This week on the Strangely Warmed podcast I speak with Thomas Irby about the readings for the 4th Sunday After Epiphany [A] (Micah 6.1-8, Psalm 15, 1 Corinthians 1.18-31, Matthew 5.1-12). Thomas is a United Methodist Pastor serving in Tacoma, Washington. Our conversation covers a range of topics including cliche Christian tattoos, social activism, divine controversies, usury, moral ambiguity, the cross as everything #blessed, peace-making vs. peace-keeping, and being poor in the kingdom. If you would like to listen to the episode or subscribe to the podcast you can do so here: Meek Mill and The Beatitudes
1 Corinthians 1.10-18
Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power. For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
The church is on the brink of schism.
On either side people, lay and clergy alike, keep flinging their disappointments and their differing theologies at one another and it seems as if there is no future in which we stay together.
One pastor put it this way, “I have spent twenty of the best years of my life serving the church in which I have grown closer to more people than I can count. For a long time it was my friendships within the church that kept me with the church. But for the sake of a high and holy cause, I can let all of those friends go. I can no longer live solely for myself, nor for the present age alone, but only for God for eternity. I have prayed, and I have waited, and I must either submit myself to the way things are, or to leave. I have chosen the latter.”
Another said this: “It is not just for the great number of Methodists across the world that we plead, not even the millions we have yet to reach, but simply for the church herself. We wish to speak the truth in love. Treating people the way we have is simply wrong, cruel, and unjust in all parts and principles because we have denied freedoms, numbed the mind, and killed the soul. How we have belittled particular individuals must cease now and forever.”
And still yet another said this, “It matters not how we treat particular people – this is the way it has been and it is the way it shall continue. The matters of individual liberties belong to Caesar, and not to the church – otherwise God would have intervened.”
Have you heard people speak this way about the church? Or perhaps you’ve read an article in the newspaper about our irreconcilable differences? Great and powerful leaders in the church are looking through the legalities of separation because it seems like we can no longer remain together.
By the way, does anyone happen to know what year it is? I can’t quite remember. 2020? Oh, you’re surely mistaken. The year is 1844 my friends, how could you have forgotten!?
Those quotes I read, contrary to what we might’ve thought, were not shared over the last few weeks by pastors offering too much information on their respective Facebook pages. Actually, they are all from the year 1844 when the Methodist Church was fighting about whether or not to stay together. And what was the actual matter at hand? Slavery.
One of the great ironies in the church is that we call ourselves United Methodists and we are anything but united.
The church in Corinth was similarly divided. In Paul’s first letter alone we can count at least fifteen different problems the apostle had to confront including lawsuits, idolatry, prostitution, and a whole lot more. But here, right after his pronouncement of grace upon God’s people, he got down to the business of addressing partisanship – otherwise known as divisions.
We’re not entirely sure how it happened, or even why, but the Corinthian Christians factionalized behind different leaders. Some followed Paul, some Cephas, and some Apollos. And the disrespect they held for the rival leaders extended down to the individual followers as well, such that some of the followers of Jesus refused to break bread with one another.
It doesn’t make any sense.
I mean, how can an organization founded upon the principles of total inclusion descend into such rampant division? How can a people told to love their neighbors as themselves cease to love their literal neighbors? How can something as united as a church break down into different factions?
Those questions were asked in Corinth, they were asked in 1844, and they’re still being asked today.
The gospel itself doesn’t make a lot of sense. As I said last week, and will be saying over the coming weeks, grace is really really messy. It is not simple – For, what God did, makes no sense to us. It makes no sense to us because we would not have done what God did had it been up to us.
The gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ, the message of salvation made available to all, is so contrary to everything we think we know about the world and even, at times, contrary to everything to what we think we know about the church!
I mean, is the gospel really for all? What about the real sinners (let your minds wander), do they have a place in the church? How would we feel about the outsiders being let into the inside?
We might bristle at the thought, but we can’t ignore that making the outsiders the insiders was exactly Jesus’ cup of tea.
Faith, whatever it may be, is confounding precisely because it runs counter to so much of what we’ve been taught to expect about the world. It is challenging to wrap our minds around which, incidentally, is why we keep coming back to church week after week in hopes that we’ll get a better angle on all this.
