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Because of the Resurrection…

(a sermon for April 8, 2018, the 2nd Sunday of Easter, based on Romans 8:28-39 and John 20:19-31)

I have always found it interesting and a bit ironic that most years Easter Sunday tends to fall around the same time as income taxes come due.

Granted, this year was a bit of an exception, what with still another week to go before Tax Day (!),  but generally speaking, it seems as though every year just about the time we in the church are gathering to shout our alleluias and sing songs of triumph, outside these doors there’s that other, not-so-triumphant day on the horizon!

Frankly, for me that’s always been a bitter pill to swallow!  After all, Easter is the day of excitement, celebration and victory in the church of Jesus Christ!  For me, it doesn’t get any better than Easter Sunday worship; and wasn’t it great around here last Sunday?  I mean, all of it – the hymns, the flowers, all the children running around and most especially the glorious message of hope that’s contained in the gospel story – it’s the culmination of this fateful and faithful journey we’ve taken from palms to the cross to the empty tomb; and for us to discover, yet again, that Christ has risen indeed and to realize what that means for each of us… well, I don’t know about you, but for me that just stirs the soul in a way unlike during any other service of the year!  So it’s a great and wonderful day; it always is!

But then after this shining Sunday always, always comes… Monday… and Tuesday… and inevitably and inescapably Tax Day!  And with it, at least for some stragglers among us, comes that nagging stack of forms, receipts and worksheets that serves to remind us that we can no longer afford the luxury of procrastination, for despite whatever excuses we might have to offer there is no real glory in being a “last-minute filer!”  So, yes, there may still well be Easter “alleluias” ringing in our ears after Sunday has come and gone, and the good news of new life is still very fresh in our hearts, but as Monday morning dawns, it soon becomes clear that life as we’ve known it still goes on, and there’s no avoiding the fact that tax returns need to be finished before the filing deadline on April 17th!

Of course, for you, it might have been something different that made for a burdensome and stressful “Easter Monday” morning last week.  Maybe, like for us, it was going to the mechanic and finding out that the problems with your car were more serious than you thought!  Or perhaps it had to do with contending with an ongoing illness or that of a loved one; or dealing with chronic and debilitating pain.  Or maybe it was having to cope with huge changes looming in your life: the loss of a job, the disintegration of a marriage, the struggle amid rapidly changing circumstances beyond your control to care for yourself and your family with integrity, vision and compassion.  Or maybe you woke up still stinging from that same hurt that’s always been there; the lingering grief, the unresolved anger, the old regrets, the deeply held bitterness and fear; all those unresolved feelings of weakness, guilt, despondency and utter defeat.

Whatever it was, or is, it’s a stark reminder of how quickly things do return to whatever the “normal” happens to be in our lives, even amidst the continuing good news of the resurrection.  In fact, if we’re being honest, sometimes after the Sunday celebration is over and our Monday morning woes return, we might at times wonder what, if any, difference the resurrection makes in our lives; or for that matter, if any of what we proclaimed so fervently and joyously as true was even real!  Like “Doubting Thomas” of our Gospel reading this morning we do at times find ourselves wanting empirical proof that all the alleluia shouting of last Sunday morning was not some sort of cruel, cosmic joke.  But even then, in the words of Charles Henderson, a Presbyterian pastor and author, “even if [we] could, like Thomas, reach in and touch the wounds in his body… even if [we] had solid, certifiable evidence that the resurrection was real, there would still be the bills to pay, the meals to plan, the problems of life to solve.”

Henderson is right about that; we do proclaim, rightfully, that Christ is risen indeed, but the fact remains that while death has been defeated forever, life does go on; and moreover, so many of the struggles and sufferings of life in this world go on.  And so the question becomes, what happens now because of the resurrection?  What does the truth of Jesus’ rising mean for all those who have been caught up in the destructive whirlwind of all of the worst that life and an unjust world dishes out? What does the risen Jesus’ blessing of peace mean for those who feel battered, beaten, overwhelmed and worn out from the struggle?  How is it that any of us can claim, as Paul does so eloquently in our reading this morning, that “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us?”

