Hi friends – here is my sermon from yesterday. I was preaching on the last supper – conveniently timed with the first Sunday of the month, which meant that it was also Communion Sunday. As I reflected on the last supper during my sermon, I’m seriously considering revising our communion liturgy at some point this summer. I want to simplify the language and really remind us – myself included – why it is that we gather.
Rehoboth Congregational Church
May 5, 2019
Strength. Nourishment. Restoration.
It has been two years since Bruce and I last planted a vegetable garden. We were faithful for six years at the parsonage and then, in 2017, with Harrison’s pending arrival, we just could not pull it together. Then last year, we were renovating our house and preparing the parsonage for sale and so, again, it just did not happen.
For two years, I frustratingly spent money on produce in the middle of the summer that I knew I could very easily grow myself. And so this year, finally settled(ish) into our new house and eager to get a garden started, we have found ourselves, on more than one occasion, wandering through the gardening section at Home Depot, Target and Walmart, dreaming about what this year’s garden will look like.
But here is the problem with spring. I always find that I tend to be ready to plant things far sooner than the season and the weather is ready to have things be planted.
This cold and rainy spring we are having is currently exacerbating that problem.
And yet, I cannot help myself.
Which is how I ended up with seedlings all over my kitchen.
About 200 of them, actually.
Cucumbers, zucchini, yellow squash, tomatoes, basil and lettuce.
I did not realize when I was planting the seeds that so many of them would grow.
And you might recall from my Easter sermon that I have a cat that does not respect the agricultural boundaries that we put up in the house, so what this means is that we not only have trays of seedlings all over our kitchen, but we also have various stacks of cookbooks and children’s books that we are using as feline fencing (somewhat successfully, I might add!).
Much to my delight, though, growth is happening. In fact, last weekend, it became apparent that it was time to replant the zucchini, yellow squash and cucumbers into bigger containers. On Saturday we replanted most of them until we ran out of soil. We decided to do the rest the next day when we could go out for more.
But on Sunday morning, I came downstairs and realized that the remaining plants – the ones that we had not yet replanted, but that had been disturbed while we were replanting everything else and then not watered afterwards – did not look good. They were wilted – the leaves were soft and lifeless.
I told Bruce that we had waited too long, that the plants were a lost cause. First he looked around at the 40 other cucumber plants we had transplanted the day before and gently reminded me that, even if that was the case and the plants were dead, we still had some to spare. But then he looked at me and he said, “Relax – they will come back.”
That afternoon, I was talking to a friend of mine from high school who is just as enthusiastic about her vegetable garden as I am about mine and I sent her a picture of what was happening with the wilted cucumber plants and she, like Bruce, said, “It’s okay – they will come back.”
So we transplanted the last of the cucumber plants. And within the 30 minutes, they started to perk up. The stalks got visibly stronger and the leaves re-gained their form and expanded.
All it took was some new soil and water. Two things – two simple elements – gave these plants life again.
Guys, the same thing happens when we gather around the communion table. All it takes is bread and juice. Two things – two simple elements – give us life every time we receive them.
We have moved into the Passion Narrative in the Gospel of Mark and so the beginning of this morning’s scripture is the heartbreaking story of Judas’ betrayal. Judas – one of the twelve disciples, one of the men Jesus called to be in ministry with him, someone who traveled with Jesus, who witnessed Jesus’ miracles and his healings, who Jesus taught, who Jesus probably trusted very much – goes to the chief priests – who we know from last week were plotting to kill Jesus – and agrees to help them. In return, the chief priests promise to give Judas money.
Here’s the thing – none of this comes as a surprise to Jesus. He knows that he is going to die. We have read the entire Gospel up until this point so we know that Jesus foretold his death three times. He knows that Judas was going to betray him. In verse 18 of this passage, during the Passover meal, Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” And not to spoil next week’s sermon or anything, but Jesus also knows that Peter is going to deny him three times. He foretells this in the verses that immediately follow the passage we just read, verse 30.
Reading this story today, we know that it all comes to pass. Judas betrays Jesus. Peter denies Jesus three times. All of the disciples abandon him. Jesus is sentenced to death and crucified.
And yet here is the amazing thing about this story – Jesus invites them to gather around the table anyway.
In this morning’s reading, it is time for the Passover celebration, which is the religious festival that commemorates God’s deliverance of the Jews from bondage. The term, Passover, comes from the Hebrew word, pesach, which is used in Exodus 12:13: “I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you.”
The fascinating thing about how Mark chooses to portray this story is that the focus is not really on the Passover meal, itself, but on the institution of the Lord’s Supper, where Jesus takes bread and blesses it and breaks it and gives it to the disciples. The language he uses here – “and after blessing it he broke it [and] gave it to them” – if you recall, is very similar to the language used in both of the loaves and fishes stories in Mark. Jesus’ actions here draw to a conclusion these feeding stories. This is a poignant reminder that Jesus, who always had compassion for the hungry and offered them bread to eat, is now offering himself as the bread to feed, nourish and bless those who follow him.
Even if they are not perfect. Even if they make mistakes. Even if they are very much human.
Jesus knows that Judas is going to betray him, that Peter is going to deny him and that the rest of the disciples are going to abandon him. And yet he shares this meal with them anyway.
Knowing what is about to happen, knowing the true depths of the disciples’ brokenness and also knowing the heartbreaking messiness that is about to ensue, Jesus invites them to join him for the Passover meal and to be nourished as they break bread together.
The most compelling part of the disciples’ story in the entire Gospel is that they messed up a lot. They did not always understand what Jesus was asking them to do or what Jesus was trying to teach them. They were influenced by the culture of the world they were living in. They tried to be faithful, but they also fell short, time and time again.
And yet, sitting around a table with one who had betrayed him, one who would deny him and all who would abandon him, Jesus broke bread and poured wine and shared it with them, offering them nourishment, hope and a new covenant.
This story teaches us that we do not have to be perfect to gather around the communion table; all we have to be is hungry.
And these two elements – these two simple elements of bread and juice – will nourish us, will give us new life, will make us whole again.
Even if we think that we have made too many mistakes.
Even if we think that we are not good enough.
Even if we think that there is no hope left.
Even if we think that there is no chance of redemption.
This communion meal will restore us. We will be strengthened. We will be given life again.
This story not only reminds us that it is okay if we are in place in our lives where we do not quite have all of the pieces in place, but it also assures us that there is hope, that we can and will be strengthened and lifted up every time we gather around the table with the Body of Christ and share this meal.
Communion is not just something we do because it’s the first Sunday of the money and that is what has always been done, communion is a gift that Jesus gave to us. A gift that is available to us wherever we are on our journey through life. A gift that we can partake in, not because we are strong, but because we are weak, not because we are whole, but because we are broken, not because we have answers, but because we have a lot of questions. A gift that will nourish us; that will strengthen us, that will make us whole again and that will help us find answers.
Like the stalks and the leaves on my cucumber seedlings that literally blossomed before my eyes with a little bit of new soil and some water, amazing things can happen within us when we gather around this table and share the simple meal of bread and juice.
So let yourself be strengthened.
Let yourself be nourished.
Let yourself be restored.
For Jesus invites all to gather around this table.
Thanks be to God!