Art Fabian – North Riverdale Lutheran Church
Maundy Thursday, March 24, 2016 – John 13:31b-35
[Because this was delivered in the costume of a first-century villager, and I pointed to places around the church, I’ve added some gesture notes in brackets.]
Let’s go back just a little over 2000 years to about the year 100…as you would label it. Since we were under Roman rule, it would be about the year 853 for us. And for a while this evening, I’d like you to think about what our feelings were back in the days of that harsh Roman Empire.
Imagine we’re gathered around a small cooking fire on a chilly evening in a village…maybe in Galilee …or maybe over in a region further away.
So now we’re sitting around the dying embers in an open courtyard between two of our mud and stone houses. In this village, this is our synagogue, where we Jews gather on the Sabbath. [Indicate sanctuary with sweep of hands.] It’s not like this beautiful synagogue that you meet in. This is almost a temple compared to what I’m used to. It’s too bad our own temple, down in Jerusalem, was destroyed by those cruel Romans about 30 years ago.
Now, I don’t know if parts of this story actually happened, that is, if they’re literally true, or historically accurate, but I certainly think this will speak the truth about our spirit.
You seem to already know about the man whose name was Jesus. We feel he was anointed by God to be a prophet for our time. That’s why we call him “Messiah” …it means anointed one. Or, as my Greek friends say, Christos.
I can see you follow Jesus because you’ve put up a cross in your synagogue. [Pointing to altar.]
Well, Jesus is still pretty real to us even though it’s been several generations since he challenged the Roman authorities and taught so many wonderful things about how to live a full life.
I’d like to tell you how we remember Jesus and his last meal with his closest disciples. Nobody is still alive who actually saw him or his disciples. So we’re always eager to learn about what he said and taught from even third and fourth hand accounts of those events.
Being good Jews, we don’t worry about whether every word actually happened. We just love the story-telling style that conveys so much rich understanding to us. I guess these stories about Jesus are kinda like the parables that Jesus told so often. My, he was a good Jewish story-teller.
Anyway, we’ve been told that a day or two before his death, he had a meal with his disciples. We don’t know exactly what happened there, but we do believe he talked about loving one another. Well, he often talked that way, so we surmise that he re-emphasized that during a meal in what was probably a pretty tense time.
Of course, they ate bread and other foods and washed it down with some wine. And from what we’ve heard, that turned into a pretty meaningful moment for the disciples. We call it a moment when the spirit of God was present. It was a sacred time. And, as best as we can figure, it was the last meal they ate altogether.
So, how did that simple last meal become so special for us?
Well, just a few days later, after those Romans crucified that man, a couple of people who were also fans of Jesus, were walking back to their home in Emmaus. Another person was walking that path with them. Since hospitality is one of our most prized characteristics, the two invited the man to stay with them for a meal. As is our tradition, that man picked up the bread and blessed it, when he broke it, it was big A-HA! moment for them. They both instantly recognized that they had had a mystical experience of Jesus.
So from that moment on, people who knew the stories of Jesus and broke bread together, started regularly having aha moments and felt warm loving feelings during their meals. As more people became involved in our Jesus movement they tended to plan on having meals together.
Like minded Jews started gathering regularly to eat and talk about Jesus. Soon, some of the gentiles who were also fascinated with our synagogue discussions, joined in also. This was special, because having Jews and gentiles, men and women, upper class, and common people eat together without ranking them, was highly unusual in our society.
Although some of the people were called “Christians” it was often a derogatory term directed to those Jews who were a little too exuberant in their praise of the anointed one. Now, it’s a name we accept without complaint.
Anyway, when we gathered for these meals, everybody was equal, and we sang Psalms and celebrated together. We shared stories, bits of readings and remembrances from our sacred Hebrew scriptures. Occasionally a “free-lance” apostle would come around and share other stories with us. In the old days it was Paul or Timothy or Barnabas. Recently, after the Romans destroyed our temple, some of the scribes realized they better write down some of what we think Jesus said, and so they’ve been creating stories about Jesus that help us along in our understanding and liturgies.
We’re pleased that we are known for sharing food with everyone equally. And we take care of people who have needs and hurts that the Romans and local communities won’t take care of.
We do it because we love people, not for who they are, but that simply they are people. We’re pretty sure Jesus would want to have us love each other just as he loved us.
That’s why this eating together is so important to us. Each time we do, we have a warm place in our heart for the wisdom and love Jesus was disclosing to us. Of course, we don’t think we’re actually eating any person’s body and blood, that’s just a figure of speech. What Jesus taught is his body. And by sharing those teachings and acting through love in a similar way, we are his body. His blood is our lifeblood of hope for living in a God-led-kingdom, not this stinking Roman one.
When we partake of this meal, we each become a Christ follower. By this eating and drinking in his name, we make this meal sacred.
Of course, we eat a lot more than just bread and wine. We share a full meal. Occasionally, someone can afford a little meat, maybe a chicken, and when it’s the right season, some fresh vegetables. Sometimes, somebody will heat some food over a little home fire like this one and bring the pot of food to share. I think you now call it a cas-ser-ole.
Now we also realize that just eating together in equality doesn’t make us perfect. But it does remind us that we’re on the Jesus journey. That’s why some of us refer to our movement as the Way. We travel on this way, and we don’t worry about reaching a destination. We live life as best we can and rejoice in loving and being loved.
And we love, not just because Jesus told us to, although that alone is a good reason. But we show compassion, share our love, and try to do justice, because it simply is the Godly way to express our humanity. And that makes us feel good. You might say, it’s the feeling of an abundant life, no matter what our circumstances are.
[Pointing to altar.] Now I see that you’re going to share a meal tonight in honor of Jesus. That’s a mighty fancy setting you have up there on the altar.
In another role I’ve played, (when I’ve sat over there) I’ve been able to participate in these meals with you. I’ve noticed that you also join in this sacrament out of love.
The bread you serve here is chewy on purpose. When you chew, you have time to ruminate on what Jesus means to you. The sips of wine here are really tiny, but they have flavor so it tantalizes your senses and you want more of the story of Jesus. Through this bread and wine we remember and celebrate our full humanity with Jesus and these our fellow disciples in our life journey.
Let me give one example of this community consecrating this meal.
Last Sabbath, a man who’s been homeless attended our church service, and I saw several of you welcome him into our midst. He came forward to take communion and although he has some visual problems, he was guided up the aisle by one of our members, Andrea. Since we practice an “All-Are-Welcome” policy, I was pleased to see him join us in this meaningful community sacrament.
As Andrea led him back down the side aisle to his pew and they passed us, I recognized both a person in need…and one compassionately serving. I was choked up when I whispered to Louise, “I just felt Jesus walk by.”
Now understand that neither person was Jesus, although both were certainly divine. Rather Jesus was experienced as a need being served. I believe that would resonate with the anointed one because he taught that we should love and serve needs, not worship him. He never wanted to be elevated in stature above anybody else.
“Jesus just walked by.” Even that term “walking” implies you are on the journey that we call the Way…where you love yourself…and others…as Jesus loved.
Come, chew the bread, and remember the blessings of your life in this body of Christian believers. Drink the wine that flavors our life…as followers of Jesus.
Walk this journey with the love of Jesus in your heart.