This is a sermon I preached October 15, 2017, at Zion United Lutheran Church, Brodheadsville, PA. It begins with a message for the children.
(Invite children forward.) In today’s Bible readings, we heard about a feast of rich food, about the Lord preparing a table, and about an invitation to a banquet. Lots of talk about meals. That’s not surprising, because the Bible often mentions eating and drinking.
Let me tell you about three of the Bible’s meals, and give you a hand motion to go along with them.
First, the Maundy Thursday Meal. This was the Last Supper Jesus had with his disciples before he died. At this meal, he taught them what his death would mean, speaking words we hear every Sunday: “Take and eat. This is my body given for you. . . . Take and drink, this is my blood shed for you.” Here Jesus is teaching that his death draws us into God’s love. A motion for Jesus’ death is placing our arms in front of us, making the shape of a cross. As we do so we might say, “Christ has died.”
The second meal is the Easter Evening Meal. God raised Jesus from the dead on Easter morning. Later that day, Jesus met two of his disciples who were walking along a road. But they didn’t recognize him at first. They talked with him as they walked, and Jesus spoke to them about the Bible’s teachings. When the sun was about to set, they stopped to share a meal together. And Jesus took the bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it them. And in that instant they realized it was Jesus, now alive! A motion to remember Jesus’ resurrection is lifting our arms upward. As we do so, we can say, “Christ is risen!”
The third meal is what I call the Great Tomorrow Meal. It hasn’t happened yet, but we are promised that it is coming. God will gather his people into a great feast. We will be brought together into the everlasting love and mercy of Jesus. A motion for this is placing our arms around ourselves. Imagine Jesus giving us a great big hug. And we can say, “Christ will come again!”
Let’s do the motions one after the other. “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.”
Say this prayer after me. Thank you, God. Thank you for the meals we eat. Thank you for sending Jesus to love us. Amen. (Children return to pews)
Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
These are the events central to Christian faith.
Jesus crucified, Jesus resurrected, Jesus embracing us for all eternity. This is the story of God’s love for us. Through these deeds we are drawn more deeply into the God who is always with us. This is the God of whom today’s Psalm speaks when it says, “The Lord is my shepherd. . . . he leads me in right paths for his name sake.”
What is the right path? What’s the correct thing to do? It’s not always easy to know. Consider the following, which comes from a story written by Mary Gorden.
When Rose Cassidy and her husband were no more than thirty years old, she suddenly said to him, “Swear. Swear you will let me die in my own bed. Swear you won’t let them take me away.”
It was not clear why she had made that request. At the time, they were both young and healthy. They had no close friends who were frail and feeble. Mr. Cassidy never understood what made his wife demand his promise. But he made it: he would keep her in their own home, no matter what.
The years went by, and they grew old together. Rose’s mind began to weaken. Her personality changed. She did things out of character.
She would curse her husband with language she never before used. She would refuse to take her medicine. She would throw food onto the floor. And although her mind had weakened, her physical strength had not. She was able to knock over tables, and shove her husband to the floor.
And so the doctor said there was no reason to keep Rose at home anymore. Mr. Cassidy’s son and daughter-in-law pleaded with him: “You’ve done more than can be expected. You can’t continue this way.”
But Mr. Cassidy insisted on keeping Rose at home. He had promised. And he was a man of his word, and she was his wife, and he would not see her taken away.
In such a situation, what’s the right thing to do? Should Mr. Cassidy continue to keep his promise? Should another way be found to provide Rose’s care? Should she be kept at home? Should she be institutionalized? What’s the right thing to do? It’s not always easy to know. This is one of the agonizing decisions in life for which there is no simple answer.
In the midst of such excruciating choices, we are drawn to the crucified and risen Jesus. We come to be met by him in the meal of Holy Communion. Understand why we come to the Meal. We come not to receive answers. We come not to receive certainty about decisions we have made or are about to make. We come to the Meal to receive Christ himself.
The Meal does not give us answers, but places us in a relationship with the living Christ. The Scriptures do the same.
Through Scripture read and Scripture preached we are placed in relationship with the living Christ. The Bible is not an answer book; it’s a love letter. And not a single letter, but a whole library of letters. The Bible contains a conversation among the people of God about the things of God. In that conversation, Biblical writers do not always agree on ethical and moral issues. There are differences from one book to another. But what unites them is the common commitment to the God who loves the world.
And so the Bible, together with the Meal of our Lord, invites us to fall in love with Jesus again and again and again. Through word and sacrament, the Spirit of Christ comes to us, growing us in our relationship with God.
The crucified and risen Lord Jesus, who will come at the end of all things to gather us to himself, is with us now through the power of his Spirit.
That’s the good news of Christian faith. Good news, because we can’t always figure out the right thing to do. Life has many moral conundrums and ethical puzzles. We take them seriously. We pray about them. We think about them. Together we deliberate about them. We seek answers in the best possible way we can, and then make our choices. But even then we may wonder, “Was that the right thing?”
In the midst of our wondering, we come to the Table of the Lord and we hear, “Christ has died! Christ is risen! Christ will come again!”
What wonderful news! Because of Jesus and his Spirit we are able to entrust ourselves to God.
We trust that God will use our decision making, however wise or faulty it may be, and in the fullness of time, gather it into divine grace.
What wonderful news! The right path on which Christ leads us is not figuring out all the answers. The right path on which Christ leads us is not moral certainty. The right path is trusting him. The right path is giving ourselves to the One who lives for us, the One who embraces us in life’s struggles, the One who keeps us close to him.
Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. Thanks be to God! Amen.
(The short story “Mrs. Cassidy’s Last Year,” written by Mary Gordon, is found in Listening for God, Volume 3. Edited by Paula J. Carlson and Peter S. Hawkins. 2000. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress.)