Matthew 26: 26-30
Jesus is very near the end of his life. He has given the greatest commandment to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. And, he says, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.[i] Then he goes on to talk about judgment of the nations with a parable about feeding and clothing others. “Truly I tell you,” he says, “just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me”.[ii] He is preparing his disciples for their future and for what yet was ahead for him.
Then there was this plot that Jesus himself knew about but still continued on his way as if nothing else in this world mattered. One of his disciples, Judas Iscariot agrees for only 30 pieces of silver to expose Jesus, his beloved Lord, to the chief priests so that they could detain him. But first a meal. A Passover meal as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew,
And while they were eating,
Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.”
Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.
I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
These are such powerful words, these words of institution of the Lord’s Supper. I know that I am deeply comforted each time that I say them, or hear them before taking part in this banquet that Jesus has prepared for us. For me they are a sweet lullaby that soothes my soul and invites me once again to remember the story of salvation of my life.
And so it is fitting that we look at them on this World Communion Sunday when we celebrate Christian unity and ecumenism. This celebration first began in 1933 at the Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, PA out of conflict as a way to unite the divided into one Christian fellowship. But now it has spread throughout Christian denominations world wide and so today, around the world, we take this cup and this bread as a sign and seal of our unity in the body of Christ.
This sacrament and meal of love, this very simple loaf of bread and vessel of juice, and what Jesus told us to do and remember, becomes the thread that holds our Christian quilt together, or the music that helps our disparate voices sing in beautiful harmony. And whatever way that you choose to understand this mystery of our faith, in the end we can know that bread and wine has been given to us by Jesus Christ as a means of grace and a way in which we can find harmony with one another.
This meal of remembrance does so much for our aching bodies and searching souls. I believe that beyond uniting us as the body of Christ, it fills us, it challenges us, and it empowers us for this world in which we inhabit so that we might be faithful followers of Jesus Christ when the current culture seems to have lost its way.
When we take this simple meal, that everyone is invited to partake, we are filled. Maybe not physically filled because really, how can just a little sip of juice and a morsel of bread physically fulfill our bodily needs? It can’t. We are spiritually filled in that we can know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are loved by God. Our spirit is fulfilled and that gives meaning to our existence and lives. And who among us does not want meaning for our lives? We know we are loved. We know we are forgiven, we know that we have been created by God who knew us yet before we were even conceived. That is what lends a meaningful foundation to the content of our lives.
The meaning of holy communion is that you, with your warts and all, are invited to the table, there is a place set just for you because you are a vital part of God’s creation. And it is at this table that your spiritual needs can be fulfilled. It is God’s promise of love.
And yet after our bellies have been filled, our souls satiated with forgiveness and the mercy of God I believe that this meal challenges us. It challenges us to be better men and women, to live fully into our own God given talents and abilities and to live in the ways of Christ and remember the least of these who live in the margins of the page. Not everyones bellies are filled like ours. Real hunger exists in this world.
The youth and confirmands have been hard at work this weekend at Heifer Farm. Unfortunately there has to be a Heifer Farm. Heifer works with communities globally to strengthen their local economies to end hunger and poverty. Their goal is to make sure that everyone, on this planet has enough to eat. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? And how they do it is be sure that communities receive livestock, clean water and education to sustain their living - a holistic approach.
As myself, other leaders, the confirmands and youth traversed the Global village set up at Heifer farm we saw first hand what life would be like in Peru, Tibet, Africa, the rural US and other countries where living space is limited, clean water a luxury, and an agrarian existence produced the only food you ate. The kids eyes were opened to an existence that perhaps they had never experienced. One of the members of the class will tell us a bit more when he returns next week.
This is the challenge of the Lord’s Supper, challenging us to get out of our comfort zone and to help others find a way to live a dignified and meaningful life.
The world does not lack for challenges. Let’s not let Heifer, Echo, or Columbus House do the work for us. Let us come together and seek ways to alleviate hunger closer to home. Filled with bread and juice we now need to help feed. That is a challenge at our doorstep each day that we wake and take that first glorious sip of coffee.
Finally, this simple meal of grace empowers us to take on the ways of Christ and to live them. It strengthens us so that we are empowered to stand up to the injustice of this world and to see change. It empowers us to meet the challenges of world hunger or any of the serious maladies of today’s world. There is so much hunger in this world and it’s not just physical. This meal empowers us to look around and to try and make a difference. Yes, you, as one person, can make a difference in another person’s life that is hungering for meaning, for sustenance, for love. That is empowerment.
You cannot possibly get up from this table the same way that you sat down you are now agents of God’s transformative love.
And Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.”
Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my (cup) of the (new) covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.
Eat, drink, be filled, challenged, and empowered.
[i] Matthew 22: 37-39
[ii] Matthew 25: 39-40
Pastoral Prayer for World Communion Sunday
Compassionate Christ, through you we are able to know the almighty and benevolent God and so we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for teaching us your ways, offering us your mercy, and for your redemptive act on the cross. Connect us please more deeply with people around the globe as we share in our Christian life together. Fill us with hope when we see despair and love, when we experience hatred, and goodness when all bad things seem to surround us. Challenge us to work hard for justice in this world, indeed in our own communities so that all may live in dignity and have food on their table and shelter for their heads. Empower us to be ambassadors of your deep and abiding love because it is our watch now and no other.
We come to you now in soul filled prayer and anxious expectation so we invoke your spirit to be with us…
Grieving and remembering
Neighbors in Need, the least among us