Now, of course, there will be plenty of other folk who will try their best to convince us that there are easy steps to Christianity, that if we follow a simple formula we will get our lives perfectly sorted out. Countless books are sold every year on that premise alone.
There will always be Cephases and Apolloses vying for our allegiance.
But the word from scripture, and in particular within the Pauline corpus, is that if the steps to a better church or a better life are easy, then they are completely bogus. The most challenging things in life, namely change, require communities of people to sustain us through something as difficult as transformation.
It can take a lifetime of coming to the table over and over again before we really start to believe that Jesus would do what Jesus did, even for us!
It can take decades of Sundays hearing the gospel story before it finally starts sounding like good news.
It can take generations of patient faithfulness before we begin to see how foolish the message of the cross is, and how everything we do hangs on it.
Which leads us back to Corinth, and in a sense back to 1844, and back to the church today. All churches throughout time have fallen prey to the temptation of easy answers. And who can blame them? If people provide the answers we already want to hear, then why not follow them?
There have been plenty of Apolloses and Cephases over the centuries. As Christians we so regularly self-identify around particular leaders who give us what we want to hear. Tribalism runs rampant in the church such that since the very beginning of the church there have been alternative modes of the church within the church!
But the cross demands something different and something far more difficult.
Most of us here today have come of age in a world in which we are so comfortable with crosses dangling around our necks and adorning the top of our steeples, that we cannot conceive of crosses as anything but sterile symbols of something vaguely religious.
But the cross is, and forever shall be, a shocking thing.
2,000 years of church life has made it next to impossible to consider how shocking it was to preach a crucified Messiah during the time of Paul. The next closest thing would be hanging hypodermic needles around our necks, or placing electric chairs on top of churches, or hanging nooses on the walls of our living rooms.
The cross is death. Which is why Paul can say, “The cross is foolishness to those who are perishing but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
The world doesn’t want death – it wants other signs of worldly power. And yet our King of kings rules from a cross, and one of his final pronouncements is not an exhortation about all we must do to earn a spot in his kingdom. Instead, Jesus uses some of his final earthly breaths to declare one of the strangest things of all, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”
And, indeed, we have no idea what we are doing. We are a people at war – not necessarily in the conventional sense but we are certainly at war with one another these days.
The United Methodist Church is battling about who can marry who and who can get ordained. We appear at the brink of schism, dooming ourselves to repeat 1844 all over again.
Our partisan finger wagging continues to divide families, and friends, and co-workers. We identify who is in and who is out by the name of a candidate on a bumper sticker or by the avenue by which they receive their news.
We write people off for Facebook posts and tweets and delight in our ever tightening tunnel vision about reality.
Our tribalism is going off the rails and, shockingly worst of all, it seems like we actually enjoy it.
The word of the cross is not easy to proclaim. It wasn’t easy for Paul, it wasn’t easy for the church in the decades leading up to the Civil War, and it’s not easy today.
The word of the cross is a stumbling block to those who call themselves religious and it is foolishness to those who delight in the rise of secularism precisely because the cross stands as a beacon to a different reality, a reality we wouldn’t choose for ourselves.
For as much as the cross is a sign to the world about the forgiveness of sins, it is equally a reminder that we have plenty of sins for which we all need forgiveness.
Or, to put it another way, we cannot look at the cross without confronting the inconvenient truth that we are the sinners for whom Christ died.
We confess, however, that we would much prefer to hear a different kind of message about the cross. Perhaps something a little more uplifting, or at the very least something optimistic.
Ultimately, whether we like to admit it or not, what we really want is to be told that we are right and they, whoever they are, are wrong.
But, again, the cross tells us something different – the cross tell us we’re all wrong.
Jesus was put to death by the legitimate powers of his time – He was denounced by the Roman governor, flogged and beaten, and was taken along with common criminals to be executed outside of the city.
He was condemned to death by all of the best people of church and state, and was condemned for crimes against religion and government.
This is a challenging thing to confront – particularly for those of us who feel good in our piety, or happy in our political proclivities… Jesus went to the other side, he went to be with the people we would rather ignore, and he took his place upon a cross because we put him there.
