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Sermon - Maundy Thursday - 2021
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
April 1, 2021
“Do this in remembrance of me.” Memory is a powerful building block in our lives; it is our connection with the past. Our memories make up the part of our identity built on past experiences. Memory is also a community builder, a collective reservoir of remembrances, of shared experiences, that bring people together. Traditions, heritage, legacies are all born from memories.
The Hebrew people established their identity as a nation with the memories of the covenant between God and their ancestors. The Exodus is the defining moment in Jewish history. The annual Passover celebration reminds the Jewish people that their salvation and deliverance from slavery come from the hands of God, who fashioned them into God’s chosen and holy people. As the participants celebrate the Seder, they were once slaves and are now set free.
When the Passover is celebrated, a child begins the celebration by asking, “Why is this night different from all the others?” In response, the adults begin retelling the story of the Exodus and describing the last supper before their deliverance from slavery in Egypt. The bread was baked in haste, without time to rise. This unleavened bread, the matzoh, was the bread of life, the sustenance that they took with them into the wilderness. The tradition of the slaughter and preparation of the lamb, whose blood saved the first born in the Hebrew homes from the plague of death, is retold at every Passover Seder.
It was at this annual Passover, the meal commemorating God’s covenant with the nation of Israel, that Jesus, the Messiah, took the matzoh, the unleavened bread, and said a blessing over it, broke it and gave it to his disciples saying, “Take, eat; this is my body.” This was not part of the Haggadah, the traditional text that sets out the order of the Passover. Instead, Jesus was retelling the old, old story with a new understanding. What his disciples would not understand until after his death was that the bread represented Jesus’ body that would be broken and given as the bread of life.
During that same Passover meal Jesus took the third of the four cups of wine the disciples would drink at the Seder and he said, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Again, this was not a part of the tradition. The disciples must have been quite perplexed by now. Yet, the idea of the blood of the covenant would have been something they understood. They would have recalled the lifesaving blood of the sacrificed lamb smeared on the doorposts and lintel of their houses in Egypt as told in the Exodus account. They would have recalled the blood covenant that God made with Israel when Moses took the blood of bulls and sprinkled the people and said, “See the blood of the covenant.”
In his book, 24 Hours That Changed the World, Adam Hamilton writes, “When Jesus said, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” he changed everything. He transformed the Passover Seder, giving to all people instead the Eucharist: Holy Communion. The Israelites had become a covenant people by the blood of animals; the Last Supper was the establishment of the new covenant by the blood of Jesus, not only with the tribes of Israel, but with all humanity. Where the Seder was once the story of God’s liberation of Israelite slaves, it was from this time forward the story of God’s liberation of all humankind from slavery to sin and a new beginning for those who choose to follow Jesus as his people. In this meal and through his death and resurrection, Jesus invited all humankind to become God’s covenant people.” (Adam Hamilton: Abingdon Press, December 1, 2009, p.25)
Paul reminds us that Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” Just as the Passover Seder is meant to be celebrated as the central sign of God’s saving act of the Hebrew people, the Last Supper is meant to be the repeated reminder of the new covenant. This new Passover Seder is our perpetual reminder of God’s love, grace and the sacrifice of Jesus. This is our story, the story by which our lives are reshaped.
Memories…What memories define you as an individual? Are there words that play over and over in your head? Memories can be both positive and negative, of course. Are the memories pleasant ones? Do you recall words and expressions of love and support? Or do you recall abuse you suffered? Do you remember words spoken by a parent, teacher or friend? Or are your memories ones of a habit, activity, or addiction that continues to control you?
No matter how you answered those questions, Adam Hamilton provides helpful insight. “Those things are not meant to define you, he begins. “There is something else, a larger story that defines you. For the Jewish people that larger story passed on anew each year, is the memory of the Passover, summed up in the words, “We once were slaves, but now we are free.” For you and me as Christians, our defining story is accompanied by a meal and some important words” ‘On the night when he was betrayed [Jesus] took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body broken for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.’” (Adam Hamilton: Abingdon Press, December 1, 2009, p.27)
Memories are not just individual but are also communal. What memories define us as a community of faith? Just as memories of individuals are both positive and negative, so too are recollections of communities. There are no doubt, hundreds of communal memories of Scotch Presbyterian Church, Chipman. You have shared some of those with me since our arrival in July 2018. Those collective memories have shaped us into the community we are in April 2021. Our communal memories do not tell the complete story of who we truly are, who God has called us to be. We are part of a much larger story.
