July 7, 2019: Getting Ready For Dinner - Rev. Tom Hartung
July 7, 2019 Rev. Tom Hartung
GETTING READY FOR DINNER
Today we are going to celebrate the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper. Now let's be honest, people have all sorts of different understandings about what's going on during communion. I remember as a child thinking, "what is this all about?" I also remember watching to see if anyone would drop a tray while they were serving. I suspect it would have made church a lot more fun. Now, I worry about whether or not I'll drop a tray.
As Jesus and the apostles gathered around the dinner table, a picture comes to mind. I was so impressed with the wooden picture of the Last Supper on the second floor at the Upper Room headquarters across 21st Avenue from Vanderbilt where I did my studies. I somewhat connect this picture with the room that the tour guide showed us when in Jerusalem. This table symbolizes our value in God's eyes and our place in the family, as sons and daughters.
There is a synagogue in Israel that has a unique way to celebrate this ides of family gathering around a table. When the members of this temple come together on Friday evening each member brings a handful of gains of wheat. It may be from one's own field or from their personal supplies at home. As they enter the synagogue, they each pour their grains into a common pot. When all have come, and while the worship goes on, the pot is taken to the kitchen and someone quickly grinds the wheat, mixes in the water and salt, kneads the flour into a loaf, and bakes the loaf. As the worship service concludes with the Lord's Supper, the freshly baked loaf is carried into the sanctuary where each member breaks off his or her own portion. Each shares grains of flour from every member of the church. A synagogue member commented on this unique custom, "As individual seeds we are each alone and separate from each other. Only when we are broken into flour and baked together can we experience full fellowship."
Soon we will observe the communion table to partake of the Lord's Supper. I want us to spend some time reflecting on that. What happens around this table? Why is it so special after all? .
I want us to take time today, Getting Ready For Dinner----The Lord's Supper that is. Today the words of Institution will be spoken. The music begins. The servers get up from their seats and begin passing around trays of bread and juice and wine. What's going on? What's really happening in the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper?
Well, let's be honest about this. Most of what we believe about communion has come from our particular traditions. I'd like to think that what we believe is very Biblical, but the reality is, there is no place in the Bible where there is a full-blown well-developed understanding of the Sacrament of Communion. What we believe about the sacrament is a reflection of what the Scriptures teach us about who God is and what God has done through the person and work of Jesus Christ.
It is sad to say, but wars have literally been fought over the meaning of Jesus' words, "This is my body."
Well, in our tradition, there are two things that are happening while we gather around this table, and both can be summed with one word. The word is REMEMBER. While we celebrate the Sacrament, we are invited to Remember what Jesus has done for us. "Do this in remembrance of me," he said very clearly. It's a time to remember and to reflect.
Second, we come to the table with an attitude of humility. As we gather about the table, we focus on our Savior and Lord, the one who created us and saved us and now owns us. We come with an attitude of humility. In Psalms it says that God "forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion."
Listen, when I was growing up you didn't come to the table without washing your hands. I suspect it's that way at most of your houses. How many times have you heard your parents say, "Have you washed our hands? Let me see those hands. That doesn't look washed to me. You have heard that, haven't you? You have to be clean before you could come to the table.
If you ever traveled in the Muslim world, you know that right outside every mosque there are rows of fountains where the people go to wash their hands and feet and face before they go in to pray. It's their way of cleansing themselves before they face God.
And you must conduct yourself in a befitting manner. Emily Post has a long list of Do's and Don'ts at the table and I'm sure parents remind their children about them. Remove your cap. Put your napkin on your lap.and don't blow your nose in it. Use the napkin to wipe your mouth not your sleeve. Don't begin until the hostess is seated or until she says You may begin. Do not slurp your soup. Only cut one portion at a time. Don't eat too fast, it isn't a race. Don't use the spoon and fork as a shovel. Don't use your fingers instead of the utensils. Don't talk with your mouth full. Don't lick your fingers. Pass the serving bowl or plate before you take yours. Keep your elbows off the table. Don't pic your teeth. If you have to leave say, "excuse me". I'm sure you are thinking of some that I didn't mention..you can tell me those at the door.
Friends, here is the good news ...God welcomes us all even if we disobey Emily Post's manners. Listen as we partake of the elements.....do we hear Jesus saying "I forgive you. I still love you. You're my child." And God fills us with his strength. He gives us the nourishment we need. We leave this table knowing that we can keep on. We can make it. God has filled us with his presence.
As I read in the scripture Paul said, "wait for one another." We are in this together, and around this table is one of the places where we are unified...called togetherness.
WE as individuals come today to praise our Lord for the blessings we have experienced. Many come to ask for healings only known to them. Many come to find directions in their lives. Some come because it is the thing to do. Whatever the reason, the observance of communion as an individual brings all of us together worshiping and remembering that Jesus, God" only son, died for our sins and we are united as Christians.
A famous theologian once said, and I can't remember who it was, maybe it was me...If we come to the table with empty thoughts and a wayward spirit, then the bread, wine and the event are here to renew us and fill us with his holiness in order to wipe away our sins and give glory to God. In the Catholic church many go to confession before they take communion. One story comes to mind...that of a man who returned to his home town after being away for some 20 years. He thought he should go to confession and entered the church and found the confessional booth and went in. He couldn't believe his eyes. There were cases of beer, wine and money....and boxes of candy and other good stuff. Just then the priest came in and the man said, "Father I have been away a long time but when I grew up here I never noticed all these wonderful things in the booth. The priest said, Get out of here, this is my side.
Of course we humbly come to the table. This is a family table. I like to think of it as the church's dining room table. It's the place where the whole family is welcome. Where even the ones who have disappointed us, even the ones whose lifestyles are different than ours. Maybe some look different or/and talk different than us. This is not a table for perfect people. This is a table for everyone who looks to our Lord for life.
I hope today you"ll reflect and remember what God has done for you. Remember those times when it seemed like you had no idea which way to turn, but God was there leading you and guiding you. You may have had situations when you were a student and didn't like that subject, or weren't ready for a test, or didn't know what career you should follow. Or when you felt uncomfortable at a party or conference because you didn't know anyone. How about marriage..we could spend some time on this subject, wondering if this was the right mate for me...and what am I getting myself into. It can go on and on and on. We always have God to turn to. I would like to know who people who do not know God or our Lord who do they turn to? I think of that hymn, "What a friend we have in Jesus". Teachers tell us that prayer has not left the classroom because before a test prayers can be heard.
When we baptize someone, whether a baby or an adult..it's the symbol to our entry into the family. God washes us off with his grace. But once we're in the family, we need to stay nourished. We need to be fed along the way. Communion, the Lord's Supper, is the meal that keeps us going. We remember what God has done for us, but in a far more powerful way, God remembers us as part of his family.
Bread and wine were the staples of life. They were symbols, if you will, for life itself. Eat this bread and drink this cup, and God is filling us with his very presence. I hope you are hearing the voice of Jesus calling you this morning, "Come to my Father's table and be fed... do this in remembrance of me." We will do so in respect to our Father and his Son.
There is a unique statue of Christ in a great cathedral in Toledo, Spain.. A person who usually stands before that statue is disappointed with the ugliness of the Christ's face. It is rough and strangely shaped. But on the base of the statue is an inscription, 'Kneel down and look up." When a person kneels, the face of Christ is not ugly but attractive and gentle. The position of the observer makes all the difference. The sculptor carved the face in such a way that its true beauty could only be seen by those who kneel before it.
There is something else that happens during this meal. In a very real way, not only are we remembering God, but in a way that can't always be explained, God is remembering us. God remembers us, not just in the sense that he recalls who we are. It's not that if you've been away from the church for a while and he's forgotten hour name. On, I remember you. No, that's not it. What is happening is that God is remembering us....making us members again. Around this table you and I experience forgiveness. That forgiveness the heart and soul of this meal.
So that's what the table is all about. It's a place to remember and to be remembered....a place for God to offer forgiveness and to fill us with his strength and to bind us together as a family.
Make sure you hear this. This is for people who have made mistakes and have come to receive forgiveness. People like you......and like me who will strive each time we take communion for perfect table manners when we come to the Lord's table. AMEN
Rev. Tom Hartung