Holy Communion

  • blogpic loving-the-way-jesus-lovesWhen I was a kid, I wondered why in Holy Week, we had a Monday Thursday. And if today is Monday Thursday, then why isn’t tomorrow Monday Friday and Easter, Monday Sunday? I thought Monday was the least favorite day of the week, so isn’t one Monday enough?

    It probably wasn’t until I was in seminary that I learned the name “Maundy Thursday” comes from the Latin word, Mandatum, which means “command.” Jesus gives his disciples a new commandment on Thursday of Holy Week, so it is Commandment Thursday, Mandatum Thursday, which has over time, has been compressed to Maundy Thursday.

    Theologian and historian Leonard Sweet, a professor at Drew Theological School, identifies different levels of human relationships (which are all named for metals) that lead up to the New Commandment that Jesus gives at his Last Supper:

    The first level of relationship is the Iron Rule—Do unto others before they do unto you

    We see this during Jesus’ time when those with the leprosy or other diseases were forced to be outcast. The religious laws banished them from the community because they were unclean. In fact they had to yell, “unclean, unclean” when walking near anyone so people could keep their distance. They would become unclean by touching an outcast, so they banished them first. We hear the Iron Rule in some of today’s political rhetoric that promises to prevent Muslims from coming into the country and to enact aggressive neighborhood surveillance of Muslim communities. Fear leads us to do unto others before they do unto us.

    The next level of relationship Sweet identifies is the Silver Rule--Do unto others as they do unto you.

    The Silver rule works well when everyone is operating positively and generating good will. You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. It’s a transactional relationship that works until our fallible nature gets the better of us. Then it quickly becomes an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth which can lead to revenge and vigilantism. I think this is why we love movies like The Godfather which dramatize organized crime. There’s always an accounting of who did what to whom and who pays the price. The Silver Rule can also excuse us from ever taking initiative, offering a loophole for people who never want to make the first move. If we don’t trust others, we hang back, only responding to others based on how they treat us.

    Then we move up to the Golden Rule – and every major religion has a version of Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Treat others how you would like to be treated. We all learned this in elementary school, and I think we’re all the better for it. We hear the Golden Rule in Jesus’ summary of the two greatest commandments in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark: the greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind, and your neighbor as yourself.

    We just visited Knox College in IL with our daughter earlier this week and one of the values there is the Honor Code. This allows students to take their tests anywhere they like—under a tree outside or in a study carrel in the library—without a professor present. This principle is based on the Golden Rule—the faculty invests in the students the same honor and trust the students accord them. There is a drawback to the Golden Rule, however—it’s limited by our own imagination. We have a hard time imagining people’s needs and desires when they fall outside of our own culture or experience. So the Golden Rule can break down, especially in cross-cultural situations. The way we like to be treated may not be appropriate in another cultural setting.

    So Leonard Sweet then identifies the Platinum Rule which says, Do unto others as they would have you do unto them.

    The Platinum rule requires investment in a real relationship and true listening. We have to get to know the person in order to understand what’s important to them, what they value and how to communicate on their wavelength. The Platinum Rule is something we all do everyday because it’s important in all healthy relationships, from friendship to marriage, to parent-child relationships to cross-cultural dialog.

    We hear Jesus do this very thing when Blind Bartimeus begs him for mercy in John, chapter 9. Jesus asks him, What would like for me to do for you? Jesus engages in relationship instead of making assumptions about what Bartimeus needs and wants. Asking this question, What do you need us to do? has been an important task of the Ferguson Commission that was set up in the aftermath of Michael Brown’s death. In order to build a just society, we need to really listen to what African Americans, especially young men, are experiencing in our law enforcement and justice systems, most especially when it’s different from our own experience.

    Which brings us to today, Maundy Thursday, when Jesus ups the ante on all of our human relationships with a New Commandment.

    Leonard Sweet calls this the Titanium Rule. I give you a new commandment, says Jesus, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:34-35)

    What does it mean to love as Jesus loves? To do unto others as Jesus has done to us?

    On this night Jesus eats his last meal before he dies. He invites his disciples and closest friends to celebrate the Passover meal with him. Try to imagine it.
    • Jesus knows Peter will deny him, not once, but 3 times.
    • Jesus understands that Judas will sell him out.
    • Jesus knows all of the disciples except John, his Mom and a few women will run away when he needs them most.
    • He’s facing a painful death knowing that most of the people he’s close to will abandon, deny and betray him.

    If it were your last meal on earth would you invite these so-called friends to join you? How do you face the most difficult and painful hardship of your life knowing everyone who’s close to you will fail you?

    Personally, I would want to ask them to leave before dessert, so I could take solace in the whole chocolate raspberry cheesecake. But, what does Jesus do? He invites them to share the bread, enjoy the wine, and eat their fill, dessert included. Jesus invests the last energy he has in nurturing relationships with fallible, broken, fearful people. And Jesus doesn’t stop there. He dives even deeper.

