Tag Archives: Holy Communion

Lord’s Supper and Gethsemane (Maundy Thursday) – March 24, 2016

Thursday’s Reading:
Mark 14:22-42

+ Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen. +

This is a difficult night. It was certainly a difficult night for Jesus, who knew what was awaiting him as the sun set in the west and the forces of opposition gathered to carry out their schemes under cover of darkness, who prayed in the garden alongside his friends, and who found in time that he was completely and utterly alone as he faced one last temptation. It was a difficult night for Jesus’ disciples, who heard again the word of betrayal and the command to keep awake, and who utterly failed to understand what was happening to their teacher and Lord until it was too late. It is a difficult night for us, who read anew of Christ’s agony in the garden, who bemoan the weakness of the disciples in falling asleep, and who recognize that we, if placed in a similar situation, would likely not have fared any better. This is a difficult night, which sees peace shattered by a violent mob, betrayal sealed with a kiss, the Lord of life lead away to face trial and condemnation and mocking and scorn and, ultimately, a sentence of death.

This is also a beautiful night. It was certainly beautiful for Jesus, who gathered with his closest companions to break bread and share wine and give them a lasting memory of his life-giving love. It was beautiful for Jesus’ disciples, who received the gift of this meal and a mystery that they would continue to explore after the story of these three days was finally told. It is a beautiful night for us, because we call to mind the words of Jesus and ponder how they continue to echo into our own lives, how we are blessed each time we “do this in remembrance” of him.

Dear friends, we gather on this Maundy Thursday night, not simply to hear the story of something that happened long ago in an upper room and a moon-lit garden, but to be confronted once more with the realities of love and grace, loneliness and betrayal, anger and disillusionment, fear and flight and faithfulness. In the telling of the tale of this holy night, we find reflected our own deep hunger and thirst for relationship with God and with one another, and we find established a connection between Jesus, the church, and the world that remains unbroken in the face of brokenness and sin and the specter of death that looms at the edges of our consciousness.

Take and eat; this is my body, given for you.
This cup is the new covenant in my blood, shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sin.
For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

These oft-repeated and well-worn words stand at the center of this meal and this night. They confirm and demonstrate everything that Jesus has taught his disciples about what it means to walk “on the way”. These are words of service, words of humility, words of painful truth that are powerful precisely because they lay bare all the ways we play at discipleship and yet ultimately fail to fall in step behind Jesus. At the same time, these are words of grace and life that are powerful because they carry the promise that our failures cannot, in the end, separate us from the one who will give everything to save us from ourselves and from the power of sin that ensnares us and our world. Christ pours out his body and blood with these words – Take and eat, take and drink, do this – so that we might be nourished and strengthened to be like him, to pour ourselves out for the sake of our neighbors and the world. This meal means everything, because in this meal Christ reminds us of who he is, who we are, and what this world is becoming by God’s grace. It is a sign that we are on the way with him, a sign of hope in the kingdom that has drawn near and is coming, a sign that history is not defined by our faithlessness but by God’s faithfulness in Christ.

This is a difficult, beautiful, holy night. Let us receive this meal as a sign of our Lord’s steadfast love for us. Let us pray that we might be prepared to face the cross that stands on the horizon with confidence in God’s grace and strength. Finally, let us pray that we might hold those realities together in our minds, and so leave this service with repentant minds, grateful hearts, and renewed wills. Thanks be to God. Amen.

*Note: We are experiencing problems with our audio recording equipment; as a result, we are unable to post sermon audio at this time. Please bear with us as we attempt to resolve these problems. Thank you for your patience.*

Words of Institution (Maundy Thursday) – April 2, 2015

Thursday’s Readings:
Complementary Text: Psalm 116:12-15
Preaching Text: Matthew 26:17-30

+ Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen. +

This Friday night, our Jewish brothers and sisters will begin the celebration of Passover, one of the most important festivals in the life of their community. In homes all over the world, people will gather to tell the story of Israel’s salvation and eat the traditional meal – including matzo, vegetables, bitter herbs, and cups of wine. One of the most poignant parts of the evening is during the section of the meal called the Maggid, or “story”, when the youngest person present asks the first in a series of questions: “Why is this night different from all other nights?” As the story is told, the answer to that question becomes clear: this night is different because it is a night to celebrate God’s power in bringing Israel out of slavery and into freedom.