We hate it, we don’t want to even get near it, here in the ivory towers of our own making. But Jesus, the one we worship and adore, Jesus is on both sides. He is on the side of the victims and on the side of the perpetrators. He eats with sinners and tax collectors. He speaks to the powerful and to the weak.
That is why the gospel is so overwhelmingly radical – When we say Jesus is for all, we really mean all.
We are not united. We have plenty of divisions cropping up all the time that keep us from one another. But there is something that truly unites us – the gospel. It is radically inclusive in ways we can’t even dream of. Whether we like it or not the gospel refuses to divide the world up into the correct and the incorrect, the righteous and the unrighteous, the innocent and the guilty. Jesus takes all of that into himself and says I forgive you.
It’s foolishness according to the world, but to us it is the power of God. Amen.
This week on the Strangely Warmed podcast I speak with Jim Moore about the readings for the 3rd Sunday After Epiphany [A] (Isaiah 9.1-4, Psalm 27.1, 4-9, 1 Corinthians 1.10-18, Matthew 4.12-23). Jim is a lawyer by trade and is currently working for the federal government with regard to the 2020 census. Our conversation covers a range of topics including fishing for puns, lay advice, doom and gloom, removing burdens, increasing joy, feeling guilty in church, dancing with our enemies, the old foolish cross, dinner parties with strangers, and the nearness of the kingdom. If you would like to listen to the episode or subscribe to the podcast you can do so here: Victory In Defeat
1 Corinthians 1.1-9
Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Do you ever feel like things couldn’t get worse?
Natural disasters across the globe keep ravaging particular communities.
Political discourse and partisan rhetoric are dividing families and friends and churches.
It’s becoming ever more expensive to live and yet wages continue to stagnate.
Things just feel so broken.
Here in the US we are so obsessed with financial gains and economic prosperity that the rich keep getting richer and the poor just get poorer. So much so that we’ve allowed capitalism to become our religion – it is what we worship. And the evils of capitalism, of which there are many, are as real as the evils of militarism and the evils of racism.
We are currently spending more money on national defense every year than we are on all of our programs of social uplift combined – when weapons become more important than people it is clearly a sign of our imminent spiritual doom.
In ways big and small we are perpetuating a culture in which 1 out of every 3 black men can expect to go to prison at some point in their lives – the price that we must pay for the continued oppression of black bodies in this country is the price of our own destruction.
Now, before we go on, I want to be clear that most of what I just said is not original to me, I didn’t sit down this week and pull those thoughts out of thin air. Most of what I just said actually came from another preacher named Martin Luther King Jr.
Ever heard of him?
Across the country, countless students will have the day off from school tomorrow in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. and rightly so. He was a man committed to a vision of the kingdom that others refused to see, and it cost him his life. But one of the things that we forget, here in 2020, is that shortly before his assassination, he was one of the most hated men in the entire country. Though he is remembered as a bastion of freedom and equality, 2/3 of the country opposed his work and words the year before his death.
It’s hard to remember this, for those of us old enough to do so, because today everybody loves Dr. King. Partly because we’ve sanitized his message, and it’s a lot easier to love someone when they’re no longer challenging, and upsetting, the status quo.
It’s easier to love a hero when they’re dead.
Dr. King was not only an activist for the Civil Rights movement, but was also a frustrating voice to the powers and principalities in regard to the Vietnam War, capitalism, and rampant poverty.
But we’re far more content with simply remembering his speech about having a dream of a different future. However, that future (which we are still yearning for) is not possible without transformation. His life, and death, is an ever present reminder that things cannot merely remain as they are.
Grace is messy.
Each of Paul’s letters begin with a blessing on the recipients of the epistles with “grace”. Even to the famously fractured Corinthians, Paul begins by saying, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Grace is one of those all too important words in the church and, frankly, it’s a word we throw around all the time without thinking or talking about what it actually means.
Sometimes when I hear about grace, and even when I talk about it, it comes off like some nebulous gas that’s floating around affecting various people as they breathe it in.
Which, to some degree, is true. But grace is about a whole lot more than that.
