The Sunday Sermon: Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost – October 6, 2019 – World Communion Sunday
Scripture: Matthew 26:26-30
Hear the sermon now:
The Joyous Feast
Today is World Communion Sunday. Congregations around the world have gathered, are gathering, and will gather this morning to share the common meal that, more than any doctrine or dogma, procedure or practice, unites the Christian faith. So this morning, we are exploring this aspect of congregational life, this communion, as more than just a meal we share in solemnity in this sanctuary, but as an intricate and intimate part of our life beyond the sanctuary – as an intricate and intimate part of all Christian’s lives beyond the hour or so they spend “in” church. There are five aspects, or understandings, of this sacrament laid out by the World Council of Churches in their statements on the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, our Holy Communion. They’re all part of who we are and what we’re doing when we gather at this special table. We explore those five experiences through the message as we prepare for the communion. Let’s pray first …
The Lord’s Supper is a Memorial of Christ: Gathered at the Table we remember Jesus, the Christ
This is almost certainly the most familiar understanding, or perception, of what’s going on when we set this table and then gather around it. We come, first and foremost to “remember.” The word “remember” is in the Words of Institution from Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth that we share almost every time we gather. Curiously enough, it’s not in the passage we just read from Matthew, nor is it in Mark’s institutional verses. Luke does have one “remember me” after the breaking of the bread. Still, “in order to remember” is, I think, the primary understanding of why we do what we do whenever we set this table and share the bread and cup.
We are people who have come to believe that ultimate truth is defined in and by Jesus of Nazareth, by the way he lived, by what he taught, by what he died for, and by how he offers new life, resurrected life to all those with the courage and faith to live as fully. Our “problem” is that we too easily forget. Either genuinely or just conveniently, we forget how Jesus lived, what Jesus taught, what he died for, and how he offers new life to us. And so we gather once a month and on other special occasions to re-enact this meal as a “memorial,” a remembrance of the Way of the one we call Lord. We re-claim our identity as Christians every time we gather at this table.
With this “memorial” approach to the table, we almost always remain very solemn and quiet as the bread and the cup are distributed by Elders, part of our ordered ministry.
The Lord’s Supper is also Thanksgiving to God the Creator: Gathered at the Table, we are thankful.
Whenever we gather at this table we also do so in thanksgiving to God. Thankful first and foremost that God is God and we are not. Thankful for everything God accomplished in creation and all the ways that God is reconciling the world to itself. Thankful for what we have and for the ability to ensure, in every way possible, that everyone may have at least as much. And when we are truly thankful for what we have received from God, we open our lives to all that is a part of the world. Interactions with other faith traditions, other people, other “ways of being” further open that which is already present: our Christian identity at this table and all that it calls us to be.
Like understanding this communion as a Memorial, when we approach the table in gratitude, we tend to stay more quiet. Our attitude is one of humbleness. Our heads stay lowered and hands often folded as we listen to quiet music, or sit in silence. Again, with grateful hearts, we are quieted and comforted. But …
The Lord’s Supper is also an Invocation of the Spirit: Gathered at the Table, we allow the Spirit of God to infuse our lives
We feel powerfully, that on any given Sunday morning in this space we have designated for our common worship, our experience comes not as much from what we do here, but from who we are here. We are, together, the body of Christ. No one of us comes to this place, or at least returns to this place, expecting someone else to worship God for them. No one of us comes to this place expecting someone else to discern their personal, daily, hourly call from God. No one is thought of as a spectator here, an observer, an audience member watching leaders perform. We are all performers, to continue the analogy, and the audience is God. With all that we do here we try to praise God. Through song, prayer, reading, preaching, offering and charging, we praise God to ask that God’s will be known.
The Spirit of God may rush in like a mighty wind, or more likely it blows through as a gentle breeze, entering almost unfelt, but changing everything and all of us, if only for a moment. As we gather at the table, we call upon the Power of God in this world, we invoke the Holy Spirit to lift us, to accept us, to bind us, to unite us, to nourish us, to keep us faithful, and to send us. When we emphasize this aspect of the meal, we begin to open our eyes and look up and to unfold our hands and look out, following where the Spirit blows. Building on that presence and that experience …
The Lord’s Supper as a Communion of the Faithful: Gathered at the Table, we recognize more than ourselves.