    Jesus not only shares a meal with them, Jesus kneels at their feet, takes the position of a slave—the lowest person on the very bottom rung of the social ladder, and he washes the feet of his fearful, fallible followers—the feet that will run away and abandon him. To love as Jesus loves is
    • to serve those who fail you,
    • to embrace the ones who hurt you,
    • to indulge the ones who don’t show up when you need them most.

    Loving our enemies is not enough. People will know that we are Jesus’ disciples when we serve and care for those who fail us. Maybe Monday Thursday is a good name for today because this may be our least favorite commandment.

    Imagine washing the feet of your nemesis, your political polar opposite, your ex-whatever- ex-friend, ex-spouse, ex-boyfriend. That’s the Titanium Rule that shows the world whom we follow. Others’ behavior has no bearing on our behavior and choices—choose love, choose service, and choose forgiveness regardless of how others act.

    How can we do this? There’s only one way. By coming to the table of the Lord's Supper where Jesus invites us to participate in his life, be filled with his love, partake of his body. Jesus says, this is my body, this is my blood – This is myself - I give you myself – I give you all that I am.

    And he already knows—he already knows that every one of us will abandon, deny and betray him in one way or another this week—yet he says, Come. Come to the table, let me serve you with my very life, let me love you, even and most especially your fallible, feeble, fearful souls. And then pass it on, pay it forward. Let someone see that I love them because you show up to serve, to love, to forgive. Jesus says, Love as I love you. Go from this meal and pass it on.

  • blogpic cheesepuffsRecently I went to visit Cheryl, who lives in a nursing home. She’s had a hard life and is much younger than most of the residents. On this particular day, Cheryl blessed me with wisdom I will never forget.

    We sat on her bed and I opened my portable “lunchbox” Holy Communion set so we could share in the Lord’s Supper. Cheryl had just gotten back from a group trip to Wal-Mart and was well stocked with two of her favorite items: Diet Dr. Pepper and cheese puffs. As I began to set up Communion, I realized I had forgotten to re-stock the kit; I had plenty of grape juice, but was completely out of Communion wafers. I asked Cheryl if she had any crackers or bread we could use instead. She reached for a bag and asked, “Can we use cheese puffs?” Why not? I thought; the wafer and juice become holy through the presence of the risen Jesus, not the elements themselves. Cheryl put two cheese puffs on the little plate, and then she said, “This will make all of the other cheese puffs I eat even more meaningful!”

    And meaningful it was—because she really captured the true essence of our “holy communion.” It’s not just that this particular meal made from grains and grapes is a Sacrament when joined with Jesus’ promise and his command to share it; the real point is that every morsel of food we eat is replete with the presence of God who created it, Jesus who redeems it, and the Spirit who dwells within it. Cheese puffs helped Cheryl make the connection from the Communion table to every table in a way that a Styrofoam-like wafer with a sip of juice may not. The next time I came for a visit, she asked if we could use Diet Dr. Pepper, so we did. Talk about being fed.

    [Written with permission from Cheryl]

    Photo Credit: getutz.com

  • blogpic boywithfishA Sermon preached on May 29, 2016

    Have you ever wondered what it takes to AMAZE Jesus? It’s a funny question because Jesus is always the one who amazes us. But in Luke 7, Jesus is the one who is amazed—he is amazed at the centurion’s faith. There is only one other time in the Gospels that Jesus is amazed and that’s in Mark 6:6 when he is rejected in Nazareth and he is amazed at their unbelief. The centurion, whose story also appears in Matthew, is the only person who AMAZES Jesus with his faith. I would much rather amaze Jesus with my faith, than with my unbelief, wouldn’t you?

    So who was this centurion who amazed Jesus with his faith? He is the most unlikely person in Scripture to have an amazing faith.
    1. For starters, he’s a foreigner, a Gentile and not a Jew— He most likely is a practicing pagan—which in Jesus’ time meant believing in many gods—a god of fertility, a god of war, another for weather and harvest and so on.
    2. He’s a military man, and as such, he’s part of the oppressive Roman military that occupied Palestine during Jesus’ life. A centurion is a captain of 100 foot soldiers in a Roman Legion, whose job it was to subject the Jews to the Emperor’s rule. He was a man of war who achieved his rank by distinguishing himself above others in battle and in the Roman martial arts.
    3. This centurion has no intellectual understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures, the story of the Israelites exodus from Egypt and why the Messiah, arriving in the person of Jesus matters so much.

    The centurion did, however, have some good points: He ruled not by force and terror, but through compassion and empathy. He built a Temple for the Jews to worship and cared for their well-being; he even cared about his slaves. And because he cared for the people’s well-being, the people cared for his well-being so they appeal to Jesus to heal is slave.

