April 7, 2019: "Were You There In The Upper Room?"
April 7, 2019 Rev. Rhonda Blevins, DMIN
Were You There in the Upper Room?
When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. He said to them, “I have eagerly 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.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. But see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table. For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined, but woe to that one by whom he is betrayed!” Then they began to ask one another which one of them it could be who would do this. A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. But he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. “You are those who have stood by me in my trials; and I confer on you, just as my Father has conferred on me, a kingdom, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.______
Were you there in the upper room?
Ok, so I know you weren’t literally there. You weren’t literally there in the home where Mary of Bethany anointed Jesus with costly perfume. You weren’t literally there in the tree when Jesus called out to Zacchaeus, “Come down! I’m going to your house today!” You weren’t literally there in the desert when Jesus fasted for 40 days and was tempted three times. You weren’t literally there when they crucified my Lord. But in telling the stories, like we Christians have been doing for centuries, we remember. By remembering, we bring these events into the present. I believe this is at least part of why Jesus instructed his disciples, “Do this in remembrance of me.”
This remembering—anamnesis it is called in Christian liturgical theology—brings the past into the present, but it doesn’t stop there. This holy remembering also serves to animate our actions into the future.
When Jesus gathered with his disciples in the upper room, they were celebrating the Passover—the annual Jewish feast remembering the occasion long ago when the angel of death passed over the homes of the Hebrews and subsequent emancipation from slavery in Egypt.
Jesus was no dummy. He knew that his followers would need a ritual to remember him; therefore, he gave us what Christians would later call the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, or the Eucharist depending on your faith tradition.
So I ask again, “Were you there in the upper room?” Through remembering, you were there.
You were there when Jesus took the bread. You were there when he blessed it. You were there when he broke it. You were there when he gave it.
Taken. Blessed. Broken. Given. The four-part equation for the sacrament of Holy Communion. As we remember today, I invite you to identify with the bread—because even as the bread is taken, blessed, broken, and given, so are we.
God has taken each of us in the sense that God has claimed each of us—chosen us—as God’s own. This has to do with the deep and abiding relationship between us and God. We’re “taken”—this world can’t have us because we have an eternal home in God.
When I got married, I put on a wedding band—a symbol of my relationship with and commitment to my husband. My wedding band tells the world, “Sorry fellas, I’m taken.” (Can you hear the sound of hearts breaking everywhere? LOL!) The marriage covenant is the closest example we have this side of eternity, even though we know something like 50% of marriages fail. (Some of us have lived through that pain.) God’s love for us—God’s commitment to us never fails. It’s hard for us mortals to fathom. But consider these biblical truths:
· Jeremiah 1:5: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.”
· Ephesians 1:4: “[God] chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world.”
· Ephesians 1:13: We were “marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit.”
As children of God, we’re taken. Nothing . . . repeat . . . nothing can separate us from the love of God. Your sins, your failings—the judgment heaped upon you by others and resulting shame—listen to what the Apostle Paul says about all of it:
“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” —Romans 8:38-39
Child of God, you’re taken! Nothing can change that!
God has taken us, and far too often we take for granted the many blessings that come with that. We take so much for granted. For example, consider everything that had to happen so that we might have bread on our communion table.
Someone cleared a field. Then a farmer plowed and tilled the field. The farmer scattered thousands of tiny seeds. God sent the rains. Perhaps the farmer irrigated the field. The farmer fertilized the field. The farmer tended the seedlings and nurtured the wheat until full growth. The farmer harvested and gathered the wheat. The miller ground the wheat and packaged the flour. The truck driver transported the flour. The grocer set the flour on a shelf at Publix. And then the baker, Teddi McCune, in her generosity and love for the Lord and for you . . . she bought the flour. She brought the flour home, mixed it with butter and cream and a little bit of sugar. She rolled it thin. She baked it, cut it with a pastry cutter, placed it into bags. To make her standard three-month supply for us, it takes her 3-3.5 hours. She’s been doing this well over a decade so that we might remember Jesus, just as he instructed us to do.
When I asked Teddi why she chooses to do this, she described her memory of growing up in the Brethren church. Her church would observe communion only one time each year, accompanied by washing one another’s feet. She named how special it was, and how much she loved the bread. Her mother eventually started baking the bread for her church, and then her sister some years after that. Teddi decided to do the same. And so, chances are, that today a church in San Diego, California will be partaking of bread made from the same recipe that Teddi used to make the bread we’ll share in a few moments. (Do you see how Teddi’s remembrance sparked action in the now? That’s anamnesis!)
