Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
You have all heard romantic engagement stories, right? Maybe you have even been part of one. Stories of well-planned proposals over candlelit dinners or in beautiful locations, maybe even witnessed by stadiums full of people. Well this is not one of those stories….(and I have permission to share it with you!)
There are many details about the day Dave and I became engaged that I don’t remember, but I do recall how the day started and how it ended. It was a Sunday in early November, and as it happened, I was not pleased with Dave when the day began. We were in the midst of a fight, the specifics of which have long been forgotten. That day, we found ourselves sitting next to each other at church, and I was steaming. The longer we sat there, the more irritated I became and the more certain I was that my anger was justified.
As we moved through the service, I began to anticipate communion. I loved going to communion. I liked everything about it – the movement, the singing, the eye contact, the touch, the words, and the taste. I didn’t want to miss out. And then I started to have a gnawing feeling that I couldn’t really go to communion if I was going to be mad at Dave. There were some old tapes in my head, tales from days gone by about people needing to be in the right frame of mind – of being penitent enough – to receive the Lord’s Supper. So I thought I’d just sit it out, stew in my own juices, this week, hang onto my righteous anger. I could come back next time. One thing I could rely on was that the Eucharist would be served again and again.
I thought about the logistics: I would just stay seated in my pew. When Dave would look at me quizzically, I would simply shake my head indicating that I wasn’t going to go forward. And then I imagined the people around me walking by and leaving me behind. The feeling of loneliness and emptiness was overwhelming. I didn’t want to wait until next week. I needed the meal today.
I was faced with a dilemma: could I sit it out and be deprived of the sustenance offered in the bread and wine, or could I let myself be changed and give up on my need to be right? Could I actually forgive Dave for whatever it was that was annoying me? When the time came, I did what Martin Luther once claimed that people would do: I went running to the bread and wine. I needed it.
Here’s what I didn’t understand that day: It wasn’t about me being worthy to receive communion. It wasn’t about me needing to do something in order to partake in the sharing of the meal. It was instead about what the bread and wine could do to me. It was how Jesus’ body and blood held in this tangible meal, in this simple act of sharing bread and wine, could change me and breach the wall that I had built around my heart. It was about what Jesus had already done. And in this morsel of bread and taste of wine Jesus showed up – for me – just as he said he would.
We come to this table as a community. We come as individuals, and we bring with us our broken relationships, our broken dreams, and God gives us mercy and forgiveness and life. We come as the body of Christ, and together we get sent to be Christ’s body in the world.
Some 500 years ago, the Reformers wondered, is the finite capable of holding the infinite? Is the tangible, finite bread able to hold the infinite Christ? Is Christ really present, or are we just remembering something that Jesus did long ago?
In the Bible, remembering is more than an act of mental recollection. It is, instead, having one’s life and actions reshaped.
- When Noah was in the ark, God remembered him and his family and responded in a new way with mercy and salvation.
- When Moses called the people of Israel to remember God, he was calling them to reorient their lives and obey God.
- When Paul talks about remembering the poor, he’s admonishing his readers to be transformed by concern for them.
So when Jesus says, “Do this in remembrance of me,” he’s not saying, “Do this so you won’t forget.” He’s saying, “Do this in order to see the body of Christ in your brothers and sisters. Do this to be sent into the world with new eyes.”
Is the finite able to hold the infinite? The answer is yes. Christ is really present in the meal. Do we know how that happens? No. But we trust the promise, “I’m here. For you.”
And it turns out that we become what we eat: the body of Christ for the sake of the world. The story of the supper is the story of God handing over Jesus on the cross in love. We consume the story. It comes into our hands and our mouths, and then through us into the world. It’s messy sometimes. Wine gets spilled, and crumbs fall to the ground. Relationships are that way, too.
When Paul wrote his letter to the Corinthians, he took them to task for the way they were administering the supper. Jesus had broken through social barriers, so now slave and free, poor and wealthy came together to share the meal. They did so in the context of a larger meal in which everyone brought their own food. The problem was, those who had plenty had more than enough to eat and consumed sufficient wine to get drunk. But those who were not wealthy had none. The haves did not share with the have-nots. The rich and poor now occupied the same space, but they were not one in the meal. It was poor etiquette, so Paul chastised them. Not because they were unworthy to receive the sacrament, but because some were left out. Some who really needed it were excluded.
In a few weeks, our first graders will receive their first communion. Together with their parents, they’ll learn about this holy meal. They’ll discover that when we come to the Lord’s Supper, it’s not about our worthiness or readiness. It’s not about being old enough or perceptive enough. It’s not about the manner in which we do it, whether we are standing or kneeling, dipping or sipping, gathered in a circle or walking in a queue.
In communion, Jesus is really there. In the flesh. Really. The finite stuff of bread and wine can bear the infinite presence and power of God. Christ shows up because his promise is true. “Here I am,” he says. “For you.”
And so it was, 29 years ago on that day when I received communion with a grateful heart and knew more profoundly than ever the presence of Jesus in the bread and wine offering me forgiveness and in turn allowing my heart to forgive, without fanfare or flair, Dave and I made promises to each other – in the context of this promise from God: “This is the new covenant in my blood,” Jesus said, “given for you.” This promise of Jesus is sustenance, a foundation, for all of our relationships, imperfect as they are.
Jesus says, “Here I am. For you.” Feeding you, loving you, forgiving you.
Nourishing you to be my body in the world. Nourishing you to love and feed and bring reconciliation to the world.