Grace and peace to you from God our Deliverer, and from Jesus Christ, Our Redeemer and Friend, Amen.
The last meal Jesus ate with his disciples was the Passover seder. For Jews and for Christians, this night is a night of waiting and preparation. We gather in close family or friendship groups, bonding together, even as we are on high alert to a terrible plague passing through just outside our door. Both Passover and the Last Supper weave hoping, believing and obeying God, together with the knowledge that-- for the Jews of ancient Egypt; for the disciples of Jesus in Jerusalem; for us today--we are out of our depth. Human beings, in all our God given wisdom, intellect, passion and courage, are not in control: At this critical moment, God is our hope. It is for God’s deliverance that we wait.
The Exodus story reverberates for millions of people across the whole earth, staying in our homes, praying that death will pass us by. The Lord’s Supper – here are the disciples gathered with Jesus around the table, and here are we, gathered in our homes, and electronically, gathered together as a congregation, tightly knit – knowing in a new way that is at the same time a very old way. Just as Christ is with us at this supper, so in this meal he gives us to one another—to care for one another, to serve one another, to love each other as he has loved us.
At the heart of the words Jesus speaks over bread and wine is a word we often do not even hear or heed: covenant. “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” Or in the words of St. Paul, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” This word, covenant, tells us what the sacrament means. It unites us to Christ. In this bread and wine, Christ comes to us. This covenant is not an individual gift—but a communal one. In bread and wine, Christ comes, not to me, not to you as an individual, but to us together. Just as one person cannot enter into a marriage covenant, so one person cannot engage in this covenant. In this same covenant, Christ gives his disciples to each other. Christ gives us to one another. We have Holy Communion.
The story of this last Supper, from Mark’s Gospel, leads directly to the problem outside the walls: Jesus and his disciples leave the house and go to the Mount of Olives to pray. Judas will of course betray Jesus, but to the other disciples, Jesus says “You will all become deserters...but after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.”
Desert Jesus? Peter protests that this won’t happen. Yet, even before Jesus’ trial and Peter’s denying 3 times that he knows Jesus, well before that humiliation, the disciples in their shock and fear grow weary and fall asleep. What a sad story. If I were there, I would stay awake! I would endure! I would be praying for Jesus all night long!
But no, in fact, I am very much with Peter. We are all with Peter. We will all fall short. And not just sometime—but at the critical moment, in a moment that matters—we will not be the faithful, heroic, transformative people we would like to be. We will be the sinners that we are.
What a painful truth this is, on the brink of Good Friday, on the eve of Jesus’ trial, condemnation and execution. On the night before he died, his disciples saw that they would inevitably not be Jesus, not live up to his holiness, his wholeness, his sacrifice, his steadfast love.
In my own life, when people I love have been near death, I have learned this same thing—I am never the person I want to be, the daughter or the daughter-in-law that I should be, the pastor I would hope to be, even the friend I would like to be. So this night on the Mount of Olives is deeply meaningful to me, when Jesus prays “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me, yet not what I want, but what you want,” and Peter, James and John fall asleep. In the moment of crisis, whatever that crisis may be, I will not be the wife, the mother, the pastor, or the leader that I would like to be. I am a sinner, and in big and small ways, I will fail. We will all fall short of the glory of Christ.
At this time of quarantine, stretching out for weeks, months, some of you are confined alone in small apartments, distanced from the people you love most. The rest of us are living in close quarters in the constant presence of the people we love. Two different situations, but both are hard. Our strengths will show, thank God, but also, in all honesty, our shortcomings will be magnified. Our innate character will be all too obvious. We will be unable to hide.
The vast amount of human suffering in the world does not take place between enemies or on battlefields. Most of it takes place between individuals in intimate relationships. We hurt one another because we are too close, for too long. Or, we hurt one another because we are not there, not near at hand, just when we are most needed. We break one another’s hearts, because we know each other so very well. We’re all in this together? Please. We each of us know exactly where our loved one’s weak places are, and that is where we bite and claw. We are all sinners, all human.
In this situation, our palpable, basic, fundamental need is revealed to us, as it was to Peter, James and John at the Mount of Olives. We need forgiveness. We need God’s grace, Jesus’ love, the Holy Spirit’s unity. We need each other.
And so we return to the covenant of Holy Communion—the cup of forgiveness, the body and blood of Jesus, given to us, for us, with us, within us.
Forgiveness is Christ’s gift of healing. Whatever happens tomorrow, today Christ has washed us with forgiveness. Whatever happens in the pandemic, Christ has united us in love to him and to one another. However we fall short in the hour of crisis in our own lives, Christ’s sacrifice on the cross yields for us new life, new love, new joy.
It is through this Holy Communion that we, sinners, are able to be the presence of Christ for each other and for this world, that God calls us to be. Take this bread, drink this cup. Christ for us.
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