It’s really the eternal question, isn’t it?  Life’s sufferings would seem to overtake us, but our answer comes in knowing that even though there is so much against us in this world and in this life, the abiding, redeeming and liberating truth remains that in the Risen Christ we are assured that God is for us today, tomorrow, and forever.  And “if God is for us,” says Paul, “who is against us?”

There is so much to love about this passage from Romans that we’ve shared this morning; but what I think I love the most is how Paul literally unpacks our Christian hope piece by piece by piece.  In fact, I’ve heard it said that in these few verses we’ve read this morning, Paul “is trying to drain every ounce of fear from our lives.”  Listen to how he lays it out: What do we have to be afraid of, he asks, “hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?”  (By the way… just for good measure, The Message adds to that list other things; like trouble, hard times, hatred, homelessness, even “bullying threats [and] backstabbing!”) So will any of this “drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us?”  No, Paul goes on to say, for “in all these things we are conquerors through him who loved us.”  Here’s a little bit of Biblical trivia for you this morning: the Greek word that’s translated as “conquerors” here is hupernikos, which literally means “super conquerors” and in fact is where we get the brand name for, of all things, Nike running shoes!  So what Paul is saying is that through the God who loves us we are more than conquerors in life, we are… super conquerors, able to stand up to all the struggles of life with unending strength!

But here’s the thing; Paul makes clear that such strength doesn’t come out of nowhere but comes from the same God who gave up his own Son for us all; and (and this is important!),  if God would do that, “will he not with him also give us everything else?”  Given the sacrifice already made on our behalf, why would our God ever withhold any good thing from us; most especially his strength and his presence now and eternally?

In the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are shown once and for all that God loves us and that God wishes never, ever to be apart from us.  Because of the resurrection, we can be assured – “convinced,” it says in the NIV – that “neither death, nor life, neither angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  What that means, friends is that because of the resurrection, in whatever comes we hang on… we go on and we prevail, because in the resurrection we are more than conquerors in this life that so often tries to conquer us!  As Benjamin Reaves has put it, “in the face of every possible development, situation, circumstance, diagnosis, or disaster… [we are not merely] being delivered from all these things, but [we are] being triumphant in all these things… it is the action of a divine defender, a divine attorney, a divine love that will not let [us] go… for as we in faith cling to God, we find he has a stronger hold on us.”

Monday mornings might still hold for us all the difficult struggles of life: there still is the doctor’s appointment that awaits us; still the chemo treatment to contend with; still the broken relationships to suffer through; still the utter uncertainty of what the day’s events will bring.  But now, because of the resurrection, we proceed with hope; light shines into our darkness, and we begin, perhaps for the first time to truly see for ourselves “that in all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”  Maybe at last, because of the resurrection, we are strengthened with the hope that we can move beyond living solely as victims but as people of faith for whom suffering produces perseverance, perseverance character, and character hope.  Maybe now, because of the resurrection, because Jesus lives and we live, we will know the love that is poured out in our hearts by God’s Spirit; enabled and empowered to rejoice in hope even amidst suffering.

In the 1870’s a man by the name of Horatio Spafford was a successful Chicago lawyer, and a close friend of the renowned evangelist of that era Dwight L. Moody.  Spafford was also a huge investor in real estate, but the story goes that the great Chicago fire of 1871 wiped out his holdings; a disaster that was compounded by the fact that Spafford’s son had just died as well.  In the aftermath of all of this, Spafford decided that he and his family desperately needed to get away; and so in 1873 he planned a trip to Europe with his wife Anna and four daughters.

