Matthew 8.11, 26.17-30, Mark 14.12-26, Luke 22.14-21
Acts 2.41-47, 1 Corinthians 11.17-34
What is the most common Christian act around the globe? You guessed it! Communion. Can you remember your very first experience of communion?
Only when the community has been provided and strengthened with the bread of eternal life does it understand the importance of gathering around the Table. Christ sat at the table with his disciples to break bread that we too might get to experience his presence. Luke’s Gospel speaks about our eyes being opened to recognize Christ in the breaking of the bread. To be sure there are different kinds of breaking bread. We break bread together at the Table. We break bread in fellowship of a potluck meal. We break bread together in the coming reign of God. John’s gospel tells us that Jesus Christ is the bread of life. Church experiences the Lord being present whenever we ask him to join us. We are inviting the omnipresence of Christ to be with us. When we gather to break bread together the eyes of our hearts are open.
When we gather to break bread together, it’s a festive occasion. It reminds us that we are to rest in God’s work. It reminds us of the meaning of Sabbath Rest. God calls us to rejoice and celebrate when we gather together and recline around his Table. We understand the Table is an obligation that we join in fellowship with one another. At the Table we recognize that we cannot be angry with one another. When someone is hungry, we are obligated to feed them. Communion reminds us that life is fragile but yet we have the hope of eternal life. Every evil is washed away in the body and blood of Christ at the Table. The story of Luke 14:15 points us onward, “Blessed is the one who will…”
Communion reminds us that Grace is not cheap. It reminds us of the cost of grace is life and death. Each time we come to the table we are to weigh the cost of our own discipleship. Communion helps us to identify with Christ’s sacrifice. Communion aids us in our daily denial of our selfishness. It is at the communion table that we are called to reject our selfish nature and renounce the world’s way of living. It is at the table that we give up our worldview to take on the perspective of holy living. Communion reminds us at the persecution that we will experience: physically, intellectually, ethically, and socially. It reminds us that our faith cannot be kept a secret. It must be shared in the lives of others. It reminds us to be imitators of Christ.
The Gospel that Mark 8:34 points us to sacrificial giving of ourselves, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me.” Jesus foreshadows communion in the feeding of the multitudes. Jesus points to this ideal of daily bread in the prayer that he taught his disciples. There is a sense of great hospitality as Jesus extends his mercy to the multitudes.
The Table becomes the place where we understand how we are to feed the hungry among us not only as a spiritual feeding but it points to the physical feeding of those who are hungry and in need. The Table reminds us that we are be mindful of the many people who are hungry and need to be fed. When Jesus fed the multitudes, he did not pull out a pad of paper and take notes as to their worthiness of those to be fed. He did not check their bank accounts or how much money they made every month. He didn’t assess whether they were telling the truth or lying about their need. He simply saw all the people in need and gave them food.
Drawing a line between worthy and unworthy receivers of grace may jeopardize our own well-being in the Lord. The Scriptures point out that only God can discern the motives and the hearts of humankind. We must not sit in judgment of others in need. To be sure the little boy who had the five loaves of bread and the two fish models for us an opportunity to reassess our own resources. Even this young boy he was able to make a huge difference. He was not deterred by his meager resources. He stepped out in faith believing that God could use even has small resources to make a difference. When we are willing to sacrifice what little we have to help someone else, God can multiply our resources.
Isn’t it amazing! Jesus uses the traditional family gathering around the meal to change the world forever. The Last Supper was not a meal out of the ordinary every day events in life of Israel. No, it was the same mail that Jesus had participated in all of his life. But in this act of breaking bread and taking the cup, Jesus invited the disciples into a new economy of life and resources. The salvation of the world depended on the disciples instituting this new act of covenant love to demonstrate God’s love for everyone.
When we Methodist talk about Holy Communion, we commemorate Jesus’ last Passover meal that he had with his disciples the night before he was crucified. Jesus asked his disciples to remember his death as a celebration. John Wesley understood the Lord’s Supper as a means of grace. He believed that it should be done as often as possible. Wesley believed it was for those who have not yet accepted Christ and also for those who had fully understood their salvation. Wesley believed communion helped us understand Christ’s passion, our need to confess sin, aided us in accepting grace, and strengthened us to forgive. Wesley understood that communion gave strength to those who were called to be ambassadors of Christ in this world. Methodists understand that Christ is present at the Table of our Holy meal.
