starts the hard part of Lent. The three services that happen within these four days are linked together. They are called the Triduum. It is three days but only one act of worship. Tonight we start the Triduum with the celebration of Holy Thursday and then tomorrow, at Johnsontown we will celebrate a service of Tenebrae or a service of shadows. Tonight we will participate in the first service of Holy Thursday. Then on Sunday we will finish our service with an Easter celebration. All of these services are linked together. When we end this service, it is not truly the end but merely the intermission until the moment our God died.
Tonight starts our Lord’s last day here on earth. Jesus starts this last 24 hours by having a meal with his disciples. The synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, tell us that this was the Passover meal. The Holy Meal for Jews to commemorate being passed over by the angel of death during the 10th plague in Egypt. After this they were freed from their slavery and walked through the Red Sea and into freedom with God. This meal is a reminder that they are free in God and through all the symbolism this meal tells their story as a people.
Jesus and his disciples, being good Jews, would have understood all of this and as they went through the Seder meal, Jesus’ heart was probably heavy. He knew his people’s pain as they suffered in Egypt. He knew their struggles and cried alongside the Father as they watched their beloved nation suffer. Yet Jesus had to move past that moment because the reality that was facing him was even greater. God did not just set his people free in Egypt but he had planned to make atonement for all of humanity’s sins. God had decided to make right what went wrong in the start of creation. God decided that in order to bring his children home again he had to send his own child to die our death. That started at this meal.
Jeanne Doering wrote, “When a jeweler displays a fine diamond, he often puts it on black velvet. There, it catches fire from the lights of the room, its beauty multiplied, and its value becomes more apparent. The Lord’s Supper is like that diamond. Sometimes it needs to be pried from traditional settings and thrown against the black velvet of the blackest night in history: the night it was instituted–the night before Christ was crucified.”
In the text today Paul reminds how we are to remember this meal and we hear the familiar words that are said every time we come to this holy table. “On the night when he was betrayed he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” Tonight as we come to the table we need to remind ourselves that Jesus gave us this meal as a tool to connect with God, to feel God’s love and grace in our lives, and to remember what he is about to do.
Some members of my congregation and I are reading through Adam Hamilton’s new book, The 24 Hours that Changed the World. In this book Hamilton walks through the last 24 hours of Christ’s life and brings out some nuances that we might have forgotten as we simply hit cruise control during this well known holiday of ours. It is a good thing to step back though and look at the little things because when we do that we can see the big thing differently.
One of the parts that stood out to me the most in this last meal Jesus had with his disciples was the fact that he knew what they were about to do. As they eat the Seder together Jesus is looking around the table at his friends and knows that these are the people that will pass along the message of what will happen tomorrow. These 12 men are the foundation the church will be built on and how the world will know that they are loved by God. Jesus scans the table and there is Peter, Andrew and John. They were his closest friends, the ones he counted on during the biggest moments of his ministry. It was these three that he took up to the mountain of transfiguration and will call upon them to pray with him in the garden later on this evening.
Then there were James, James, Matthew, Philip, Bartholomew, Simon, Thaddeous, Thomas and Judas. These men gave up their lives to follow Jesus and they had learned a lot from him. They had seen amazing things. They passed out the five loaves of bread and two fish that somehow fed thousands of people. They were there on the boat when they saw Jesus walk on water and calm the sea. They had front row seats when Jesus healed the blind, the cripple, the possessed, and the dead. They had heard the parables and the teachings. And now they gather at the table together. They were celebrating their journey, their friendship, their ministry with one another at this meal. There were laughs at inside jokes and arguments about policy and procedures. It was a time to relax and enjoy each other’s company, as a family of misfits who God had called to be disciples.
But like I said, Jesus knew what they were about to do as well. Jesus knew that by morning none of them would be at Jesus’ side. He tells them that one of them will betray him before this night was over. He tells Peter that he will deny him three times. The others will run and hide when things get bad. They will all desert him, abandon him, forsake him in the end. Jesus will die on the cross tomorrow alone, his most trusted friends gone because they were not ready for what it truly meant to follow him.
We do this often in our lives as well. We like to look at ourselves and think we are true followers of Christ but when things get tough we cast Jesus aside. As we live our lives there are times when we come in contact with God and we abandon him. We do not feed the hungry like we are commanded. We do not visit the imprisoned. When we are truly honest we really don’t care for the poor as long as we are not among them. Like the disciples, who sat at the table and started to argue about who was the greatest, we look at our own churches and compete for who is best, instead of being the connectional system we are designed to be. We betray Jesus when we think the bronze plague with our names on it is more important than the ministry our churches provide.
Lent is a journey into the depth of our darken soul. We venture into this place because we need to understand who we really are. We are no better than the disciples that will desert Christ in his hour of need. We are no better than Judas who betrays Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. We all have fallen short of God’s glory and if we were there around that table all those years ago, we would run and hide later on tonight as well.
Jesus looks around the table and sees all this. He sees his friend who is about to betray him. He sees his loyal follower who is about to deny him and all the others who will desert him and leave him to die alone. He looks at use today and sees our sins as well; our arrogance, our pride, our egos, our selfishness, our lust, our rage, our anger, our silence, our greed. He saw all this and he still said, “This is my body. This is my blood.” The grace and love of our Savior constant looks past our errors and sins and continues to reach out in love and forgiveness in order to offer us salvation. In the darkest moment of Christ life here on earth, he offered grace to his disciples who were about to disown him. Today, as we approach the familiar table to remember these darkest hours, he offers us the same grace and love.
What I love about the United Methodist Church is our connectional system. I love the fact that no matter what United Methodist Church I am in, that is my church. Fair Grove UMC is as much my church as Trinity is, or Pine Woods, or First, or Johnsontown or any in our denomination. This reminds us that we are not individuals but are one body, just as we partake in one body. I also love that the United Methodist Church practices an open table. Everyone, I mean everyone is welcome to come to the table and receive the body and blood of Christ. John Wesley saw this as a means of grace; a place where we can feel the grace of God and come in contact with our risen savior.
This means that no matter who you are or who you think you are, you are welcomed to this table. If Jesus could break bread with his betrayer, Judas, his denier, Peter, and the other 10 deserters, than he can welcome us. Tonight, come to the table and receive grace, receive love, and receive the forgiveness God is offering. As the body and blood of our savior sinks deep into your belly, may the Holy Spirit transform you and may you understand the gift that is given on Easter morning.
And all God’s people said…Amen.