Monday, September 2, 2019

Communion of All Who Remember

The sacrament of holy communion is one of the landmarks of spirituality in my personal life. Many of the religious experiences I've had have taken place around the table of the Lord. That's where I was saved. That's where I was called to preach That's where I was filled with the Holy Spirit. And many other things that have happened.

Sense of communion and oneness and closeness with my family and friends who have gone on before, others that are scattered around the world. And we emphasize all these things in a ritual of the church. The ongoing love and fellowship that we have regardless of whether we're in the same building or in the same country, or even in this world or the next.

Transcript of the [audio for this sermon] preached extemporaneously
at Briensburg UMC on September 1, 2019.

And the closeness of Jesus himself, the presence of Christ in the sacrament. We have a hymn in the hymnal that isn't a very catchy tune, so it doesn't get sung much, but it's an old Wesley hymn that says that we don't really know how this happens, that somehow this bread and wine become for us the body and blood of Christ. And we don't get into the arguments that people have traditionally got into and did get into at the time that hymn was written about all of that. We just say that Christ is present here.

In my ministerial training at Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, when I went there for the course of study back in the '80s, I was really blessed to have a person who taught about the sacraments, who said that for us as Methodists, it's not so much about what happens on the table as what's happening around the table. What's important for us is what's happening in our hearts and minds and relationships, in our congregation and in the world around us when we share the supper of the Lord and extend that to others.

It's the Lord's table and it's an inclusive table. It has been, that's been a manner of controversy since the earliest days of Methodism. John Wesley broke with the training that he had and the upbringing that he had in this aspect, that it used to be for him very rigid. And there's some funny stories, sort of funny anyway. Funny, but you know, of him being very restrictive of who would be allowed to receive the sacrament from his hand.

But as he continued to minister, then he changed his view. And this new view that the table would be open to everyone became the prevailing view among the Methodists and it continues to this day because John Wesley reasoned that what better place to meet Jesus than at his table. If we're going to believe that Christ is present in the sacrament, then why would we turn anybody away from Christ?

One thing that really stands out to me is that as we highlight this, as the Methodists always have, as a means of grace, one of the great means of receiving the grace of God, why would we ever want to prevent somebody at the times of their greatest need? When people are suffering, when they're struggling, when they're questioning, when they're wondering, when they're trying to work things out, and all this, that's when they need to be here. When they're going through difficulties in their relationships and difficulties in their life and everything that they're doing, that's when they need this sacrament the most. That's when they need the grace, all the grace that we can help them find.

And so, the table is open. We extend that same invitation that whosoever will may come. And the way that I learned it normally in my ... let me word it here in a few minutes. Christ our Lord invites to his table all who love him and wish to live in peace with one another. And I always add this, usually add this I should say, regardless of your age or your religious affiliation, or any other circumstances, because for some people it's not very clear if that even means them. Yes, it does. This means you under what circumstances.

When I was a child, before my dad became a preacher, sometimes when my parents would not be going to church that Sunday, I would get dressed, I put on my tie because I was nerdy when being a nerd wasn't cool. And I'd, as a child, go across the road to the church across the way. And one Sunday I went there and they were having communion. And at that church, they passed the elements down the rows. And so they passed the bread down and when it got to the person beside me, they held it up in the air and passed it to the person next to me on the other side, make sure I couldn't reach it. And they did the same with the wine.

Of course, I didn't understand then but I did feel the exclusion. And I feel it right now as I talk about, just as real as it happened last Sunday, as it would have happened last Sunday. And it's been almost 60 years ago.

Two main reasons, I later found out, were because my age, I was a child, and because of my religious affiliation, I wasn't a member of that church. You know, I'd have to say, there's other reasons that people get excluded, a lot of other reasons. And none of them are any good. And so, I lump the rest and say, or for any other circumstance.

It's the Lord's table and Christ is the one extending the invitation. What we're doing is just what the disciples did when Jesus said, and he took the loaves and the fish from the boy and fed the 5,000, he just gave it to them and said, "You feed them." That's what we're doing when we participate. That's our role, to facilitate everybody gathering around the table and having their lives transformed by Jesus into whatever Jesus wants you to be.

