2nd Sunday in Lent
February 24, 2013
It was an emotional time in my life and I was new to the congregation. We were taking communion and they were singing, “Eat this bread, drink this cup, come to me and never be hungry….” and the woman next to had a lovely voice. I was overwhelmed by how this made me feel at home, and how this meal tied me to all the people I loved who weren’t with me that morning, and all the people who’d done this since Jesus left us on our own to share this meal with each other. I could feel the tears start. As I looked up I saw Jesus getting up and walking up to the altar with the people in the rows ahead of me. He put his arm around a recent widow as he walked beside her, and held the hand of a husband who held his wife’s hand on the other side. I was stunned as I watched Jesus get up and walk forward with them and kneel at the altar. It was as if some veil had been whisked away and what was invisible had become visible to me. Of course, I thought, it happens here every week. Jesus walks with us to the table, and then out the door into our ordinary lives, but we so rarely get to see it happen.
In last Sunday’s Gospel lesson from John, Jesus tells his disciples that they are no longer his servants or learners, but they are his friends. He tells them that when they follow his commands to love and serve the world they are living in the love that he brings from his Father in heaven. This supper, this Passover meal that Jesus shares with his disciples on his last night with them has brought with it all the imagery, all the story, all the ritual and all the commands of that night to our celebration of it in this day. In the same way that the Passover that was celebrated on that night, it is celebrated every year for the Jewish people. The story of how God heard their cry and brought them out of slavery to freedom gives them their identity as a holy people brought forth for God’s purposes. The celebration tells the whole story so that every member of the family can understand what it means to be rescued by God from hopelessness and sent into a new land full of promise. God hears us and delivers us the story says.
In the same way, we tell the story if Jesus creating a new covenant for all the world, not only for the Jewish people, as he names the bread of the Passover meal as his body, and the final cup of wine as his blood, poured out for all. And so when we come, we prepare our hearts to receive the deliverance from sin and sorrow and evil that is the part of the story we know, and the disciples will learn when they come to understand Jesus’ resurrection. We come to accept the invitation to the new life won for us, and to share the mystery of Jesus’ presence with us in these tiny tastes of bread and wine.
It is likely that as Jesus reclined at the Passover supper table, that John, the beloved disciple was on his right and that Judas Iscariot was on his left. The Gospels never tell us about Judas’ motive for betraying Jesus. Was he angry because Jesus wasn’t the zealot he’d hoped for? Impatient with the pace of action? Was he more traditional and upset that Jesus was veering so far from the temple authorities? All we know is that his regret made him so bitter and hopeless that he saw no way out except ending his life. It is so ironic, that for all the shock of the disciples that someone would betray Jesus to the authorities, all of them but John betrayed him in one way or another. Peter and James and John fall victim to the feast and the late hour by falling asleep rather than keeping vigil and praying with Jesus in the Garden. Peter denies even knowing him, and all the others flee when he is arrested. It’s just a matter of degrees, the way all of Jesus’ followers fail or betray him. And in the end, all are restored by Jesus’ forgiveness and invitation to new mission. We watch and wonder if even Judas could have been restored if he had not fallen into despair.
And how about us? When we come to this table, do we come with open hearts, expecting that God will show us mercy? How easy it is to see the failures of others to be the perfect followers of Jesus, and not to see our own failures. How easy it is to think there is some requirement that we’ve mastered, or some measure of holiness we’ve met so that we can come to this table for a reward. Or perhaps, as in the Corinthian community, we come not really understanding that at this table, we stand on holy ground to taste again the new life won for us by Jesus. It is also easy for us not to come because we do not feel worthy. This meal is the great leveler. When we come we are both humbled and lifted up. We are convicted of our unworthiness and made worthy by the blood of Christ. Martin Luther reminds us that there is an objective part of the invitation to come to Jesus’ table, for when we feel the most unworthy is when we must come to taste for real the forgiveness won for us and the restoration promised us.
As we wonder about Judas, (was he forgiven, was he not?) let us remember that no one needs to despair of their salvation, or of their invitation to be God’s people, to come to this table of love. God’s mercy is a gift, won for by God’s grace and love. We don’t earn it, but we surely can celebrate it by living in response to it. As we walk away from this table, we take our new life out into a world of sadness and pain, bearing the light of God’s love for all the world, in our witness to our own experience of how God has loved and invited even us. May it be so. Amen.
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing that you may abound in hope through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.