That is why this evening is so important as we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Whenever we gather around the communion table (either literally or figuratively), Christ is with us breaking the bread and pouring the wine so that we too become God’s people of the new covenant, the body of Chris. The Holy Spirit works through these elements and our shared memories of God’s loving sacrifice… transforming our lives from mystery to reality.
“One Saturday night the church was packed with people, even standing in the aisles; the largest wedding I’ve ever experienced in my years as pastor,” writes Presbyterian minister Rev. Bruce Rigdon.
“It was a beautiful service. We prayed not only that God’s Holy Spirit would create a loving unity between bride and groom, but also that in God’s shalom they could take the risks of hospitality, of reaching out in love to others. After their exchange of promises, I moved to the Communion table, grateful that the couple had chosen to begin their marriage by sharing bread and cup. I reminded all who had gathered that Christ, present in this time of joy and celebration, had in his gift of bread and wine made all our tables holy. Then I proceeded, as is our custom, to invite all who had been baptized and who loved the Lord, to come forward to celebrate by intinction.” As I looked at the congregation, I realized that EVERYONE was coming forward.
“At that moment, with baptized and unbaptized alike streaming forward, I didn’t know what I should do. Should I raise my hand and say, “You didn’t understand my instructions—only those who are baptized are to come forward?” The simple fact of hospitality made that impossible. So I welcomed all who came. I noticed that many who were coming forward had tears in their eyes, and I myself was not entirely emotionally stable. I was perplexed, and it was with mixed feelings after the service that I walked into the fellowship hall for the reception.
“I was immediately approached by an elderly man and woman. ‘May we speak with you, Pastor?’ Their faces were so earnest that it was not possible to do anything but give them my full attention.
“‘My name,’ the man said, ‘is Jacob and this is my wife Miriam. We are children of Holocaust families.’ They went on to say that they had lived their lives with a rule: never enter a Christian church. But their love for the bride had brought them here, even though anxious and uncomfortable, feeling something like panic.
“‘But as this service went on,’ Jacob continued, “We felt relaxed, warm, strangely at home in a place where we do not belong and something which we cannot explain happened. When you invited people to the table and everyone around us began to move, we could not remain seated. We know, Pastor, it is Jesus’ table, not ours. But we were drawn, drawn by some kind of love, so please; we hope we have not offended you or your community. We were received at the table tonight and were deeply moved.’
“By this time, Jacob was weeping and Miriam was weeping and I was weeping, and we embraced one another.
“Moments later another couple approached, identifying themselves as Moustafa and Munir, originally from Lebanon. Moustafa began, ‘So you know what our life has been like and why we’re here. You know about the pain and bloodshed. We came tonight because we’re very close to the bride and groom. We are, of course, Muslim.’
“They explained that at the Communion, their three children moved toward the table and, instead of stopping them, they joined them. ‘We know we should not have been there, but somehow, for us tonight, the war has ended.’
Rigdon ends his story by saying, “I believe that Christ’s presence and invitation at the table, his love, is so great that we cannot go to that table ourselves without inviting all our neighbors to go with us as well.” ("Fanfare for Easter Morning" by Susan Warrener Smith, April 23, 2000, http://www.indianolapres.org/Sermon3.htm)
On this Holy Thursday we are admonished to love even as Christ has loved us first. As our loving host invites, we “do this in remembrance”. Consequently, love radiates out from our congregation to families, our neighborhood, our community, and the world.
As we gather around table in the Upper Room, in your dining room or living room, we join hands with our sisters and brothers around the world, to celebrate the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, the breaking of the bread of new life, it is a good time to remember again what it means to live in covenant with God and God’s family across the globe; to remember why this night is different from all other nights.
My hope for each of you on this Maundy Thursday is that with all creation we will remember and be united in peace, communion, and Shalom now and always.
Jesus invites us; come to the Table, remember who and whose you are, taste, drink and be transformed. “Do this in remembrance of me.”
Preached by Rev. Rich Hinkle
Scotch Presbyterian Church
Maundy Thursday - 2021