The arrival of Jesus Christ into the world, mediating a new reality with God and God’s creation is a gift. It is all part of this cosmic plan for unending communion and it frees us from our own slavery to sin and death. It comes in spite of of our earnings and deservings and is made available to all without cost. Grace is, in every sense of the word, a gift.
We have been gifted with a rescue from something and regathered into something we call communion.
But this gift we call grace runs counter to how we so often think about gifts today. Namely, when we receive something for nothing we almost always respond by immediately planning how to repay the gift. We want to out-gift the gift-giver. We live under the tyrannic rule of reciprocity such that we must always make the scales even again, even if it is outside of our ability.
But in the early church, grace was not about repaying what could not be repaid – grace was a reality.
It both named the concrete gift of Jesus for the world, along with the generosity of God who sent him. And yet, it was not confined to some idea about who Jesus was, it was a lived reality in and through the ways people lived.
The early church community gifted among themselves things like food, and money, and clothing, and healing to those who needed it the most. And they did so without keeping some sort of ledger about who owed what – it was simply done and thats it.
So whatever the gathering of Christians looks like today, it is supposed to look like a community of grace.
The gathering of disciples we call church are called to lives of generosity that is so obvious and known that only a God generous enough to give his only Son for an evil and sinful humanity can explain it.
Grace, understood as such, changes everything, including us.
Or, to put it another way, we can’t remain what we once were.
There’s a lot of talk in the church these days about how God loves you just the way you are. Which, though true, is a denial of the power of grace working in and through us.
The letters of Paul and the stories of Jesus show us that there is more to grace than simply being accepted for who we are. And, no doubt, we are accepted – after all, grace abounds. But we are now in a kingdom bound by that grace which means we have been changed.
Can you imagine what Martin Luther King Jr. work would’ve have looked like without a call to change? What good is a dream of something new if only we stay committed to the past?
Here’s where grace gets messy: Grace is a gift, given for free. We don’t have to change or do anything before receiving it. And, we don’t have to do anything or change after receiving it. Paul will remind the good Corinthians about this – grace is less about out need to change and more about how God is already in the business of changing us.
Were it up to us alone to change, we wouldn’t do it. It is far easier to remain the same and hold on to the old visions of the past than it is to try embarking on a different journey. Our captivity to sin keeps us firmly planted instead of taking steps or leaps of faith. But, thankfully, God will not leave us to our own devices.
God is changing us.
Now, if you’re anything like me, we don’t particularly like all this talk of personal development or change. All the “shoulds” and “musts” leave us exhausted. Which is why it’s of paramount importance to remember the the Kingdom of God isn’t conditional. It exists whether we participate in it or not, the empty tomb remains empty whether we change or not. And yet God is using all of the means at God’s disposal to show us that our lives are being reknit, even right now.
The world, just like us, cannot remain as it is. God won’t allow it. God is faithful, even when we are not. God believes in us even when we can’t. God is working toward a vision of things not yet seen, and God is bringing us along for the ride.
We can resist it all we want, but God is on the move.
Which is all to say that, when properly considered, the kingdom is about more than acceptance. We are at war with the powers and principalities of this world that insist on making the last laster and the first firster. Our King of kings is fundamentally different – Jesus does not rule with an iron fist or with boots on the ground – our King rules from a cross.
What could be messier than that?
I started all of this today with talk of Martin Luther King Jr.’s forgotten quotes. He was radically committed to seeing a different world and, to some degree, knew it would cost him his life. In fact, the night before he was killed he delivered one of his most moving speeches. It was not about securing the right to vote for black individuals, nor was it on dismantling Jim Crow laws, but was actually about establishing a union for sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee.
He stood before a packed crowd that night and after speaking at length on the subject at hand he ended it all by saying this:
“Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life – longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And he’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the Promised Land. So I’m happy tonight, I’m not worried about anything, I’m not fearing any man, mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
The next day he was dead.
God’s grace is about being part of a kingdom the world doesn’t want – it’s about how God makes a difference and that difference means we are now different.
The Good News of Jesus Christ is that we have been transformed through the waters of baptism and the meal at the table – we are made new.
