A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory (nikos) through our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Corinthians 15:57

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Sermon (Maundy Thursday) by Rev. Robert McDowell - "A Very Unique Meal"

    Maundy Thursday is an important day during Holy Week.  It’s a time for us to remember when Jesus shared in a last supper with his disciples. Soon, he would be arrested by the Roman authorities and crucified on a cross.  This last meal has become a meal we continue to receive to this day to help us reflect on what Jesus’ suffering and death mean for us.

   This is why the Apostle Paul spends time writing about the Lord’s Supper in his letter to the Christians in the city of Corinth.  They had forgotten why the Lord’s Supper is a very unique meal.

     In Paul’s day, the Corinthian Christians would have met in homes to worship, eat a meal together, and receive the Lord’s Supper.  The bread and the cup were part of that much larger meal they would have had together.

     Somewhere along the way, they forgot the reason why they were gathering for a meal in the first place.  They forgot why the loaf of bread and the cup were part of that great spread of food.  This holy meal that was meant to remind them of their oneness in Jesus Christ had become just another meal.

     And so Paul reminds them of the meaning of this meal by saying how it was Jesus who offered his body and his blood for us so that we will always remember what he did for us when he died on the cross for the world.

     Paul is saying that whenever you see the bread and the cup on that table of food, to remember that this is why we have gathered in the first place.  We have gathered because of what Jesus has done for us.

     In my first church where I served as pastor, I was celebrating the Sacrament of Holy Communion one Sunday morning. We were serving by intinction where people come forward to a communion station, take a piece of bread, dip it into the chalice of juice, partake, and then return to their seat. I was serving at one of those communion stations. 
     One of the beautiful things about the intinction method is that it is a very personal experience as people come forward one by one to receive the Sacrament.  It is also a very meaningful time for me as pastor because when I offer the bread and the cup, I can make eye contact with each person as they receive the Sacrament.

     So anyway, I was serving Holy Communion at one of the stations and one of my older members who was in her 90’s was in my communion line. As a life- long member of the church, she was seen as the matriarch of our small congregation.

     When it was her turn to receive, I lovingly looked into her eyes and said, “Florence, this is the body of Christ broken for you.”  She received the large piece of bread but then accidentally dropped it on the floor.  So I offered her another piece of bread which she received. 

     Then I offered her the cup and said, “Florence, this is the blood of Christ shed for you.”  She then dipped the bread into the chalice and ate. And then she did something that I will never forget.
     She looked down at that large piece of bread that she had accidentally dropped on the floor.  I assumed that she was going to gently bend over and pick it up since it would be in the way of the person behind her. 

     To my great surprise, she quickly swung back her foot, and with all of her might, she kicked that piece of communion bread as far away as possible. As she started to go back to her pew, she gave me a little smile as if to say, “Problem solved.”

     I know she thought she was doing a helpful thing but all I could think about was, “I can’t believe dear Florence just kicked the consecrated loaf of Christ.”

     The Apostle Paul wants us to know that Holy Communion is a very unique meal. He sums up the meaning of this meal in the last verse of our scripture reading when he writes, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

     The Sacrament of Holy Communion has a past, a present, and a future dimension.  When we receive the bread and the cup, we remember the past and how Jesus died on a cross for the sins of the world. 

     When Jesus died on the cross, he allowed all of the pain, brokenness, and sin of the world to rest on his shoulders, so that he would be able to defeat its power once and for all.

     The cross reminds us of how deep our vulnerability to sin is.  It also reminds us of how costly love is.  Jesus was willing to do for us what we were not able to do for ourselves.  He broke the power of sin and death.

     Whenever I get discouraged or experience disappointments, all I have to do is think of the cross and I am reminded of God’s great gift of love through Jesus Christ. 

     Approximately two thousand years ago, Jesus, an historical figure, the one who was the visible expression and true embodiment of God gave his life for you and me. What Jesus did is rooted in human history.

