Tuesday, March 18, 2008

1 Corinthians 11:23-26 - Sermon - Holy Thursday - Proclaiming Death

1 Corinthians 11:23-26
Holy Thursday
Proclaiming Death

We come here tonight to worship on Maundy Thursday, a time when we gather to worship and celebrate the Lord giving us this special sacrament. A time when we join the disciples in the upper room and partake in the last meal Christ had here on earth. Today we join in this holy mystery that is referred to by many names; Holy Communion, Eucharist and the Lord’s Supper. Each name is important because it gives us the theology behind why we do what we do. This is a time of communion with God, an act of remembrance and thanksgiving, and time to partake in the holy meal. Even the name given to this day is important. Maundy is derived from the Latin word that means ordinance, or to mandate. This meal that we have tonight, is a new commandment for us believers. It is a new way of interacting with the personal, real and loving God that we worship.

The Holy Meal though is a little weird. No where else do we do something like this, so some times it can be a little confusing of why we are doing what we do. A friend of mine is a minister down in Mississippi and he was telling me a story of one of the communions that he did at his church. At his church they do communion with the individual cups and everyone comes up to the altar and receives it. My friend was working his way down the line of people at the altar when he came to a little four year old boy with a thick southern accent. He handed him the bread which he took with a smile and a hearty thank you, but then on the second pass he made with the little cups of juice, the little boy said no thanks. Well this caught my friend off guard but he listened to the boy’s request and kept going. After the service though, as the boy came through and shook his hand, my friend just had to ask why he did not take the little cup of juice. The little boy looked up at my friend and said to him in his thick four year old southern accent, “Well preacher, I ain’t drank no blood yet and ain’t goin’ start now.”

For that four year old boy, when we say this is the blood of Christ shed for you, he thought he was going to drink real blood and he wanted nothing to do with that. The liquid in the cup was a dark red color so it had to be. He could tell that when my friend said that this is the body of Christ broken for you, that it came from a loaf of bread, so it was just bread to him, but he was a little unsure about this stuff in the little cup. He was placing what he thought was important over what God commands as important. I wonder how many of you growing up thought it was real blood in the cup? Two things happen when you come to the table: you either place your own views in front of it or are you let Christ be the center and realize that this is something you actually need!

The scripture I read today is from Paul letter to the Corinthians. It seems that when the Corinthians were celebrating the Lord’s Supper they were doing it wrong. They were doing it for the wrong reasons. They were making themselves the focus. In the verses before this scripture, Paul rebukes them for the way they were having the Lord’s Supper. Back then they had a full meal, and some of the Corinthians were eating too much and letting others go hungry. Others were drinking WAY too much wine and getting drunk at the Lord’s Supper. So Paul reminds them in the passages that this is the reason we have the Lord’s Supper, not for the reasons they were doing it. We have the Lord’s Supper to remind us of what Christ did for each of us. We do it with Christ at the center of the sacrament, not ourselves and that is what the Corinthians were doing. We have to remember why we are doing what we are doing. We do it because this is something that we need. What we need to do is remember.

The word remembrance will be stuck in my head forever. Not because of some powerful class in divinity school, not because of a wonderful sermon I heard on communion, but because of a stocky and snotty Anglican vicar in Mossley, England. As the token American Methodist minister in Mossley, I got asked to do a lot of different things with the churches in my circuit but also the town’s Anglican community. So on Christmas Eve, I was invited to come up to one of the Anglican churches to preach at their family Christmas Eve service, which had communion as a part of the service. Well being that I was not Anglican meant that I could not do some of the things the vicar could, like partake in the communion liturgy. So when the vicar started the liturgy, I went to one of the seats on the side of the chancel and had a seat, and since the chair was behind some of the choir pews, I was practically hidden from the congregation, which actually turned out to be a good thing.

You see this stocky and snotty Anglican vicar had a certain English accent that reminded me of the priest in the movie, the Princess Bride. Well the vicar came to the part in the liturgy that Paul retells the Corinthians I about busted out laughing, because the vicar’s accent gets really bad when he is saying words with Rs in them. So he gets to the part that states, “And do this in remembrance of me,” but with his accent it goes, “And do this in wememburence of me.” I started to giggle a little, and then as he went into the second part he said it again and I almost snorted trying to hold in my laughter. Luckily I was hidden from the congregation and could compose myself before I had to go up there to receive the elements.