God does not accept the current realities of the world, nor does God accept the banalities of evil that run all too rampant. But God believes in us, God will remain faithful, and the kingdom of God is at hand. We will get to the Promised Land.
What a strange and wondrous thing grace really is – for by grace we have been saved, and are being saved, even now. Amen.
This week on the Strangely Warmed podcast I speak with Jim Moore about the readings for the 2nd Sunday After Epiphany [A] (Isaiah 49.1-7, Psalm 40.1-11, 1 Corinthians 1.1-9, John 1.29-42). Our conversation covers a range of topics including internet friendships, counting people for the Lord, the burden of purpose, eucharistic time, miry bogs, divine requirements, call stories, acting like we believe what we say, and being surprised by Sunday. If you would like to listen to the episode or subscribe to the podcast you can do so here: Instant Pot Faith
1 Corinthians 11.23-26
For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is 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.
This is a good amount of people for Maundy Thursday. It is a weeknight after all. But it isn’t as many people as we had for Palm Sunday and, Lord willing, it is smaller than the number of people we will have for Easter.
That’s okay. There wasn’t a big crowd at the first Maundy Thursday either.
And yet you are here.
Why are you here?
We are a people forever stuck in the past.
And we can hardly be blamed.
We only know what we know. And we can’t know what we don’t know.
So our minds, whether we like it or not, are often rooted in days long gone.
Take tonight for instance, some of you can and probably do remember former Maundy Thursdays. And even if you haven’t been to a service like this before, you can know doubt think of a time you’ve received communion. And if you’ve never had communion before, you can certainly think of a time that you’ve shared a meal with someone else.
And because we tend to spend as much time in our minds as we do, we read what is happening in our present through the lens of the past.
It happens in the political realm, and the familial realm, and the theological realm.
When I was a kid my home church had lots of volunteer opportunities.
There were the big ones, you could sign up to read scripture from the lectern during a service, or you could carry in the flame as an acolyte, and every summer you could travel near and far for mission trips.
And there were, of course, the little ones as well. Your family could sign up to be greeters for a particular Sunday, shaking hands with everyone on their way in, or you could join together with some of the older members and fold bulletins every Friday morning, and every Wednesday night you could help serve food for the weekly community dinner.
In my young life, I did all of those things at one point or another, but there was one particular volunteer opportunity that my whole family took care of for a long time: we prepared the communion elements.
This meant that every first Saturday of the month we would drive over to the church and retreat to the sacristy behind the altar. There we would pre-poke the bead with this medieval-like dagger to make it easier for the pastors to tear it apart on Sunday morning, and then we would set out hundreds of tiny little plastic shot glasses within the altar rail using a little squirt bottle to fill every single one.
It would take forever.
And forever really felt like forever when I was ten years old.
On Sunday mornings, every one would arrive at the church none-the-wiser about the work we had put in to prepare everything. Even my family, knowing how long the grape juice had been sitting out in that old sanctuary, we would line up like everyone else and we would patiently kneel at the altar until a piece of bread was placed in our hands, and then we were instructed to drink from one of the little cups, and then we would go back to our pew so the next group could go.
And if preparing communion felt like forever, doing communion was even worse. It was assumed that the sermons on the first Sunday of the month would be half as long so that the congregation would have the time to all come to the altar to receive our stale bread and tepid grape juice.
And this went on for years.
Until one day after worship, I mustered up the courage to approach our aging senior pastor and confront him about our way of the Lord’s Supper. I had been to other churches and seen other variations on how to consume communion. The Catholics would all drink from one cup, and the Presbyterians would pass around these giants trays of circular discs and tiny cups. I’m not sure what propelled me forward that day – perhaps the bread had been extra hard, or my sisters and I had consumed a few too many of the little grape juice shots after worship, but I walked up to the pastor and said, “Why do we do communion this way?”
His response: “Because that’s the way we’ve always done it.”
We call today Maundy Thursday. This quaint names come from Jesus’ words at his last supper in John’s gospel: A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you. In Latin, new commandment is mandatum novum. Maundy is simply the Middle English version of the word mandatum.
So, we are mandated by God to do what we are doing.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t particularly like being mandated to do anything. Christianity has long-suffered under the oppressive rule of expectations and assumptions. You must do this, you must do that.