     But Holy Communion also has a present dimension.  The Apostle Paul writes that we are to receive the bread and the cup.  By receiving Holy Communion, it’s a way for us to know and experience God’s saving love in the here and now. 

     We believe that the Sacrament of Holy Communion is one of the means of grace in which God offers his love and grace to us anew.  Every time we receive the Sacrament, we can have an assurance that God will be present with us just as he was present with Jesus and the disciples in the Upper Room 2,000 years ago.

     And Holy Communion also has a future dimension.  In the last verse of our I Corinthians scripture reading, Paul writes, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”  Those last three words are so important in helping us to understanding the meaning of this Sacrament.  “Until he comes.” 

     Whenever we receive the bread and the cup, we are reminded that there will be a day when Christ will return and all of God’s people will feast at his heavenly banquet.  This is the ultimate hope of our faith, that one day God will make all things new and it will be a time when there will be no more suffering, sadness, mourning, sin, and death.

     Every time we receive this Sacrament, it’s a time for us to look forward to that time in the future when there will be new heavens and a new earth. And until that time, we are called as the church to live out our faith and share this hope with others.

     Somewhere along the way, the church at Corinth forgot that this was a very unique meal.  Maybe it was good that they forgot or we wouldn’t have this scripture from Paul to help us understand the meaning of this meal.

     During church camp one year for elementary age children, a pastor noticed that that one of the children was always misbehaving, even during their worship time in the evening.  One of the counselors explained this boy’s story with the pastor.

     This boy whose name was Adam and his brother were staying with their grandparents because their parents had recently divorced.  The grandparents thought that it would be good for her grandchildren to attend church camp.  The boys had never attended church so all of this was very new to them.

     To help the situation, the pastor and this counselor partnered Adam with a high school counselor whose name was also Adam.  Big Adam was to help explain to young Adam why they were doing the camp activities and why they had closing worship each night. This high school counselor helped changed little Adam’s behavior.

     On the final evening of worship, they all celebrated Holy Communion.  Each camp family picked two persons from their group to serve Communion to the other members.

     As young Adam’s group came forward, the pastor asked for the two persons to come and join him at the altar to receive the communion elements to serve to their family.

     Little Adam was one of those chosen. The pastor served him and the other student, and then he handed the elements to them to serve their camp family. 

     Tears filled this pastor’s eyes as he watched this young student serve the bread and the juice and share the words of communion to his group.

     This young boy who was going through a very difficult time in his life was experiencing transformation and newness of life, all because somebody took time to come alongside of him.

     On a Maundy Thursday several years ago, I took my Holy Communion kit with me to a rehab center to visit a retired United Methodist pastor. I just thought that he would like Holy Communion since he wouldn’t be able to attend our Maundy Thursday service that night.

     Well, as luck would have it, when I arrived at the rehab facility, he was having his therapy session. Fortunately, he was taking a break so we had time to talk. He was so glad to know that I brought my Holy Communion kit.

     As I got out my communion kit to set things up on one of the tables, his physical therapist came over to us and my pastor friend introduced me to her. Looking at my communion kit, she asked me if I always take the Sacrament with me during my visits.

     I told her that I brought it because it was Maundy Thursday and I thought Clarence would like to receive the Sacrament to remember Jesus’ Last Supper. She said, “Today is Maundy Thursday? I should have know that! Do you have enough for me?”

     I said, “Sure. Pull up a chair and join us.” I was about ready to offer a communion prayer when another patient came over and asked, “Mind if I join you?”

     No sooner had this man joined us that another staff member noticed what was going on and said, “I’ll come over, too if that’s OK!”

     So many joined us for Holy Communion in that physical therapy room, that we almost needed to have ushers and acolytes!

     There is something very unique about this meal, isn’t there?

     It’s a meal that is rooted in the past when Jesus died on the cross for our sins. It’s a meal that includes the present because Christ promises to be with us whenever we receive it. And it’s a meal that points us to that future hope when one day, we will all feast at Christ’s heavenly banquet together.

     Past, present, and future. It’s all part of this meal that we call, “Holy Communion.”

     Thanks be to God!

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