As it happened, however, last minute business caused Spafford to delay his departure, and he sent his wife and daughters on ahead to Great Britain, aboard the S.S. Ville Du Havre, promising to follow in a few days.  But tragedy struck yet again, for on November 22, their vessel was struck by the English ship Lochearn, and quite literally, within twelve minutes sank in the cold waters of the north Atlantic.  Two hundred and twenty-six lives were lost; Spafford’s wife Anna miraculously survived the accident, but their four little daughters drowned in the tragedy.  On reaching Great Britain, she sent a telegram to her husband with the sad news, writing simply, “Saved alone.”

It’s said that a few days later when Horatio Spafford himself made the ocean crossing to meet his grieving wife, his ship reached the spot where the tragedy had taken place. And as they were directly over the sunken ship where his daughters had perished, there, surrounded by the vast expanse and depth of the ocean and the even greater depth of his sorrow, he began to write some words that have since brought solace to so many in grief:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll,
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let his blessed assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
It is well, it is well,
With my soul, with my soul,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

Despite his anguish, Horatio Spafford could say that because of the resurrection, “it is well with my soul.”  And we can say the same, beloved; because Jesus Christ has risen from the dead, we are given a lasting hope that is ours for life; life as it is, life as it will be, life as it continues to amaze us, confuse us, challenge us, embolden us, and sometimes discourage us.  But whatever life brings, because of the resurrection, we hang on, we go on… and we prevail.

May each one of us live as “more than conquerors” through him who loves us.

Thanks be to God in Jesus Christ!

Amen and AMEN!

c, 2018  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

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Posted by on April 8, 2018 in Easter, Epistles, Jesus, Life, Paul, Sermon

 

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FAQ’s of Faith: What Is Grace?

(a sermon for March 18, 2018, the Fifth Sunday in Lent; fifth in a series, based on Luke 15:11-32 and Ephesians 2:1-10)

So… GRACE.  What is it, and what does it really have to do with faith?

Not only a “frequently asked question” as regards faith, it’s a pretty good one as well; after all, so often when we use that word “grace,” we’re speaking apart from any kind of biblical or religious context. Outside of these church doors, for instance, grace becomes a way of describing the dancer’s leap or the poet’s word; it’s the manner by which we communicate our awe and admiration for those with the strength and ability to do something amazing or wonderful.  To be “grace-full” suggests someone with the skill to do what they do beautifully, smoothly and without wasted motion; it’s that intangible something that just seems to fill a particular moment, whatever it is, with perfection.

We also tend, do we not, to equate “grace” with something really good that happens to us; or perhaps more to the point, with something really bad not happening to us!  “There but for the grace of God, go I.”  Now there’s a quote that dates back as far as the 16th century (attributed to the English Protestant Reformer and Martyr John Bradford), but how often have we uttered pretty much the same sentiment; usually referring to one specific situation or moment in time when we chose to take one road in life rather than the other, a choice which made all the difference between our success or failure, wealth or poverty, righteousness or sin, and yes, even life or death!

Now admittedly, this does bring us a little bit closer to our biblical understanding of grace; by speaking of what happens to us as being “by the grace of God,” we’re talking about a God who shows forth favor – often unmerited favor – toward those whom he loves.  In fact, two words in ancient Hebrew that can be roughly translated as “grace” are, first, hen, which describes the compassionate response of a superior to an inferior, especially when that kindness is undeserved; and second, hesed, which is the word in scripture used to describe God’s loving-kindness and loyalty toward Israel, even when Israel turned away from God!  So then, “by the grace of God” ends up meaning that you may well not deserve it and probably don’t, but nonetheless the divine and almighty God – the very Creator of heaven and earth – this God loves you, and so here it is.  It’s yours, by GRACE.

I say all this as a way of preparing us for the hard truth of our Epistle reading this morning, in which Paul gets to the nitty-gritty of the matter of grace by letting the Ephesians and us know in no uncertain terms, “You were dead.”