I have the great privilege every Sunday to sit in the front of this sanctuary and watch the pews in front of me fill up. Often I enter this room a bit before the worship hour and find several or many of you already seated here, or standing and visiting. I watch as more of you come through those doors: solemnly, silently, distractedly, playfully, joyfully, talkatively.
I watch you join one another across the pews, and around the sanctuary. A homogenous as we are in some ways, I marvel at the diversity that is also here. From ages to experiences, virtually every pew has a similar make-up: Some older, some younger, different genders, different origins and approaches to life. I extend those images to those who I know are not present physically: Members unable to attend for one reason or another, separated by death or distance or perhaps just distraction this week. But because of this Table all of them are here with us – those who are young and old, male and female, who have passed away or moved away, those who are currently battling illness or battling schedules. This table insists that we think beyond those of us gathered here, especially on World Communion Sunday, and experience the presence of all the faithful who have shared this meal in this room, and who are sharing it in other rooms like this around the world.
As we gather at this table we put ourselves in communion with the Church universal, across the world and beyond this world, who have celebrated and are celebrating the Joyous Feast. For, finally …
The Lord’s Supper is the Joyous Feast of the Kingdom of God: On Earth as it is in Heaven
A “Joyous Feast” that brings us to our feet, that engages us verbally with one another, that requires us to notice one another as we “commune.” This table is a worldly expression of what we are all “living for.” This table is what the tables “in heaven” are going to look like! The Word becomes flesh once again here, the Kingdom has come here, the promise has been fulfilled here.
Do you remember a time when we lived our lives together with fulfillment as our guiding promise? A time when we believed, without seriously questioning, that what we had was enough. And if it wasn’t enough, we would be able to receive enough through hard work and the charity of others. Do you remember a time when what we desired, what we “wanted,” was put into a larger perspective, a part of the whole seen in light of a greater fellowship?
I remember feeling that as a child. My parents and my world (limited as it was during childhood) preached the “promise of fulfillment,” not verbally for the most part, but just by the way they lived and loved. I learned there was a difference between what I wanted and what I needed. All my wishes were not fulfilled. But the promises people made to me and to each other reflected a sense of the responsibility required. Promises were made to be fulfilled. They may not always come to pass, but they were not made lightly.
I suggest to you this morning that if we can recall a world guided by that “Promise of Fulfillment,” it is mostly in our memory. We now live in a world that is ruled by the “Promise of Possibility.” Billboard announcements we pass on the way anywhere read “Someone has to win,” we promise it could possibly be you. Radio and television ads sell us promises of possibility in staggering number – you could possibly own this car, vacation in this paradise, have perfect children/perfect parents/perfect relationships if you buy this, use this and learn that. You could possibly be popular, be stylish, be carefree, secure your future if you drink this, wear this and produce that. We promise this could possibly be you. But it rarely, if ever, is … And we blame ourselves – “We’re just not good enough” … And we lose ourselves.
But God, think “Love” itself, does not promise possibility. God promises fulfillment. Whenever we gather around this table we speak with equal conviction. The celebration of this meal is an instance of our participation in God’s world here and now, and of God’s world to come, God’s “promise of fulfillment.”
Jesus broke the bread and shared the cup for the first time with his followers to show them what they have to do to live together: Share this meal. Remember me, thank God, be filled by the Spirit, commune with “all the saints” and be happy, be joyful. That’s what this morning’s World Communion Sunday is about – the Joy we find when we gather here.
When the time to gather arrives, we’ll join in our invitation and Great Prayer of Thanksgiving and then we’ll come forward a pew or two at a time, guided by our ushers to take, eat, and drink. Elders Stephanie Willis and Lynne Anderson will join me as hosts to welcome you, verbally and by name. We want you to do the same: On your way to the table, while you’re here and on your way back to you pew, notice each other, welcome one another, hold hands, smile, “be joyful.”
This is the joyful feast of the Kingdom of God. These are the gifts or God for the people of God. Thanks be to God. Let’s get ready for the feast.
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor
Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / October 6, 2019