As we gather on this Maundy Thursday, we might ask that same question ourselves: Why is this night different from all other nights? The answer might seem obvious, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth asking. The reading before us tonight recounts the story of Jesus gathering with his disciples for the first meal of Passover. We don’t know how similar the Seder of today is to the meal that Jesus shared with his followers, but the basic shape of the meal likely hasn’t changed much. They would have remembered the same story and eaten the same unleavened bread in obedience to God’s command. They would have passed around cups of wine, blessing God for delivering their people with a mighty hand. But this meal would also be different from all the other Passover meals shared in Jerusalem that night and the next. This meal would become the model for a new kind of supper shared by those who would one day bear the name of Christ.

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and give it to the disciples, saying, “Take, eat, this is my body.” Then, taking a cup of wine and blessing it, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is being poured out for all in order to effect the forgiveness of sins. I’m telling you, from this point forward I will never drink from this fruit of the grapevine until the day I drink new wine with you under my Father’s Reign.” (Matthew 26:26-29, my translation)

The apostle Paul referred to this meal as one of the most important aspects of the tradition that he received from those who had known Jesus, and in First Corinthians 11, he sets down that tradition for generations to follow:

For I received from the Lord what I also handed down to you, that the Lord Jesus, in the night in which he was handed over, took bread and, after giving thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is given for your sake. Keep doing this in my memory.” In the same way he took the cup after the meal, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Keep doing this, as often as you drink it, in my memory.” For as often as you eat the bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (First Corinthians 11:23-26, my translation)

What makes this night different than all other nights? It is the night our Lord Jesus instituted his supper, a meal that continues to give life to the church every time we gather to receive it. It is a tangible sign of the love of God, expressed in gifts of bread and wine, broken and poured for us and for all people to grant us forgiveness and grace and new life in him. It is also, of course, the night of his betrayal and arrest, and we can’t separate this meal from the events that follow it, because they give meaning to one another. There is something incredible, for example, about the fact that in Matthew’s telling of this story, Judas – the one who was actively planning to betray him – was a full participant in that meal. He heard the words of promise as the bread and wine were passed around the table. He received the gift of fellowship with Jesus and his fellow disciples, even as the schemes he had set in motion continued to unfold outside that room. Though his own actions would later lead to his removal from the Twelve, that evening he was treated in the same manner as the other eleven. That fact should be a great comfort to each of us as we approach this meal tonight. The invitation of our Lord is not altered by our faults and failings, because this meal is given to us so that our faults might be healed.

In the end, this meal points us to the larger reality of Christ’s suffering and death, and that is perhaps the most important thing for us to remember this night. One writer, reflecting on the meaning of Holy Communion, put it this way:

To know Christ sacramentally only in the terms of bread and wine is to know him only partially, in the dining room as host and guest. It is a valid enough knowledge, but its ultimate weakness when isolated is that it is perhaps too civil… However elegant the knowledge of the dining room may be, it begins in the soil, in the barnyard, in the slaughterhouse; amid the quiet violence of the garden, strangled cries, and fat spitting in the pan. Table manners depend on something’s having been grabbed by the throat. A knowledge that ignores these dark and murderous human acts is losing its grip on the human condition. [Aidan Kavanagh, The Shape of Baptism: The Rite of Christian Initiation (Pueblo: 1978)]

Tonight, we receive the gift of a meal. That meal comes to us at a price, and so we approach it with awe and gratitude. By giving up his life for us once, Christ has given us his life forever. Take and eat, brothers. Take and drink, sisters. This is Christ’s body and blood, given and shed for you. As often as you eat it, but especially on this night, do this in remembrance of him and all that he has done for us and for our broken world. Amen.