That’s right… dead.  Dead and gone: as in the words of Dickens, “dead as a doornail.”  Dead “through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived;” dead in “following the course of this world;” dead from “following the desires of flesh and senses;” dead “by our nature [as] children of wrath, like everyone else.”  Friends, I would submit to you that this is not the kind of obituary any one of us would want for ourselves!  I’m reminded here of an obituary that ran in a Los Angeles newspaper a few years ago: it actually said that the deceased “had no hobbies, made no contribution to society and rarely shared a kind word or deed in her life. Her presence will not be missed by many, very few tears will be shed and there will be no lamenting over her passing.”

Can you imagine (!); now there’s an argument for writing your own obituary ahead of time!  Here was a final testament of life that included no highlights of this person’s existence, just the low lights; it was the record of a life with no redeeming qualities whatsoever!  And that seems to be exactly where Paul is headed as he writes to these early Christians in the city of Ephesus (as The Message translates this, “You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience!”) and such judgment would seem to preclude any hope of their redemption or salvation at all!  All you were, and all you could ever hope to be was… dead!

But… you’ll notice that Paul is very clear about using the past tense in that judgment; as in, “you were dead.”  Because in fact there’s very good news to share here:  “But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.”  “He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ…” (The Message again) and here’s the thing that is so amazing about it: “He did all this on his own, with no help from us!”  It is “by grace [that] you have been saved through faith, and this is not your doing; it is the gift of God.”  If I might borrow a great line from the Rev. Donovan Drake, a Presbyterian pastor out of Tennessee, just when we figure that all is lost for us, here Paul “pulls away from the grave news and towards the great news:” that we are made alive in Jesus Christ so that we might join him in the work that he is doing and dwell with him in the highest heaven… even when we don’t deserve it!

I love what Drake goes on to say about this: “God has set forth a bail-out package of enormous proportions! The amazing grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is gathering up our sins, our failures, our pains, our brokenness, our pasts, our presents, and our great illusions of foresight into the reality of Christ’s death and resurrection,” and we are saved.  “This is huge,” concludes Drake, “so huge that many cannot seem to fathom its size and scope.”  You and I, are all-too-human tendency is to decide that we somehow have to earn our way into the good “graces” of God (there’s another way we use that word!); that is, if we only act better, do better, be better than maybe – just maybe – we might squeak by with just a modicum of divine approval now and eternally.  But that’s not grace: grace is the assertion that “while we still were sinners Christ died for us,” (Romans 5:8) and rather than being dead, we are indeed made alive together through Jesus Christ.  And ultimately, that this happens has nothing to do with us at all, but everything to do with the infinitely graceful gift of God unto those whom he loves; all we need do is accept the gift.

Like most of you, I suppose, I’ve always been very fond of our gospel reading for this morning, Jesus’ story of the Prodigal Son; although I must confess to you that every time I return to this parable of Jesus, the more convinced I am that history and tradition has misnamed it.  Now granted, Jesus intended the story to illustrate the “joy in heaven over one sinner who repents,” (Luke 15:7) so the story of the sinful younger son who “comes to himself” and decides to return home to his father and face the music does ring true.  But more and more it seems to me the real truth of this parable is in what happens next; and what happens next is… God!   In the story, of course, it’s the father who saw his son “while he was still far off” in the field and goes running after him, but in truth, it’s God!

Did you notice in this story that the father never actually says anything to his son?  That there’s no effort to extract a confession from him, no “what have you got to say for yourself, young man?”  And that there’s just this loving embrace and the kiss, this incredibly emotional welcome home; and that it’s only after all this that the son can manage to get his confession out of his mouth; and that even while that’s happening the father’s busy calling the household staff to get the party started!