All of the musts don’t muster up to a very lively faith.
Instead we trudge into the sanctuary to sing the hymns and offer the prayers because we think we must do it.
We stand and proclaim with bored affectations the words of the Apostles’ Creed because we think we must do it.
We drag ourselves up to the altar to receive the body and the blood because we’ve made it out into our minds that we are mandated to do so.
What are we hungry for?
Are we even hungry at all?
There is always a lot that happens in the eucharist, a lot happens here tonight. In John’s Gospel Jesus spends his final evening breaking bread and drinking wine with his friends, but he ends with getting on the floor and washing all of their feet.
There have been countless traditions throughout the history of the church that are all tied up with what we are doing right now. By the time Paul writes to the church in Corinth he conveys it as “For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is 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.”
And so we remember. We remember how Jesus’ self-giving life included feeding the poor as well as dining with the rich. We remember that Jesus broke bread with the religious elite and the social outcasts. We remember that most of Jesus’ ministry took place around tables with those who both loved him and were confused by him.
And because we spend so much time remembering, we often look at this thing of communion backwards. We focus all of our attention on Jesus’ final night and we get caught up in the “we’ve always done it this way.”
Do you know what it says on our altar? I have it covered so you can’t just take a peek. Any guesses?
“This Do In Remembrance Of Me.”
It fits doesn’t it? We place the bread and the cup on the table, we read the words that Jesus shared with his disciples that final evening, and we do what we are doing in remembrance of all that Christ did.
But somewhere along the way we got our tenses confused.
Communion is not a backwards looking proposition. Yes, it is good and right for us to imagine ourselves in that space with those people on the night in which he gave himself up for us. But to do so as fully and totally as we do denies the fundamental truth that Jesus is here with us tonight in this space and with these people!
Of course communion is about remembrance, but it is equally, if not more, about anticipation. For as often as we eat this bread and drink this cup we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
There was a woman who used to sneak into the church during the first hymn and would often retreat before the final hymn concluded. I would see her from my preaching vantage point but it was as if she planned everything so as to not have to interact with too many people when she came. After a while I noticed that she would only come to church on the first Sunday of the month and when we held our Maundy Thursday service.
Luck had it one day that I was able to catch up with her outside the main doors when she was briskly walking to her car and I asked if everything was okay.
She told me that she was Baptist and that her church almost never celebrated communion. But she knew she needed strength for the journey, so she came every month to commune with us.
I expressed my admiration of her faithfulness and she said that a pastor once told her that communion is where the past, present, and the future get all confused with each other. The pastor apparently meant it as a bad thing, but she fell in love with the idea.
She told me that she loved her church and would never leave it, but that she always needed to feel the confusion of time with us.
Maundy Thursday services often end in a confusing way. Tonight, as we conclude, we will join with Christians across the globe in the striking of our altar. We will remove elements of color and vitality making the turn toward the cross.
We will do so because our sense of time is purposely confused. Jesus has already shared the meal with the friends. Jesus has already mounted the hard wood of the cross. Jesus has already broken free from the tomb.
But tonight we both place ourselves in the time of Jesus and we witness to the fact that Jesus is still with us. We will gather at the table not just because that’s what Jesus did, but because it is what Jesus is still doing. And, we will engage in all of this in anticipation of when we will gather at Christ’s heavenly banquet with all who have come before, and all who will arrive long after we’re gone.
This is the place where time gets confused.
And that’s a good thing. Amen.
This week on the Strangely Warmed podcast we have three episodes for Holy Week and we end with Easter [C] (Isaiah 65.17-25, Psalm 118.1-2, 14-24, 1 Corinthians 15.19-26, John 20.1-18). Joanna Marcy Paysour was kind enough to join me for this episode. Our conversation covers a range of topics including proclamation by subtraction, redeeming the season, theologically complicated hymns, moving from Friday to Sunday, confetti eggs, dust-ness, women preachers, naked gardening, and seeing the Lord. If you would like to listen to the episode or subscribe to the podcast you can do so here: Hope Rages or: All Y’all Get To Be Eastered