Although this ‘remembrance’ will be forever tainted with the vicar accent in my head, it is the reason we do what we do. We need to remember why Christ died on the cross. We need to celebrate the Lord’s Supper tonight because Christ commanded us to take bread and wine and do it in remembrance of his mighty acts that follow tomorrow on Good Friday and then on Easter Sunday. It is our jobs as Christians to pass down this tradition, so that the whole world remembers that Christ died for the whole world. That is what Paul is trying to do with the Corinthians in his letter. He is trying to refocus their minds so that they put Christ in the middle of this celebration and not themselves. He is reminding them of what they need to remember, that its about Christ.

But we like to do that, we like to put ourselves in front of God a lot. We like to take the fact that we think there is real human blood in the cups and refuse it. We like to think that there is some kind of crazy germ that we will get if we share a common loaf and cup, so we refuse it. We like to say that we are not in the proper relationship with God to come forward, so once again we refuse it. This mind set plaques many of us, so there is one thing WE need to remember, IT’S NOT ABOUT US!!! At this table on that night long ago and here tonight, there is only one thing in the center. There is only one thing that is supposed to shine through. There is only ONE thing that matters and that is Christ and Christ alone. Everything that encompasses this meal points to Christ and the reason he came, died and rose again. Each time we have communion we go through the story of salvation and the reason Christ came.

In our liturgy we retell who God is, who we are, why Christ came and what Christ did. Listen has Nancy goes through the liturgy tonight. Listen to the story being retold, so that we know what we are doing and that this is something that we need. When we retell the story, we proclaim Christ’s purpose to the world. We proclaim that Christ is Lord and that Christ came to earth and redeemed it through his love for us that was manifested by his death on the cross. Paul rebukes the Corinthians for not doing that. He wants them to “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” So when we partake in this holy meal, we proclaim the purpose that Christ came to earth. This meal gives us as Christians our fundamental identity and purpose as the Body of Christ.

Our identity as humans is a creature that craves to be with God once again. We need to be in the presence of our creator. Our purpose is to glorify God. We need to shout from the mountaintops that God gives us the love and the grace that is ever present in our lives. This sacrament is a place where that happens yet that is not an easy realization to make. It is even harder to then live out, because it means that we need help. We need help to proclaim Christ to the world because the world most of the time does not want to hear it. So we need strength, courage and patience. We need power, guidance and love to make that part of us. The good news is that this is all found here at this table. We have to remember over and over again why and its because it is not our table. That this is not University City’s Table, this is not even a United Methodist Table. This is the Lord’s Table and the grace that we receive from his death and resurrection is found here. At this table is where we find what we need to proclaim Christ’s death until he comes again. At this table is where we interact with Christ, just like the disciples did on that first meal.

It is interesting to look back at that first meal. Christ sets a family table and invites his family, the disciples, to join him. He asks them to come to a table so that he can prepare them for what is to come. He offers that night, the power, love, strength, courage and guidance they will need to deal with what comes tomorrow, they just don’t realize it and truth be told, we don’t realize it either when we come. That is that on that first Maundy Thursday Christ sat with sinners at that first meal. He sat with the one who would deny him. He sat with the one that would betray him. He sat with the ones that over and over again doubt what he would do the next day and wonder that age old question of ‘why’. You see, Christ sat with us!!!! Christ set the table for them, just as he sets the table for us tonight.

God meets us at this table and our lives are forever changed each time we approach it and partake in what is offered. All are welcomed. All can come, but who will go from it changed is up to you personally. God’s free gift is laid out before you. The gift is given this weekend and tonight we just have to be prepared to accept it. The Good News is that as we approach grace helps us, graces welcomes us and grace goes with us. The meal we receive tonight is what we NEED to go through this weekend. It holds the strength we need to watch our savior die tomorrow. It holds the courage we need to face what it means to be believers in this world. And it holds the joy we need to celebrate on Sunday. When Christ is at the center, this table holds everything we need.

So will you say you ain't gonna drink the blood of Christ? Will you put yourself in front? Or will you share in this sacrament and allow your life to be changed forever? The grace is here and it is exactly what we need, but the choice is yours? Amen

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