Sunday, May 3, 2015

Eucharist (after the Earthquake)

Luke 22:14-23 – The Lord’s Supper

A communion homily for the Nepali-speaking community at my church in Grand Rapids, May 3, 2015. The community includes people who have become Christians and others who have not. Since the sermon was to be translated into Nepali on the fly by our pastor for this community (thank you, Pastor Ram!), the assignment was to keep it simple and short; this posed a salutary challenge. It was a privilege and joy to share in the service with them. Pastor Ram, whose father's house was one of the many thousands destroyed, led a joyful service of praise to God.

My friends, I am very glad to be here with you in this worship service this morning. I give thanks to God for our time together. For me, gathering in the name of Jesus for worship each Sunday morning is not only the beginning of the week but also the center of the week. I do many other things each week, as you do also. I work, I sleep, I eat, I spend time alone, I spend time with friends and with family. But the beginning, and the center, and the end of everything that happens during the week is here, on Sunday morning, because it is here that I join with other followers of Jesus to remember the goodness of God, and to remember that in the end our only hope is in God. I am very glad to be remembering these things today together with you.

When we worship on Sunday mornings, we always read from the Bible. We read from it because we believe that it tells us what God wants us to know. It contains many remarkable stories, and poems, and laws, and letters. It can seem confusing. But when God enables us to understand it properly, we realize that it is really one large story. It is the story of God's love. God created this world in order to place people in it—people whom he loves. That includes me and you. It includes every human being who has ever lived. But the Bible tells us that human beings have often forgotten that God loves them. As a result we have not lived according to the good patterns that God gives us. God in his love created the human race to be good, and happy, and to live with each other in peace. But we turned away from God, and fell into evil and unhappiness and darkness.

What could God—who did not stop loving us—do to bring us back to goodness and happiness? This book tells us. Jesus came and lived among us. He taught, and he healed. In the books of the Bible called the Gospels we find the stories about what Jesus said and did. We believe that when we hear the teachings of Jesus, we hear the voice of God. We believe that when we see Jesus healing people, we see God reaching out in mercy to the human race. We believe that when we read of Jesus suffering and dying, we are seeing God himself—the God who created the whole world in love—entering into our suffering. God does not leave us alone in our suffering and sorrow; God comes and is with us and shares completely in all that we suffer. This is what we learn from seeing Jesus die on the cross. And then when we read of the resurrection of Jesus, we learn that in the end God will succeed in overcoming all of the suffering and evil of our world.

This book—the Bible—invites us to say yes to Jesus. This book invites us to say to Jesus: You came to call us back to God, to be the presence of God among us, to be our friend; and I accept your offer of friendship. I want to sit at your table and take part in the meal that you have prepared. I want to be with you, and I know that when I commit myself to being with you, I am accepting God’s love.

The story that we read today tells about the meal that Jesus shared with his followers before his death. Jesus and all the people of Israel celebrated a special meal every year. This meal was called Passover. They celebrated Passover as a way of remembering that many centuries earlier God had rescued their ancestors out of slavery. The people of Israel had become slaves in Egypt. But God sent Moses to bring them out. Before they went out of Egypt, Moses and the people of Israel ate a special meal—the Passover meal. To prepare that meal, each family in Israel killed a lamb. They put some of the blood of the lamb outside the door of their house. This blood was a sign that they had an agreement with God and belonged to God. They cooked the lamb and ate it as their Passover meal. And then God brought them out, and made them free, and told them how to live well, and gave them a land to live in. That event is called the Exodus. “Exodus” means “going out.” They went out of Egypt. That is the story that Jesus and his followers are remembering when they eat the Passover meal.

Jesus wants his followers to understand that something very important is about to happen. He is about to die. But his death is not like any other. It will accomplish a new Exodus. It will deliver God's people from slavery—from slavery to sin and death. So when the disciples sit down to eat, Jesus tells them: This bread is my body, which is given to set you free. This wine is my blood. He talks about blood because he knows that he will soon die. “Blood” means death. Jesus tells them that just as the death of the lamb eaten in the Passover meal had meant that the people of Israel had an agreement with God and belonged to God, so also the death of Jesus would provide a way for all who follow him to have an agreement with God and belong to God.

In many cultures, when people eat a meal together it means that they agree with each other and want to live their lives together. So also when we as Christians gather for worship and take communion, we are saying that we agree with each other and want to live our lives together. But we are saying more than that. Jesus said: I am like the Passover lamb, and this bread is my body. So when we eat this bread together, we are not just saying we want to live life together with the other people in this room. We are saying that we want to live life together with Jesus. We are saying that we need Jesus in order to live. As we eat the bread, we are taking Jesus into ourselves. So also when we drink the grape juice together, we are not only drinking juice with other people here in this room. Jesus said this cup is the agreement with God that is in his blood. So when we drink this juice, we are drinking in the life and death of Jesus in order to be part of the agreement with God that Jesus makes possible.

Because of things that have happened this week, I want to say one more thing about this text from the Bible. The first thing that Jesus says in this text is: I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.
Here Jesus talks about two things: suffering, and the Kingdom of God.

Jesus says that he is going to suffer. He is going to suffer because God's people suffer. This was true in his time, and it is still true today. Jesus suffers with and for God's people. He does so in order to make it possible for them to enter the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is a time and a place where everything is as God wants it do be. God loves the people he has made and wants them to have peace and joy. As Christians we believe that, thanks to Jesus, our future is eternal life in God's peace and joy.

Jesus tells his followers that the Kingdom of God will come, and that when it does, he will sit down to eat and drink with his people. It has already begun to come. The fact that we are gathered here together in this room is a sign that it is already coming and is partly here. But it is not completely here. There is still suffering. There are still earthquakes. When earthquakes come, houses collapse, and people suffer.

Christians also suffer, like everyone else. But Christians know that Jesus has entered into our suffering, so that when we suffer, Jesus is here beside us. And we know that after Jesus died he was raised from the dead. He has already conquered suffering and death. So as we share communion together this morning, even if our hearts are sad because of the suffering caused by the earthquake, we are also filled with hope, because we know that we are God's people, and that the Kingdom of God is certainly coming.

Yes, Lord Jesus. Come!