And that’s why I really do believe this ought to be called the “Parable of the Forgiving Father!” Because such forgiveness is utterly amazing, isn’t it?  The scribes and the Pharisees of Jesus’ time would have insisted (and quite honestly, so many of us even today would have to agree) that for such forgiveness to have taken place all laws and statutes would have to be followed to the letter, with everything from that moment on done properly and in good order; in other words, repentance followed by good (no, make that perfect) works being the only justification for any kind of forgiveness.  But now here’s Jesus, saying with all boldness that ours is the God who just up and forgives the transgressions of this so-called “prodigal,” not because all the dots have been connected, but just out of love (!); all because of that relentless desire of God has that every one of his children should be welcomed home, and that there should be this unending joy “in the presence of angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

That’s what grace is, you see… because ultimately, in the same way the younger son couldn’t change the hopelessness of his own sinful situation, there’s nothing you or I can do about ours: you can’t change what’s been done in your life; you can’t fix what is broken between yourself and God; and you can’t raise the dead… only God can do that.  But the good news, now and always, is that by grace, God does do that, and he does it for you and me by the redeeming power at work in Jesus Christ.

The story goes that during a British conference on comparative religion some years ago, the renowned theologian and author C.S. Lewis was asked in the middle of a very intense discussion what he considered to be Christianity’s unique contribution among the world’s religions.  Lewis responded, “Oh, that’s easy… it’s grace.”  And despite the brevity and simplicity of his answer, not to mention all the other sharp divisions that people of different faiths will sometimes espouse, on that one point, at least, everyone had to agree.  I love what Philip Yancey says about this; he writes, “The notion of God’s love coming to us free of charge, no strings attached, seems to go against every instinct of humanity.  The Buddhist eight-fold path, the Hindu doctrine of Karma, the Jewish covenant, and the Muslim code of law – each offers a way to earn approval.  Only Christianity dares to make God’s love unconditional.”

Turns out that our the glory of our Christian faith is ultimately is found not in our doing, but in our receiving; and so in that regard, I suppose that it’s not wholly unconditional, for it does require each of us to take hold of what we’ve been given.  But when we do, we become the recipients of “the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”  We are made part of God’s “plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” (1:9) And we are given life heretofore unimagined; full and abundant and eternal; all because of this incredible, unmerited amazing grace that’s borne of divine love.

In the end, you see, grace is all about love.  As Frederick Buechner says so very well, “The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It’s for you I created the universe. I love you.”

Dear friends, the good news of this and every day is that we are loved beyond measure and by grace we are saved; and in a sacrificial act that will change the world forever, God’s own son is about to show us just how true of a thing that is.  So let us watch and wait, even unto the cross, for this gift of grace to unfold very soon now; so that we might embrace it as our very own.  So that there, for the grace of God, will go you and I.

Thanks be to God.

Amen and AMEN.

c. 2018  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

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FAQ’s of Faith: Why the Bread and Wine?

(a sermon for March 4, 2018, the Third Sunday in Lent; third in a series, based on 1 Corinthians 11:23-32)

She was a dearly loved member of the congregation who was in the final stages of an incurable cancer, and had just arrived home from a lengthy hospital stay out of town; and she’d asked if the associate pastor and I might come out to see her.  And while certainly we were both very glad to do that, we were also more than a little concerned about it!  After all, this woman was still very weak from her latest round of chemo therapy, her trip home had to have been exhausting and besides, we knew there was already this long list of family members, neighbors and friends who had prayers, best wishes and casseroles to bring to her; so maybe, we suggested, another day might be better for us to visit.  But she was insistent; and so that afternoon we headed out to a farmhouse on the edge of town to make this pastoral call, deciding that whatever else happened, we pastors would be sure to make out visit brief!

However, as we should have expected, this woman would have none of that!  In fact, every time we’d start to rise to leave, she’d have another question about something going on in the life of the church, or else she’d ask about our families.  And this would inevitably lead to another story about her growing up; about the trials and tribulations she and her husband faced raising their own children, or what was happening now with her beloved grandchildren.  And I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that nearly every story, spiritually and joyfully speaking, had us in stitches.  There was a lot of blessed laughter in that room, to be sure, and it went on and on.