The Table points to the need for Christian community. We cannot walk this path of discipleship alone. The bread and the cup point us to the need for community. The meal is always better shared. Actually, we come with joy to the Lord’s Table. I can just imagine the clanking of glass and the celebratory shout, “Cheers!”
John Wesley once wrote a sermon entitled The Duty of Constant Communion. Frequency has always been a point of contention among the churches. Wesley believed in the importance of constant communion. The Methodist church encourages the return to regular communion as a way of revitalization. Wesley hoped that American Methodist would take the Lord’s Supper regularly. However, there where few ordained clergy to serve communion thus the infrequency of communion. The absence of wine opens the table to those who are children and youth, or those struggling with alcohol addictions. The Methodist Table is open to all who desire to be right with God and neighbor.
When Jesus sat down with his disciples, he gave them an experience not a theory. Jesus gave his disciples a meal to share. He gave them an experience around the community table. He invited them to share their lives together. When we look at the history of the Passover meal, we see the origin in a family meal. The root word for the Passover meal means exodus. The Passover stands between two events: Israel’s exodus from Egypt and the anticipation of the Messiah. This new covenant was established as a memorial meal. It is a meal that invites people to dine together in remembrance of those who rebelled against God and died in Egypt. It calls us to remember Jesus’ death and our own call to die to our self.
When we think about the upper room experience. We can only imagine the rugs lying about on the floor, the couches around the room, and the Table where Jesus sat with the 12 disciples. Perhaps there were more than 12 disciples sitting about that room. There were the outlying disciples as well particularly noting in Luke’s Gospel are the women. And as we imagine that upper room from the gospel stories, we can see that the basin and the towel are prepared. In my own imagination I see palm branches and cloaks that had been left behind that the disciples had carried up to the room. I imagine the smell of a donkey that still lingered on the clothing of Jesus. I can just imagine a young boy climbing the stairs to the upper room peeking in to see what was happening there. This upper room that we speak of was not an isolated place. Life was happening all around Jesus.
In his last hours Jesus was intentional about living his life to the fullest. But Jesus didn’t spend his last hours living in isolation or writing down theories about life. He spent it with his friends, friends who would leave him lonely. To be sure in the Gospel of Luke you will find Jesus eating and drinking with sinners, women, children – the least of these. The theme of eating and drinking is a thread that runs all the way through Luke’s Gospel. To be sure stories of food and drink are in all three of the synoptic Gospels and John. Meals were special time of fellowship with friends and colleagues. Meals provided an opportunity for relationships to grow deep. The illustration of the wedding banquet points to a deep fellowship that God desires with his people. The meals that Jesus would have attended were lengthy, filled with hospitality, and stepped in tradition.
The early church celebrated the feast at the table often. And they celebrated to remember the execution of their savior. They were convinced that he was raised from the dead. They’re celebration meal was a reflection of the gifts that he had given them. Whenever they wanted to remember, all that was needed was bread and juice. The simple meal gave him hope of eternal life. Death had been swallowed up in victory. The stone had been rolled away.
The meal invites us to take note of the spiritual reality beyond our senses. The meal points us to eternal life. The meal explains to us the need to forgive one another. Just serve one another. To deny ourselves take up our cross and follow Christ model. The meal points us to love of God and neighbor. Over the weeks of Lent we have been given the opportunity to come to the table. We have been invited to strip away our preconceived ideas about what the table means. We have been invited to participate in this means of grace. Christ has been with us in a unique way through Lent as we have celebrated at the Table. With every morsel we have taken into our mouths we have encountered Christ Jesus.
This week as we come to the Table let us be reminded of the first Table. Let us remember that Christ established a new covenant with bread and juice. All people have easy access to this simple meal that brings community to the least, lost, and last among us. May your table at home become a place of communion where family, friends, and even a stranger or two can share a meal filled with grace.