March 24, 2016
Exodus 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14, Psalm 116:1, 10-17, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, John 13:1-17,31b-35
Shortly after I joined Campus Crusade for Christ at the University of Georgia my freshman year, I had a discussion with a non-religious friend about proofs for the existence of God. I remember him saying, “If God wants to get our attention why doesn’t he just write his name in the sky for all to see?” –Kind of like the Wicked Witch of the West writing a message to Dorothy.
I get his point and often wonder the same thing. This kind of miracle makes a lot of sense to modern people who imagine ourselves sitting in judgment of God, like the judges of ice skating at the Olympics holding up our numbers to rate the athletes: “Okay, God, nice message in the sky trick, I’ll give you a 9 for that, but next time if you want a perfect score you’ll need to write with more flair and color.”
We see ourselves as the center of all things and thus judge of all things, which is what happens when we feed ourselves on the fruit of the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. As we suck on that fruit we feel quite capable of judging and dividing up the people of the world.
But there is another tree in the Garden whose leaves are for the healing of the nations—it’s known in Genesis and in Revelation as the Tree of Life.
We call it the cross of Christ.
2000 years ago in an upper room in Jerusalem there is a group of Jews huddled together to celebrate the Passover in remembrance of the time when God led them out of slavery in Egypt. This is a small group composed mainly of fishermen, taxmen, and a few women, some of questionable repute, and in the center sits a Rabbi from Nazareth.
But then Jesus goes off the Passover script and does something strange: he takes the bread and says, “This is my body broken for you” and then he takes the cup of wine and says, “This is my blood shed for you.”
No one in that room has a clue as to what Jesus is trying to tell them. The next day they begin the journey toward understanding when they see Jesus’ body broken and his blood shed.
But it would not be until the third day when they are confronted by the Crucified Jesus risen from the dead that they begin to understand that his body was broken FOR THEM, and that his blood was shed FOR THEM.
And it would be when they receive the Holy Spirit that they finally grasp that the body and blood given for them, was not just so that they could form one more religious fraternity singing Kumbaya in splendid isolation. Rather it was so they could be transformed into a people at one with God and at one with every person on earth.
Paul tells the tiny group of Christians in Corinth, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”
Every celebration of the Lord’s Supper proclaims the forgiveness and grace of the cross of Christ that makes us true human community possible. In John’s Gospel the Last Supper doesn’t mention the bread and wine, but it proclaims the same message when Jesus washes his disciples’ feet: the new community formed by the cross and resurrection of Christ does not divide the world up into hierarchies of top and bottom, Master and Slave, but proclaims that all are One in Christ.
I know that because we are in a season of terror, our natural instincts are to hide and huddle up with those who look and think like us. Yet, every time we eat this bread and drink this cup we are making a political statement, a public statement, about God’s vision for the world that God loves.
We don’t take communion just to heal our individual problems, though Jesus does do that. By participating in Christ we are proclaiming the power of Cross and Resurrection to inaugurate the New Creation, and we give ourselves to the Spirit of Christ to do that work through us.
You remember Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s story of the young African-American couple attending an Episcopal Church in Philadelphia in the days of segregation. The woman was an Episcopalian so at the time of communion she goes forward to receive the Body and Blood of Christ. The man, a Baptist, stays in his seat and watches as the white priest serves the cup to the white people kneeling at the altar rail, and then he sees the priest give that very same cup to the Black woman saying, “The blood of our Lord Jesus Christ which was shed for you…”
It blew the young man’s mind—here was a sign of the kingdom of God in which there is neither black or white, male or female, slave or free for all are One in Christ Jesus.
Of course this young couple was Bishop Curry’s parents.
Every time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper we are being fed by Christ to form his community that reaches across the barriers that divide us.
I want to suggest that such communities are a more powerful sign of the reality of God than writing God’s name in the sky could ever be.