    So what was it that amazed Jesus about this centurion? Was it just because he was a nice guy, unlike most of the Roman military?

    No, it was more than that. The centurion amazed Jesus because through his own experience, he recognized Jesus’ power, his authority and his mission. The centurion used his own experience to see God at work in Jesus. He had heard the stories of Jesus healing people with a simple word, a simple command. He could understand this kind of power because he had experienced it himself: For I am also a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, “Go” and he goes, and to another, “Come” and he comes, and to my slave, Do this” and the slave does it.

    The centurion couldn’t use his authority to heal his slave, but through this window of experience, he recognized that Jesus’ words also did what he said. Jesus marvels in amazement that through his own experience, the centurion completely trusts in Jesus’ power.

    Today, the centurion invites us into his story and asks us to reflect on our own experience, and how some of our experiences help us trust in Jesus’ power, recognize his mission and embrace his authority and presence in our lives.

    I think sometimes as Lutherans, we can get too caught up in our intellectual understanding and reason, in correct behavior, in rote memorization and repetitive liturgy, forgetting that our experience is also a crucial part of our faith life! I’m not saying the Bible study, moral behavior and liturgy aren’t important—of course they are—and I embrace and practice all of them.

    But our experience is also a wonderful gift of our faith that’s easy to avoid because we don’t want to be too touchy-feely, or overly emotional, or too spiritually far out and “oogie”. Well, the centurion uses his experience to embrace the mission of Jesus, and he isn’t too touchy-feely, emotional or gives us the oogies. Paul in Galatiansaffirms that the Gospel he preaches came not from humans, not from teaching, but from his experience of Jesus Christ. We also have to remember that Martin Luther himself embraced the grace-filled love of God in Jesus Christ because of his experience that he couldn’t achieve salvation through works, and that experience became the bedrock of the Reformation.

    You may feel like the centurion, that you are the most unlikely person to amaze Jesus with your faith. But I would offer, that is not true. I want you to reflect for a minute about your own experiences and how they inform your faith. What experiences have helped you embrace, feel or understand the work of God in the world? We call this our spirituality in everyday life.
    • Maybe you’ve served in the military or are a supervisor and you, like the centurion, have a window into seeing how Jesus’ words do what he says.
    • Maybe you’re a teacher, you understand why Jesus teaches in parables because your experience gives you a window into the transformative power of stories.
    • Maybe you work in the medical field, and every day, you get why Jesus went to the lepers, the sick, and the outcast, because you have a window into how isolating illness can be.
    • Maybe you’re a mom on a tight budget and with a grateful heart, you can make one chicken give your family 4 dinners and your experience give you a window into how the loaves and fishes multiplied.
    • Maybe you’re a coach and you encourage kids to try something they’re afraid they can’t do, and your experience gives you a window into why Jesus invited Peter out of the boat to walk on water,
    • Maybe you’re a dad who lost one of your kids a 6 flags and your experience gives you a window into the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin and you understand that desperate search in your guts.
    • Maybe you’re a gardener and have insight into the created order of the universe from your own backyard.
    • Maybe you’re a parent and you have sacrificed something for your kids to have what you didn’t and this begins to give you a window into the kind of love that motivated Jesus to die for us.
    • Maybe you’ve suffered physical illness and your experience opened a window of compassion for Jesus’ suffering.

    The good news is that Jesus is no longer a person bound by history--he rose victorious from the grave so that his resurrected Spirit is everywhere at the same time, and he dwells inside each one of us every second of every day!

    Because of the in-dwelling presence of his Spirit, your daily life is full of experiences of God when Jesus makes himself known to us. And in order for us to receive the spiritual benefit from these experiences, it’s important that we identify them and share them. I had a seminary professor say, “we don’t learn from experience; we only learn from experience that is reflected upon and shared.” So I encourage you to share with your pewmates, your friends, your family today, one experience of your faith that came to mind. Make it a daily habit to share “God-sightings” and these experiences that inform your faith, your understanding of Jesus’ power and mission, and of God blessing you.

    I had an experience that opened a window to a deeper understanding of what Holy Communion is all about: Our oldest son, Daniel was not quite 4 and we were at the community pool for swimming lessons. When his lesson was over, he said, “I want fish for dinner.” I said, “Okay, but why fish?” His response: “It will make me swim better.” When we got home, I asked my husband, Dan if we had any fish sticks in the freezer because Daniel wanted fish for dinner. Daniel piped up and said, “No! I want REAL fish—only REAL fish will help me swim better.” We went to the store and got some REAL fish!

    It’s why we trust in the REAL presence of Jesus in, with and under the bread and wine in Holy Communion—only the REAL Jesus can help us live more faithfully. So, come to the table! Come to the table with all of your experiences and all of your faith, and the REAL Jesus will be amazed and fill you again. 

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