Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Sermon, "24 Hours that Changed the World: The Last Supper," Mark 14:12, 22-25

Sermon 3/9/2014 
Mark 14:12, 22-25

24 Hours that Changed the World: The Last Supper

            Normally, liturgically speaking, I don’t enjoy doing things out of their proper season. We’re always in such rush in this world, barely enjoying what we’re actually doing before we want to move on to the next thing. Hurry, hurry, hurry. So I don’t like to sing Christmas Carols during Advent, and I cringe when my colleagues move the day of Pentecost around to better suit their church calendars. But this Lent, we’re doing the exact same sort of thing here at Liverpool First, and I think it’s a great idea! Normally, in Lent, we’d be dealing each week with themes that prepared us, eventually, for Holy Week and Easter – Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, the anointing of Jesus’ feet, the raising of Lazarus, Jesus’ late night conversation with Nicodemus. These passages are indeed great preparation in the season of Lent, a season of reflection and honest repentance, as we seek diligently to turn our lives back into God’s direction, in places where we’ve wandered off on our own way.
            But this year, we’re doing something different. We are taking 24 hours – the last 2 hours before Jesus’ death on a cross – and stretching it out over the whole season of Lent. Although in some ways, we’re rushing ahead – starting Lent at Maundy Thursday – I like to think of it instead as slowing down – we’re taking a microscope to Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, examining every detail of, as Adam Hamilton’s book title so appropriately suggests, 24 Hours that Changed the World. We’ll still celebrate these days during Holy Week – we’ll still gather on Maundy Thursday and celebrate Holy Communion together as we remember Jesus’ meal with his disciples, his prayer in the garden, his abandonment. We’ll still gather on Good Friday and reflect on Jesus’ crucifixion. But we’re preparing for it in a different way this year – but examining every facet of it before we participate in our observance of Holy Week.  
            Still, though, I struggled with what to do in this time of worship when we’re spending a lot of time talking about the Last Supper today without actually celebrating it. I debated whether we should celebrate communion in worship or not. But we’re not so much celebrating Maundy Thursday and the Last Supper today, as we are preparing our hearts and minds for the Holy Week observance that is yet to come. So, what should we be thinking about between now and Maundy Thursday next month? How do we prepare all season long to remember again on Maundy Thursday?
            We’re focusing on 24 hours – Jesus’ last 24 hours before his death. Yes, we know there’s more to come. But this part of his journey is coming to a close. With 24 hours left in your life, how would you spend that time? If you had one last meal, what would you eat and with whom would you spend your time, and why? How would you be feeling? In the days before this meal, things between Jesus and the local religious leaders where escalating to the point of crisis. He was in conflict every day with them, and we see his teachings become more direct, more critical, more targeted at their hypocrisy. On top of that, before sharing the bread and cup, Jesus tells the disciples that he knows they will deny, betray, and abandon him. Have you ever been at an uncomfortable family gathering? Have you had a dinner where everyone knew about the conflict going on but no one would bring it up? This is the context of the Last Supper. The stress level must have been enormous. Static images don’t do justice to the turmoil among the hearts of the gathered disciples and Jesus.
            So, in the midst of all this tension, surrounded by people who are both his closest companions, and the very ones who will deny, betray, and abandon him, as only those so close to us can, and in the midst of anxiety about what is to come and the increasing danger they are in from Jesus’ escalating words, and in the midst of the disciples being more and more confused about what Jesus is talking about, in the midst of all this, the Last Supper comes. On Ash Wednesday, we talked about Lent being a season where we offer our brokenness to God. And broken is how Christ offers this meal to us. As Pastor Corey Tarreto Turnpenny writes, “The bread and the cup aren’t really the symbols, it’s the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup.” Indeed, it is only in the breaking of the bread that Christ can share it with us, and what Christ shares with us is brokenness.
Those of you that are participating in the Lenten Bible Study have or will read Adam Hamilton writing about the Last Supper as Jesus’ invitation to all people to become God’s covenant people. Jesus and his disciples were celebrating a Passover meal together, remembering God saving the Israelites, leading them from slavery in Egypt into the Promised Land. “You start out as a slave, and at the end of the night you are free” is the Passover message, Hamilton shares. But at the Last Supper, Jesus invites us all into the covenant. And that’s the invitation we respond to every time we share in communion. We’re saying “yes” again to covenant. And so this Lent, we’re preparing to say yes again – every time we take communion, but especially yes as part of this Lenten journey, yes, in the midst of Holy Week, yes, even though we, like Peter and Judas and the rest, sometimes deny and betray and abandon following Jesus, yes, even though we’re broken. Broken bread for a broken people, but a covenant that is made new when we say yes. We’re preparing again to say yes to the covenant of broken bread and cup outpoured.
            So aside from reflecting on this, hearing about it in a sermon, or maybe in a Bible study, how do we prepare to say yes to the covenant? I posed that question, actually, on facebook this week. Short of actually celebrating communion in worship, how do we live into the message of the Last Supper? They had a lot of interesting ideas, let me tell you. One friend suggested I tape wheat thins into the bulletins. But I thought that might get kind of messy.
            So what do we do instead? If you’ve seen the Liverpool First t-shirts that Red Bird is selling, you’ll notice that they have a quotation on them from a meditation by Teresa of Avila. Saint Teresa, a 16th century Spanish nun, a mystic and practitioner of contemplative prayer, wrote this poem from which the quotation is taken:
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

Today, at times when we celebrate the sacrament of communion together, the traditional prayer of consecration prays to God, “Make [the bread and cup] be for us the body and blood of Christ so that we may be for the world the body of Christ.” As we prepare for another Holy Week, to remember the crucifixion, and look beyond to the resurrection, we, like the disciples, prepare to live where we are the only body of Christ in the world. Christ is alive among us, always, but we, the body of Christ, are the eyes and hands and feet of Jesus on this earth.
So I believe we prepare to renew our covenant with God by striving to embody Christ in the world as fully as we can. That means we seek each day in Lent to see with the eyes of Christ, so that when we encounter others, we look with the same compassion with which Christ looks. And if we are embodying the hands of Jesus, that means we reach out to all the people to whom Jesus reached out: the unclean, the unwanted, the untouchable, the unloved, the unaccepted – our hands must take theirs. And if we are the feet of Jesus, our feet must take us where Jesus’ feet took him. Among people who didn’t look like him or worship like him or practice the traditions he practiced. Into homes that no one else would enter. Into places where illness and disease left little hope. And eventually, into the city where he would have to confront those who sought to kill him rather than be moved by him.

Between now and Maundy Thursday, pay attention to how you are Christ’s body, Christ’s representative in the world. We – broken, on our own, but together, Christ’s body – we prepare by being the body of Christ in the world. We prepare to experience our unity with Christ and with one another at the table. We prepare to say yes to covenant with God. For Jesus and the disciples, it was the beginning of 24 hours that changed the world. For us, it can be the beginning of the rest of our lives in Christ. Say yes. Amen. 
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