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Welcome at the Table: A Sermon for Maundy Thursday 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 John 13:1-17, 31b-35
April 7, 2015, 3:40 pm
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Photo by E DavisTonight, we celebrate D* and Z*’s welcome at the Lord’s Table. This celebration occurs against the backdrop of the drama of the increasing danger of Jesus’ last days. Tonight’s texts build in their revealing of Jesus’ purpose and the deadly work he will accomplish for the sake of all people. Tonight, D* and Z* remind us that this work was not only to fulfill a promise to people who lived long ago. Jesus enters betrayal, arrest, and death for us, for D* and Z*, for you and your family. We are all brought into Jesus’ new covenant and given forgiveness and life.

John’s Gospel portrays an intimate scene. Like a family, the disciples have gathered with Jesus for a meal. But it seems that Jesus doesn’t know the script. He doesn’t know how the head of the household is supposed to act. When the meal is finished, Jesus acts like he’s the household slave. He takes off his nice clothes, and kneeling down, washes the feet of his disciples. Then he continues to act off script, talking about things one shouldn’t talk about: talking about his death.

Jesus talks about his death so cryptically that the disciples don’t get it. This whole end of meal encounter leaves them confused. The one thing we hear the disciples understand is that they want to be with Jesus. They can’t understand what Jesus acting like a servant to them has to do with it, they can’t understand why Jesus would be going somewhere they can’t go- all we hear is vocal disciple Peter saying is that he wants to be with Jesus, and we might imagine the other disciples nodding their heads in agreement.

Jesus offers them not only a way to be with him, but to be like him for the sake of the world. They will follow in his steps, serving and loving all people, retelling the stories of their encounters with Jesus, and continuing his work to bring healing and life. The disciples’ lives will reveal Jesus, their master, just as Jesus’ life reveals God, his Father. Jesus is preparing to reveal God most fully and unexpectedly on the cross, as he gives his body and blood in love for the whole world.

All during Lent, we explored the covenants of God. God reaches out to specific people, making them God’s own through a series of promises. Tonight, through Paul’s retelling of the Last Supper, we hear Jesus promise a new covenant.

Jesus takes bread from the dinner table, holds it up, and declares, “This is my body.” Then he takes a cup of wine, and calls it “the new covenant in my blood.” He follows this naming with instruction: “Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

The communion we celebrate here is our receiving Jesus’ covenant. Jesus’ promises are fulfilled in our eating and drinking. We are brought into relationship with God and with each other. We are given an identity as God’s beloved people, for whom Jesus gave his life.

In this bread and cup, Jesus is present. We may not know how exactly, but we trust Jesus’ promise to be here. Remember all the covenants we studied, God was faithful and fulfilled the promises. Jesus is faithful to us, in giving up everything he had in order to love us. These ordinary, everyday foods carry Jesus into us.

As food is broken down and particles are rearranged to become our body and our energy, Jesus enters us and transforms us into people of faith, who live as Jesus for the sake of the world. The bread and wine carries Jesus into us, creating and strengthening a relationship between us and Jesus, and through Jesus to all others who commune.

This little morsel fills us with the Holy Spirit. We are fed with grace. When we participate in this sacrament, God creates and feeds our faith. Without this meal, our faith is starved. We can’t make faith in ourselves. We can’t will ourselves to be faithful. God has to create trust in us.

Of all of God’s covenants, this new covenant is firmly rooted in the one who creates it. It is Jesus who speaks the promise, Jesus who gives up his life to fulfill the promise. It is Jesus who is our host and our meal when we gather to participate in this covenant. It is only by grace, God’s freely given gift, that any of us are given a place at the table.

The bread and cup are real things to hold onto, to experience, as we hear Jesus’ promise: “this is my body, this is my blood, given for you.” Jesus’ death wins forgiveness and conquers death. You are loved and you are given life – when you hold bread and wine, when they pass your lips- you cannot doubt that these gifts of God are for you. Jesus died for you, as Jesus died for all who come to this table, and who gather at tables all around the world.

Finally, D* and Z* will be among those who get to smell and feel, taste and ingest this promise of Jesus. They will be reminded that Jesus is with them always.

These Holy Days show us a God who acts unlike any other God. We meet the God who comes to creation, becomes a part of it, suffers and dies for it, and then is raised to life, but not only for his sake, but for the whole world. Jesus makes sure that we are always with him, and not even betrayal, or suffering, or disbelief, or death will separate us from God.

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