Well, there's one sermon. "This my blood which seals God's covenant, my blood poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." Remember it's in the biblical sense. It's more than just recollection. And remember it's in the biblical sense, it's more than memorializing an event or a person. Remember it's in the biblical sense, it's another word for empathy. It is where we live into an experience. Something that might have happened to us, but more often than not, something that happened to someone else, and now I've become a part of our live and we're a part of that moment.

So when Jesus says, "Do this in remembrance of me," he's inviting us to the cross with him. He's inviting us to the moments of ministry with him. And those moments become our moments. Those healings become our healings. The prayers, the meals, the fellowship, the songs, the scriptures, it all becomes a part of who we are.

The night that Jesus instituted the sacrament was a night of Passover for the Jews. And that's just exactly how it's described, when the law was given. When Moses said, "From this day on, you will remember this. You will remember this Passover." And the procedures were given to help them and to facilitate them in reliving this experience, which only one generation lived through. The next generation entered into the Promised Land, and all the rest of the generations following from then until now relived this experience and remember that experience of the Exodus, not because they were there, but because they've been brought into the experience and it has become a part of who they are by empathy, by the sacramental acts that they shared among each other and passed down from generation to generation as we do.

And so, when Jesus extended this one more way, that's what he was extending. And adding to that, "This is my body, this is my blood. It's here for you. Remember me." And so, that's what we do when we remember Christ, remember all of our own personal experiences. But that's just a drop of water in the bucket of all the ... in the ocean, you might even say. Of all the experiences of humanity that we're a part of when we remember in the biblical sense of remembering.

We're one body. When we break the bread, we emphasize this loaf, even though it's just one loaf, when we break this, it's like us being one body. Many as we are, and many as we are, it's not just as many as we are in that room, and it's not just this one loaf. This loaf becomes a part of all the other loaves that are being broken around the world in remembrance of Christ. This becomes the chalice from which all the other chalices are also filled, and we all share together as one body in Christ. The love and the sacrifice that Jesus made, and the invitation that Jesus gives to everybody, "Come unto me all ye that labor and heavy laden and I will give you rest." Bringing us into one body, even if we don't recognize it. Even if others don't recognize it. We're one body in Christ. One faith, one hope, one baptism, one calling, one God and Father of us all. And we share together the blessings of Christ.
We're being transformed and that's far from perfect in the way we live it out and express it. Amen? But that's what Christ is doing in us, is continually working to transform our lives into the likeness of him.

We're participants of the one body. In fact, one of our rituals says that and quotes the Bible where the Bible says that he is made us to participate in the body of Christ. To participate with him, who on the night he gave himself up for us took the bread and wine. We all have many different gifts, but it's one Spirit that gives them and sends us to minister those gifts to each other in a world around us. Like a royal priesthood of believers.

Then Jesus said this, he said, "Do this," and the first thing that comes to our minds, of course, is do this, take some bread, take some wine. But I think he means do this in a whole broader sense. That's the sacramental part, that's the part where we ... that has its own effectiveness of bringing us to the touch-point between the physical and the spiritual. Where "they sing the lamb in hymns above, and we in hymns below."

But as we kind of let our spirit go into that moment, it brings together all the past and all the present and all the future, and invites us to do all of what Christ was doing. Invites us to the fullness. "Do this," and not just some of you, not just one of you, not just a few, but all of us, do all of this that Christ has been doing in our lives and all along.

Think about all the things he did in his ministry. Didn't he send people to do the same things? Not just to have the communion, not just to have a worship service, but to heal the sick. To help the poor. To take care of the people who are suffering around us. To bring good news to people that were not getting any good news like this. To bring the Gospel, bettering the lives of people around us. All of this that Jesus did. Everything you see Jesus doing in the Bible, that's what he's inviting us to do as well. And he's inviting us all to do that.

So as we share the sacrament this morning, I hope that everybody has a religious experience. It's a wonderful time to think about the presence of Christ. And the presence of heaven around us. Wherever God is, heaven is there. Amen? And you know that I can affirm that, wherever God is, that's what the Psalmist said, go up to the highest mountain, down to the lowest, wherever, God is here with us. Christ is present with us as we worship and as we participate in this sacrament.

And so is everybody that's in heaven with him. Our families and friends and loved ones that have gone on before us. Those that used to come here to church but now they've gone on to be with the Lord. And that's a wonderful feeling. To be in communion with each other, with Christ. And to have a permanent relationship that the world didn't give us and the world can't take away.

In the name of Jesus, Amen.

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