But then, almost an hour later as we made yet another attempt to take our leave, she says, “Can we have communion before you go?  Since I haven’t been able to get to church lately, I’ve really missed communion.”  The associate and I looked at each other quickly; though a great deal of our ministries had involved bringing communion to shut-ins, for some reason this possibility had never occurred to either one of us!  “Well, we’d love to,” I answered, “but we neglected to bring the elements, so perhaps when you’re feeling better…”

“Oh, we can find those,” she interrupted, and quickly dispatched her husband to locate what we needed.  Okay, then… but soon we hear the husband wearily calling back from the kitchen, “You know, I don’t think there’s any grape juice; not much bread either!”   “Just improvise,” she calls back, rolling her eyes in no small manner of exasperation.  “My land, Dean, anything will be fine!”  And a couple of minutes and the rattle of cupboard doors later, he emerges from the kitchen with our “holy feast” set before us on the coffee table:  a not quite day-old hamburger roll on a dessert plate, and a wine goblet literally filled to overflowing with… orange juice!  “Not exactly what we’d have on a Sunday morning at church, but it’ll do,” he said, and his wife nodded in agreement.

Not exactly, indeed!  I thought to myself, quietly wondering if this could actually even be considered “official” communion; after all, we were just about to break every sacramental rule in the book!  Where was the wine (or in our case, the grape juice) poured into little glasses?  How about the carefully cubed pieces of bread placed ever so carefully on a silver tray?  A leftover hamburger bun and some orange juice might – might (!) – suffice as a last minute mid-afternoon snack; but as elements in the reenactment of the Lord’s Supper, in a worshipful remembrance of the events of the last night of our Savior’s earthly life?   This seemed at best altogether too casual and flippant, and, well, at worst sacrilegious; I remember thinking that my seminary professors would be aghast at the very thought of such a thing!

You see, in a situation such as that the question becomes, when is communion… not?  And by the same token, how does such a simple, utterly basic little meal as this become a sacrament, imbued with the presence and power of our Lord?  And why the bread and wine; why does that even matter?

What’s interesting about our text this morning, taken from Paul’s first letter to the Church in Corinth, is that Paul seems to be addressing much the same kind of an issue. It seems that the Corinthians, who were pretty much of a factious and divided people anyway, were letting those divisions affect their celebration of the Lord’s Supper; for some, sharing the bread and wine had become little more than an excuse for eating and drinking to excess, and moreover, an opportunity for excluding others from the meal by virtue of wealth and their own gluttony!  For all their talk of Jesus Christ, there was precious little consideration amongst the Corinthians as to the true meaning of this particular table-gathering; in fact, just prior to our reading today Paul says to them, “when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse.” (11:17) Basically there was nothing at all worshipful, much less sacramental, about what they were doing.  Rather than an act in which Christ is remembered, their coming together existed as little more than a private dinner party, and a very exclusive one at that!

And so, in light of all that, here is Paul now to remind them of the true meaning and reality of the Lord’s Supper: “that on the night when he was betrayed” – or “handed over,” which is probably the better translation – Jesus (and likely at the beginning of what we know to have been a Passover meal) “took a loaf of bread… broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is broken for you. Do this is remembrance of me’” And then after supper as the wine was being poured, he took the cup, saying to his gathered disciples that “this cup is the new covenant in my blood.  Do this as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.  For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

Do this in remembrance of me, says Jesus… Do this to remember me… do this!  And that’s what Paul was seeking to convey to the Corinthians in the midst of their partying: that more than some small, offhanded and soon to be forgotten ritual in the midst of an evening meal (or, for that matter, as simply one more thing that happens in the middle of a worship service) this particular partaking of bread and wine is no less than a sacred act, for it acknowledges in a palpable way what Jesus has done (or, on that first Maundy Thursday, what Jesus was about to do!).  I love how The Message both translates and actually expands this admonition of Paul to the Corinthians:  “What you must solemnly realize,” he writes to them, “is that every time you eat this bread and every time you drink this cup, you reenact in your words and actions the death of the Master.  You will be drawn back to this meal again and again,” Paul goes on, “until the Master returns.”

