God of Love and Justice, Col. 2:8, 10;
we are grateful for inheriting the tradition of John 1:14
By your Holy Spirit, speak to us through your Word,
that we may know the love and grace of Jesus Christ,
your living Word made flesh among us. Amen.
If you were here last week, or if you listened in online, you will have heard the Scripture that came right before today’s reading. Just a quick recap:
Jesus had, on Sunday, ridden into town on his donkey to the shouts of “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” while palm leaves were laid on his path (11:8-10), Palm Sunday. And then on Monday, he went into the Temple and freaked out, flipping tables over and calling people out for their behaviour. Tuesday, he had crowds of people all around as he was confronted by the Scribes and Pharisees, the religious elites, and they challenged each other’s authority – the crowds swelling in support of Jesus, “delighting” (12:37) in his teaching as he denounced the leaders. Last week’s Scripture was Wednesday, where the plot to destroy Jesus was being confirmed and he had been anointed for burial by an unnamed woman.
Today Mark’s story of Jesus’ last week moves toward its climax: our reading from today comes on Thursday, and the events that were set up on Wednesday begin to unfold.
Remember, this is the last day before Jesus was crucified, it is full of drama: we have his final meal with his disciples, Jesus prays for deliverance in Gethsemane; he is betrayed by Judas, denied by Peter, and abandoned by the rest of his disciples. Each of these last days are packed with events and layers and layers of meaning.
In the church we call that week leading up to Easter Holy Week, and we call this remembrance Maundy Thursday, Maundy meaning new commandment, and it is about the way the Sacrament of Communion, also known as the Eucharist, or the Lord’s Supper, was established in the church. And that is where I want us to focus our attention today.
First of all, what is Communion anyway? We can be long-time church-y people and still learn more and more about this thing we do.
It is, quite literally, a thanksgiving meal – Eucharistos – the Greek word, means thanksgiving, gratitude. And honestly, it is something the church has been fighting over basically since the beginning – how to do it, what it means, who gets to preside at it, who gets to receive it.
We are not covering all of that debate today – happy to refer you to a Church History class or give you some books to read from mine if you are interested.
Today though, I want to get at the heart of the matter. We understand the church – the gathered group of Jesus lovers – to be Christ’s body on earth. In the simplest terms, it is in our receiving of this sacrament, named by Jesus as his body, that we, together, become the body of Christ. We are made one in the Spirit through this receiving.
Communion is an intimate sharing, an exchange – we heard this morning about this intimacy shared between Jesus and his disciples that nourished the disciples individually and bound them to their Lord and each other. That is essentially still what it is today: a way to bind us to one another and God, as taught by Jesus.
And that is essentially why we do it: because Jesus told us to. And what the church through the ages has learned, is that he told us to for good reason. It broadens our understanding of life beyond the physical, it refreshes us by giving us a connection to a depth of life and meaning that we wouldn’t otherwise have. Jesus knew that in his absence we would need a ritual, a symbol to represent that which we could no longer see – a space and a place to encounter God in a tactile way that points beyond.
When we gather together and share in the loaf and cup, we engage with what God started long ago, and what God continues to do today. And it reminds us of who we are – we are the people of God.
So, we’ve got the what and the why – and we will do the how here in a little bit. But it wouldn’t be a Sacrament if there wasn’t an element of mystery involved. St. Augustine defined a Sacrament as: a visible sign of God’s invisible Grace. It is a sacred act through which Jesus invites us into his own life. And it is through this act, each time we partake, that the church is renewed because somehow, we together are made into something greater than ourselves.
Ordinary things – bread, juice – are representative of something extraordinary and somehow transform us ordinary things into the extraordinary people of God.
And I love this notion of ordinary things (us, bread, Welch’s grape juice) being claimed, made beautiful, holy, extraordinary.
But Ingrid! (you may say), Ingrid! Isn’t all of God’s Creation precious and holy? Don’t we live in a sacramental universe?
I love this understanding – that all of this is sacred and sacramental – all of it points to God. Ooooh, and then I get that song playing in my head ‘take, take off your shoes, you’re standing on holy ground’
But Ingrid! (you may say) Ingrid!
