Third Sunday of Easter, Year A
Sorry this is so late, by the way -- it's been a crazy week!
By the way, this week's entry gives a good idea of the theology behind Connect, a formation program that John de Beer and I designed as part of a three-part arc of programs called Klesis: Called to Full Humanity (Klesis is the Greek for “calling,” both in the New Testament sense of “vocation,” and also more generally in the sense of “invitation,” especially invitation to a feast). Connect has been running at the parish where I work for two years, and is ready to be tested at other congregations; we're working on the logistics for that now!
O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the
breaking of bread: Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him
in all his redeeming work; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity
of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Have you ever stopped to wonder why it is that the central act we perform to remember Jesus, namely the Eucharist, is a meal? In theory, it could have been anything -- a special dance, erecting statues, you name it. Heck, it could have been a golf tournament (which no doubt would boost church attendance in some circles!). But it isn't. It's a meal.
This Sunday's gospel and epistle are a partial answer to that. Jesus was made known to the disciples in the breaking of bread, and central to the worship and community life of Jesus' earliest followers was gathering for “the breaking of the bread and the prayers” in the Temple courts. But this phenomenon of Jesus being made known in the breaking of bread goes back further than Acts, further than Jesus' resurrection appearances: it was the fullest way prior to the Cross in which Jesus showed what he's about and what should characterize the lives of his followers. Indeed, it would have been a lot more difficult for us to see how Jesus' death could be a means in which he was “lifted up,” drawing all people to him, if Jesus' life -- and particularly, his practice of table fellowship -- hadn't been remembered or recorded.
But it was, and now every time we break bread, we are invited to do so in remembrance of Jesus. So did Jesus' table fellowship signify that we remember when we gather?
At Jesus' table, all are invited to join the feast. Jesus ate with prostitutes and Pharisees, treating them with equal dignity, and we are called to do the same. Personally, the only reason I want a memorial marker (after I day -- a long, long time from now, God willing!) is so that I can have Luke 7:34 as an epitaph -- “Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend to tax collectors and sinners.” Jesus had that reputation because he was known for being completely indiscriminate about with whom he ate -- even to the point of sitting down with over five thousand people spontaneously for a meal -- and I hope that my own practice of table fellowship gives me the same kind of reputation.
At Jesus' table, there is a balance between abundance and need. Those who have means share what they have, so that all are invited and no one goes hungry. A central image in both Luke's gospel and Paul's theology is that of the Exodus, and when we gather to break bread, we are invited to take God's feeding of the people of Israel in the wilderness as a model. Paul explicitly cites Exodus 16:18's note that “... when they measured [the amount of manna gathered] with an omer, those who gathered had nothing left over, and those who gathered little had no shortage” in 2 Corinthians 8 as a model for what it means to be a community gathered around Jesus' table. When we share the Eucharist with one another, we remember Jesus' table fellowship in stories like that of the Feeding of the Five Thousand; we give thanks to God for providing good things in such abundance that all might be fed, and we remember our baptismal call to strive for God's justice and love our neighbors around the world as ourselves, seeing that all are fed. In the breaking of the bread, Jesus makes known to us that this is not just a possibility, but a mandate for God's people.
And at Jesus' table, the walls between people come down. When Jesus sat down with five thousand strangers for a meal, slave and free, Jew and Greek, male and female sat down together, in one place, to eat -- something unheard of in the ancient world. Indeed, how common is it for us to have people from many different socioeconomic backgrounds and ethnicities gathered around the altar in our congregations? I tremble when I read 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, knowing how common it is in the church to gather at separate tables as rich and poor, and for the poor to lie awake hungry at night. I think (and props to S. Scott Bartchy for introducing me to the idea) that when Paul talked about those who partake of the Lord's Meal without “discerning the body” (1 Corinthians 11:29), he was using “body” in the way he usually did, meaning the Body of Christ. When we eat and drink without discerning and serving the Body of Christ, Christ's presence in all of our sisters and brothers around the world, it isn't the Lord's Meal that we eat, and we eat and drink judgment upon ourselves.
Risen Lord, be known to us in the breaking of the bread. Around the Eucharistic table and our dinner tables at home, teach us to discern and serve the full Body of Christ. Let every time we break bread be a remembrance and a proclamation of the Lord Jesus, who welcomed all to his table and served them with equal dignity, who saw at his table that all had enough and none had too much, and who at his table saw sinners and saints, rich and poor of any ethnicity become sisters and brothers, called to love and serve one another as such.
Amen, and thanks be to God!
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Tracked on Apr 9, 2005 6:23:07 PM
Another excellent essay. I particularly liked this bit:
I tremble when I read 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, knowing how common it is in the church to gather at separate tables as rich and poor, and for the poor to lie awake hungry at night.
Given my own experiences and insecurities in a congregation with strong class divisions, it's good to be reminded that these problems are not new. Or perhaps I should say, good in that it means our times are not unique, but also bad in that the problems have not yet been resolved.
PS: In your essay he word day appears where the word die should be. Oops!
Posted by: James | Apr 7, 2005 8:34:12 AM
And then I misspell the word the. Just shoot me. :p
Posted by: James | Apr 7, 2005 8:34:50 AM
Always enjoy reading your reflection as I do my sermon prep. At a recent retreat the following prayer was used which I really liked and think encapsulates much of your thoughts this week.
Give us a taste for simple things;
for love and laughter,
bread and wine and dreams.
Fill us with green growing hope
that we may be a people who’s song is alleluia,
who’s sign is peace
and who’s heart is love. Amen
Posted by: Mark Newitt | Apr 7, 2005 9:45:00 AM
You know, one of my goals in life has been to get to the point where my epitaph could fairly be, "He never said anything bad about anyone." But I think yours gives mine a run for the money!
Posted by: Rob Merola | Apr 8, 2005 12:35:27 PM
Posted by: jr | Apr 8, 2005 11:05:18 PM