Why the bread and wine?  It’s because when Jesus broke that loaf of bread and said, “This is my body,” it was so we might always remember that his body was broken, and that he died for us; for the sake of our salvation and a life abundant and eternal with God.  It’s that ongoing reminder each time we break the bread that we participate in the broken body of Christ; because it’s our sin for which his sacrifice paid the cost, and which brings us new hope forged in forgiveness.  And that’s why the wine: because when Jesus shared the Passover wine with them, calling it the “new covenant in his blood,” he was proclaiming a brand new life for all who would believe; a life of fullness and holiness that starts here and now, but will come to its fruition at that “heavenly banquet” in the Kingdom of God at the close of history.

Now granted, it’s hard for us to wrap our minds and hearts around something so personal and yet so utterly cosmic as this with something as simple as a sharing a tiny piece of bread and a little cup of unfermented wine (!)… but that’s we “do this” as often as we eat the bread and share the cup; that’s the reason for the sacrament we share!

I’m reminded here of a story from Martin Copenhaver’s book To Begin at the Beginning, in which he tells the story of the great dancer Martha Graham, who had just completed an inspired performance and was approached backstage by an ardent admirer of dance.  “Oh, Miss Graham,” he said, “that dance was wonderful.  Can you tell me what it means?”  “Honey,” Graham replied, still out of breath from the dancing, “if you I could tell you, then I wouldn’t have to dance it.” Copenhaver goes on to say that “the same could be said of a sacrament.  If words alone were sufficient, the sacrament would not be necessary.  The nature of a sacrament is such that nothing can convey its meaning as well as the sacrament itself.”

In other words, I can speak to you theologically or historically or biblically about what we’re doing here today in celebrating the Sacrament of Holy Communion, but what’s really important is the experience that each one of us has in sharing this sacred meal; it’s in partaking of the broken bread and the cup of blessing in the same manner that Jesus himself gave it and as so many over the generations have continued to do; and it’s in knowing the wonder and the deep, deep love of Jesus’ presence in it; in the anticipation of what our Lord Jesus will be saying and doing in our hearts and lives as we “do this” today in remembrance of him.

How it all happens and why, well that’s a mystery of grace.  All I know is that every time we gather in this sanctuary and come to feast at this table we come into the presence of the Lord who can and does turn our lives and our world all around; and I also know that when the elements are as “non-traditional,” shall we say, as a hamburger bun and orange juice something sacred and miraculous is bound to happen.

I remember that day at the farmhouse when I finally decided that this wasn’t going to be your run of the mill communion service, the associate pastors and I began repeating those familiar words of institution… do this in remembrance of me… take this, eat, and be thankful… the same words we’ll share together here in just a few moments, words not totally dissimilar to those that have been spoken at countless other celebrations of the Lord’s Supper over the centuries.

And yes, that man was right: this was certainly not the kind of communion you’d likely find in a church sanctuary, the prayers certainly weren’t as formal as you might speak them in a traditional worship service, and, trust me, sharing the bread and cup certainly didn’t taste like communion as you’d receive it on a typical Sunday morning!  But then, in the midst of it all, I looked up and realized why none of this mattered:  the husband and wife had joined their hands and were deep in prayer, most certainly sensing the presence of a loving, caring, healing Lord who had already been with them through so much and would remain close in whatever was yet to come.  Truly, in the breaking of the bread and in the sharing of the cup, the remembered him and his peace… and his hope… and his comfort… and his healing… and his love.  By any measure, I can tell you that it “worthy” of the sacrament, and it was a sacred moment indeed.

As the song goes, “there’s grace to be found in the bread and the wine.”  I hope and pray that as once we again come to this sacred table that we’ll remember; so that we might truly experience all that our Lord has to give us by his presence and love.

So might it be, and may our thanks be to God.

Amen and AMEN!

c. 2018  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

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