‘Why bother with the Eucharist – Communion - if I can encounter Christ every time I eat a soft, warm, gooey chocolate chip cookie?’ (And really, who hasn’t felt a touch of the divine in a soft, warm, gooey chocolate chip cookie??!!)
Why bother with this strange thing Jesus did with his disciples over 2000 years ago?
Well, all of my years of seminary training – and there were many of them – all of my years taught me about this thing. How it started, why we do it, the bits that we need to include when we do it.
But the why bother with this specific thing is so profoundly shaped by my own personal experiences in sharing this ancient sacred mysterious meal.
These instances have taught me that something different does happen in the receiving of the bread and the juice at church. I want to share one of those stories with you – one of the spiritual experiences I have had during Communion.
Todd and I had been married about seven months, and we were visiting my Mom on Bowen Island, as we often did, to have breakfast with her and go to church at the Little Red Church in the apple orchard. We were celebrating that day, as we had just found out that I was expecting our first child. In worship, we were participating in the sacrament of Communion, and as I received the bread, dipped it into the juice, took it into my mouth and began to pray, I was struck with a powerful and resounding understanding that I was also offering this Communion to the teeny life that was growing in my womb. And in that moment, I understood that God already had a relationship with this new wee human and, whoever they were to be, they were partaking in this mystery that was beyond my own understanding.
God took this ancient sacrament and used it to begin to change me into a mother.
Maybe it is this experience that led me to call this sermon, “Gifts of Adaptation”- the definition of adaptation being “a change or the process of change by which an organism or species becomes better suited to its environment”. Let me read that again, “a change or the process of change by which an organism or species becomes better suited to its environment.” Communion gives us the mechanism to become better suited to be followers of Jesus.
Now how about that book “Stuck”? I love the absurdity of that story – I love children’s books for their suspension of laws of physics and their play with the imaginative possible. Because it is in their play that they are able to point us to bigger things.
Thinking back to the story, I want to ask you to consider for a moment, who in this story can you relate to the most? They boy whose kite got stuck? Do you have a problem that no matter how much other crap you throw at, never seems to get resolved? What about Mitch the cat, who gets tossed into a problem without any understanding of why, or what he has to do with it, or any idea of a solution? Maybe you can identify with one of the firefighters – you show up to help with a big problem, only to get stuck in the problem yourself? Or are you the rhinoceros, left up in the problem, after the instigator has taken off and gone to bed?
We all get stuck. We get stuck because of our own accidents, of our own poor choices. We get stuck because of others’ poor choices. We get stuck because of circumstances beyond our control, and we get stuck because we misuse the tools we have in hand – remember, Floyd at one point had a saw in his hand, and rather than cut down the tree, he tossed it up too!
We all get stuck.
The disciples got stuck too – they betrayed Jesus, abandoned him, denied they were with him.
We all get stuck.
But you know what? God doesn’t get stuck. God doesn’t get stuck, and better yet, God has hand delivered this mechanism for getting us un-stuck.
Communion is the key that unlocks the mystery of God who is desperately trying to get our attention to let us know how loved we are. Communion is the tool we have to realign ourselves with God’s will for us. Communion is the process of change by which we become better suited to our call as disciples of Christ, our method of adaptation to the Christian way of life.
And Jesus doesn’t say – this isn’t for Judas, I know what you are up to, or hey Peter – hands off, I see what’s coming. There are no stipulations by Jesus marking those who are in and out from this meal. He shares it with all present, no matter how stuck they are. No matter how broken they are. No matter what they have done or what they are about to do.
“Take,” he says, “Take, this is my body.” Take me, he says.
“Drink,” he urges, “Drink and know a new way.”
And in a few minutes, I will invite you to this table. Not my table. Not the table of St. George’s United Church or the United Church of Canada. I will invite you to the table where Jesus is all at once the host, the participant, and the adaptor. We are welcomed to the table by God, a place where we have the opportunity to encounter God, and we are then digested by God and made into people of the light.
No matter who you are, what you have done or are about to do. No matter what you believe or what doubts you have, you are welcome at this table. And it is at this table, in this simple sharing of these ordinary things, something beyond our understanding takes place, and we are transformed, adapted, un-stuck, into the precious, holy, extraordinary children of God that we were born to be.
Can I get an Amen?