Communion preparers, Art and Martha Zell, came to the church late last week. They poured the wine and juice into the biodegradable communion cups ordered by Debbie Wilson weeks ago. The Zells arrived here early this morning to set out the elements—preparing the table “just so.” The communion ushers signed up to serve.
When we think of everything that had to happen that we might hold the bread in our hands, we are prompted to remember the tremendous blessing inherent in everything we take for granted. The ordinary miracles that had to happen—that continuously happen—that we might even be alive!
We are taken, and indeed, we are blessed.
I don’t need to remind you of your brokenness. You’re broken. I’m broken. Everyone you know is broken. Now, some of us are pretty good at hiding it, but the sadness, the shame, the disappointments, the trauma—they have a way of breaking down delusions of grandeur that ego attempts to establish.
Here’s how Father Henri Nouwen thinks about brokenness: “Our brokenness is always lived and experienced as highly personal, intimate and unique. The way we are broken is as much an expression of our individuality as the way we are taken and blessed. Yes, fearsome as it may sound, as the Beloved ones, we are called to claim our unique brokenness.”
Nouwen goes on to say that, “The great secret of the spiritual life . . . is that everything we live, be it gladness or sadness, joy or pain, health or illness, can all be part of the journey toward the full realization of our humanity.”
I’ll take that a step further and posit that we cannot realize the fullness of our humanity until and unless we are broken. The piggy bank in my kid’s room full of coins hasn’t served its full purpose until it’s broken. The jar holding the expensive perfume didn’t complete its task until it was broken and the perfume was poured over Jesus’ feet. The bread Teddi so lovingly baked could not be shared among us without being broken and divided among us. And Jesus did not realize the fullness of his potential until he was broken, dying on a cross.
Taken, blessed, and yes, broken—that we, too, might realize the fullness of our humanity.
The brokenness of which I speak, again, isn’t literal (though it certainly could be). It is an internal brokenness.
Richard Rohr, in his book Falling Upward, suggests that in the first half of our lives we go about the task of creating our ego identity, which includes our personality, our preferences, our values, our successes and failures, and the stories we believe about ourselves. Social scientists tell us this is an important developmental step. Spiritual growth into middle and late adulthood, Rohr teaches, requires the dismantling of this ego. Ego resists this, and it feels like a “breaking” every single time. In his gentle, matter-of-fact way, Rohr says, “Suffering of some sort seems to be the only thing strong enough to destabilize our arrogance and our ignorance. I would define suffering very simply as whenever you are not in control.”
Rohr quotes James Hollis: “The ego’s highest task is to go beyond itself into service, service to what is really desired by the soul.”
This “service” Hollis refers to is what I mean by “given.” We are taken, blessed, and broken that ultimately, we might be given. Our best gifts to the world, our most authentic offerings, are hidden underneath the ego structures we create for ourselves, and they’re waiting to burst forth! When we’re living in that kind of authenticity, we don’t even have to work that hard at sharing our best gifts—it’s so natural it just flows from us. Just like the bread you will consume in a moment won’t have to work hard at tasting like bread.
TAKEN, BLESSED, BROKEN, GIVEN
Were you there when Jesus took the bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to his disciples? In these four actions, Jesus summarized his own life. Jesus—chosen from eternity, blessed through baptism in the Jordan River, broken upon an old rugged cross, given as bread for the world. “Being chosen, blessed, broken, and given is the sacred journey of the Son of God, Jesus the Christ. When we take bread, bless it, break it, and give it with the words ‘This is the Body of Christ,’ we express our commitment to make our lives conform to the life of Christ. We too want to live as people chosen, blessed, and broken, and thus become food for the world.”
In a few moments, as we find ourselves gathered at table with Jesus in an upper room, may we find ourselves taken, blessed, broken, and given that we might become bread for the world.
 Henri J.M. Nouwen, Life of the Beloved, 71-72.
 Richard Rohr, Daily Meditation, August 17, 2013, https://myemail.constantcontact.com/Richard-Rohr-s-Daily-Meditation----August-17--2013.html?soid=1103098668616&aid=VsvGk1wUnuI.
 James Hollis, Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life: How to Finally, Really Grow Up (Gotham Books: 2005), 91, 153-154.
 Henri J.M. Nouwen, “Becoming Food for the World” in Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith.