Sunday, June 3, 2012

Finding Meaning At The LORD's Table. Homily from Mark 14:12-16, 22-26


Homily for 6.10.12
MARK 14:12-16, 22-26 (see below)
Year B
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Before us in today's Lectionary Gospel reading is the celebration of the LORD's Table and the calling to our present the memory of that past memorial meal that Jesus gave us, a meal that promises a future of freedom and deliverance. We know, of course, that before us is found an actual meal -- a meal with real bread and real drink, but we also know that it is more than a meal, for today, as every week, when we partake of the bread and cup and we shall partake of GOD's gift and blessing in the Christ, present

Now, historically, we know that Jesus is explaining to his most intimate followers, and by extension to all who followed them and who practice this meal, what is about to take place within his public execution. As New Testament historian N.T Wright tells us, when Jesus wants us to understand what his death means, he gives us a meal.

Said differently, what on the surface seems to mean simply the first century political murder by the Roman Empire of just one more young Jewish man among many, in reality means the fulfillment of the GOD's promises to Israel that her GOD would deliver, the literal overturning of the reign of empire and the powers, the great act of sacrifice for the sins of the world and the promised, final vindication of GOD and his people.

Or, said still differently, this meal initiated in history and practiced this morning, is quite important and quite powerful and actually offers us the reality of Jesus’ presence and literally compels us forward in following the LORD with clarity and resolve.

Titles To The Meal
The titles given to this meal are instructive and help in understanding the depth of its meaning. 

Sometimes the meal is called The LORD's Table, as I have done this morning. This designates that it is the LORD himself who invites us to the table, who prepares the table for us, and who is himself present in the breaking of the bread and the drinking of the cup.

Sometimes this meal is called the Eucharist, which literally means thanksgiving, and which refers to the moment in first the meal when the LORD Jesus blesses the bread and the cup, and also the spirit with which we should receive the meal this morning.

And sometimes the meal is called Holy Communion, which denotes that the body of Christ, in that moment of sharing the bread and the cup, finds an intimacy and a fellowship with the risen and present LORD.
The Big Picture
I love Gordon Lathrop's reminder, in this regard, of what the Christian faith truly contains:
“Christianity is not just an idea or a list of convictions. It is not primarily a religious inclination that an individual might have or a technique to equip an individual with spiritual realities...Pastors, thus, ought not to be purveyors of ideas of techniques to individuals. Rather, quite concretely, quite physically, Christianity is a meeting. Or, more exactly, the Christianity that is associated with the four Gospels is a specific kind of meeting; it is a meal fellowship. As such, this Christianity is an invitation for us together to see both God and the world anew from the perspective of the table, of that shared food.” (from The Pastor, pg. 59)
I love this quote because it tells us that the faith is concrete, heavy, fixed, and held together by the solid stuff of existence: Bread+Drink+Word+WaterOr as Lathrop writes elsewhere: 
“A pool of water, powerful words, a shared loaf and cup, an intentional assembly at a set time and in a defined place, singing -- these things are proposed to us as sacred. as pointing to transcendent meaning.” (from HOLY THINGS by Gordon Lanthop)
So, what are we to make of today's practice of the meal? As we partake today I want us to remember two meanings that this meal- celebration contain:

  1. GOD IS THE GOD WHO DELIVERS 
  2. GOD'S DELIVERANCE COMES THROUGH DEATH AND NEW LIFE 


GOD IS THE GOD WHO DELIVERS 

What must be kept in mind is that the occasion for this meal is the celebration of the Jewish Passover, a meal commemorating the Hebrew deliverance by GOD from slavery and from empire. For the Hebrews that meal-celebration was highly significant and identity defining. They were forever the people whose GOD's own words defined: "Let MY PEOPLE go!" -- and whose GOD's own hand delivered,"when I see the blood I will passover you."

Clearly, by implication, the meaning of the meal Jesus sets before us is nothing less than the reality of our own ultimate deliverance as well, deliverance from the old, brokenness we know only too well, into the new humanity, the new people of GOD. 

As Jesus explains this deliverance and this covenant:
"Take it; this is my body." Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, "This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.
But, what must be kept before us as of primary importance is that all through the Hebrew Bible it is declared that only GOD can save, only GOD could be Israel's deliverer. So that when Jesus breaks on the scene, he acutely understands his own vocation as fulfilling this calling of the deliverer. Only one passage will have to suffice for the whole:
Isaiah 45 (New Revised Standard)
1 Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped to subdue nations before him and strip kings of their robes, to open doors before him— and the gates shall not be closed: 2 I will go before you and level the mountains, I will break in pieces the doors of bronze and cut through the bars of iron, 3 I will give you the treasures of darkness and riches hidden in secret places, so that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who call you by your name. 4 For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen, I call you by your name, I surname you, though you do not know me. 5 I am the Lord, and there is no other; besides me there is no god. I arm you, though you do not know me, 6 so that they may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is no one besides me; I am the Lord, and there is no other. 7 I form light and create darkness, I make weal and create woe; I the Lord do all these things.

8 Shower, O heavens, from above, and let the skies rain down righteousness; let the earth open, that salvation may spring up, and let it cause righteousness to sprout up also; I the Lord have created it.

9 Woe to you who strive with your Maker, earthen vessels with the potter! Does the clay say to the one who fashions it, "What are you making"? or "Your work has no handles"? 10 Woe to anyone who says to a father, "What are you begetting?" or to a woman, "With what are you in labor?" 11 Thus says the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, and its Maker: Will you question me about my children, or command me concerning the work of my hands? 12 I made the earth, and created humankind upon it; it was my hands that stretched out the heavens, and I commanded all their host. 13 I have aroused Cyrus in righteousness, and I will make all his paths straight; he shall build my city and set my exiles free, not for price or reward, says the Lord of hosts. 14 Thus says the Lord: The wealth of Egypt and the merchandise of Ethiopia, and the Sabeans, tall of stature, shall come over to you and be yours, they shall follow you; they shall come over in chains and bow down to you. They will make supplication to you, saying, "God is with you alone, and there is no other; there is no god besides him." 15 Truly, you are a God who hides himself, O God of Israel, the Savior. 16 All of them are put to shame and confounded, the makers of idols go in confusion together. 17 But Israel is saved by the Lord with everlasting salvation; you shall not be put to shame or confounded to all eternity.

18 For thus says the Lord, who created the heavens (he is God!), who formed the earth and made it (he established it; he did not create it a chaos, he formed it to be inhabited!): I am the Lord, and there is no other. 19 I did not speak in secret, in a land of darkness; I did not say to the offspring of Jacob, "Seek me in chaos." I the Lord speak the truth, I declare what is right.

20 Assemble yourselves and come together, draw near, you survivors of the nations! They have no knowledge— those who carry about their wooden idols, and keep on praying to a god that cannot save. 21 Declare and present your case; let them take counsel together! Who told this long ago? Who declared it of old? Was it not I, the Lord? There is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is no one besides me.

22 Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. 23 By myself I have sworn, from my mouth has gone forth in righteousness a word that shall not return: "To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear." 24 Only in the Lord, it shall be said of me, are righteousness and strength; all who were incensed against him shall come to him and be ashamed. 25 In the Lord all the offspring of Israel shall triumph and glory.
And, so, from this text we hear that GOD is the only deliverer, and we see how GOD is actually accomplishing that deliverance in and through Jesus, who is the Christ, as he delivers his people and justifies himself before the world by making true his promises, showing them right and just.


GOD'S DELIVERANCE COMES THROUGH DEATH AND NEW LIFE

Notice, also, that the meal not only points to the death of the deliverer -- 
this is my body, this is my blood
but also in view is the vindication of the deliverer through resurrection:
"I shall not drink again the fruit of the vine
until the day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God."
Here we see GOD’s ultimate plan -- not annihilation of the world and not equivocation to the power of evil. No, GOD intends to remake the world -- now marred by sin and greed and hate and violence -- into a place where the creation no longer groans from abuse, where widow and orphan find the sustenance to live, and where the poor and the dispossessed find community and home.

Here we also see the ultimate meaning of GOD's love for us, the ultimate revelation of who GOD really is to the world, for the deliverer comes not to lord his power over the world, not to dictate in a bloodthirsty theocracy -- merely replacing one brutal empire for another. No, here we see the reality of the just Creator-GOD, the Deliverer, becoming part and parcel of humanity -- the genuine human, and we see that person literally dying for the sake of creation and humanity's freedom, so that this weary old world so much at war with itself, can find deliverance and wholeness and release and true peace.

All this we must see in the meal, the LORD’s Table, spread before us today...


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MARK14:12-16, 22-26
On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread,
when they sacrificed the Passover lamb,
Jesus' disciples said to him,
"Where do you want us to go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?"
He sent two of his disciples and said to them,
"Go into the city and a man will meet you,
carrying a jar of water.
Follow him.
Wherever he enters, say to the master of the house, 'The Teacher says, "Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?"'
Then he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready.
Make the preparations for us there."
The disciples then went off, entered the city, and found it just as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover.
While they were eating, he took bread, said the blessing,
broke it, gave it to them, and said,
"Take it; this is my body."
Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them,
and they all drank from it.
He said to them,
"This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.
Amen, I say to you,
I shall not drink again the fruit of the vine
until the day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God."
Then, after singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.