A Meal for the Living
1 Corinthians 11:23-26, John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Throughout the season of Lent at Community UCC we have challenged ourselves to consider seriously that Jesus was truly human. I call it a challenge because the church today is swimming in hymns and prayers and anthems to the divine Jesus, who died to earn forgiveness for our sins, and satisfy a deeply offended and dangerous God.
There is no specific requirement to accept that God demanded Jesus be tortured and executed to appease the anger of God at humanity’s sinfulness. There is no gospel passage that says it can only be seen this way. I also do not think we need to believe only the divinity of God could accept such suffering. Plenty of ordinary people suffer.
Throughout history, and even in the world today, people who are full of compassion and love for the world, are at odds with the structures of organizations and the governments of the world. We have noted that even the Dalai Lama, the most widely recognized holy man of our own day, lives in exile from his native Tibet. He is a refugee from the occupying government of China. All of us who play by the rules of compassion and love in action are subject to being misunderstood, mistrusted, and liable to held in violation of some law designed to protect the status quo.
Jesus, as the human representative of God’s love in action, then is an example of living in two worlds at one time. Jesus lived in the occupied land of Israel in his day, and the Kingdom of God. He fit the stereotype of a political radical, that threatened the precarious balance of power that ruled Jerusalem. All organizations have a structured violent response to stereotypical threats.
Any time you or I choose not to conform to the values of the ruling authority in any state or nation, we are subject to being regarded as dangerous. Throughout the history of the western world, which is the history I know best, whenever the religious community has a vested interest in the dominant political authority, there is sure to be violence that determines who is in, and who is out. The closer the relationship between religion and political power, the more intense and overt is the violence.
It is hard to live as a peace-maker in a world dominated by the military industrial complex. The ‘powers that be’ are suspicious of those who are continually speaking up for the poor and the needy. Those who would try to protect any of those who are different; in language, dress, race, creed, sexual orientation, or speak up for equality, are often suspected of fitting the stereotype of a radical. Once labeled, it is hard to prove your innocence. Just like the God of love was labelled as too pure for sinful humans, and required a “perfect sacrifice,” labels obscure the truth.
We gather tonight and recall the Last Supper of Jesus with his disciples. It is the eve of the Jewish Passover, when the Jews recall how God released them from their lives as slaves to Pharaoh, and created the awareness of their identity as a people of God. They had a religious awakening in an oppressive political climate. But we know well how the oppressed absorb the lessons taught by the oppressors. Nothing is so easy to imitate as self-promotion protected by ruthless aggression.
I invite you to consider tonight that Jesus was not dying once and for all to forgive our private little sins before a ruthless and violent God. Jesus, the anointed of God, demonstrates that God knows that when we are asked to live in righteous defense of peace and justice; those who love power on earth will over react. God knows that the cost of defending the poor and the weak will draw the ire of the ‘establishment’ in any age and any culture.
Jesus then calls us to the table, to share in God’s blessing. Bread and wine steel our conviction to live with peaceful determination in the face of violence. Jesus walks with every soul who has ever suffered unjustly, faced corrupt and violent oppression, and promises the victory of resurrection.
It is true, we face institutional violence, because the world is addicted to violence. Organizational structures believe in violence, because it works for their short term goals. Like a CEO and Board of Directors fixated on the next quarters profits, they cannot trust in the values of the long-haul, let alone eternity.
The events in Jerusalem then, are not an aberration in political systems, a system manipulated in order to support a divine plan for human salvation. Instead, these are human systems, manipulated by the powerful, just as they always do, to protect the status quo. Jesus then, demonstrates how God goes with every person falsely accused, every person humiliated in the name of preserving the human institution that feels threatened.
But you and I know. We know the rest of the story. Jesus was captured by the Temple guards under the cover of night. Jesus was transferred to the control of the occupying Roman authority, who routinely used violence to quell insurrection. And the God of forever, responded - by demonstrating the resurrection.
In the Eastern or Orthodox Christian communities, resurrection is celebrated for its communal values. It is not only that Jesus was raised, but the resurrected Jesus then defeated the gatekeeper of Hades, the place of death, and shared the resurrection with all of the righteous of God. The gates of Hades swung open for all those who love God and God’s righteousness. And we know this through our beloved Jesus, who shows us that God is love, and not an ego-maniac tyrant, easily offended, and blood thirsty.
So we gather tonight, and celebrate communion. We are in communion with each other, honoring and strengthening all of the good that I do, and you do, and we do together. We celebrate this open table, a place of welcome - where strangers are invited to partake, and so be strengthened for the challenges of a violent world. Participation in this sacrament, is not reserved for the members, not reserved for those who have been saved, it is not even reserved for those who know they have been forgiven.
In this same passage from John’s gospel, in verses 27 to 30, Jesus explains he will be betrayed by one of his own. In the commotion of the defensive reaction of the disciples, Jesus tells Judas to do what he has to do. And there, in that decisive moment, before he goes out of the door, Jesus gives communion to this child of God that he loves, even as the betrayal is taking place.
Come to the table and know for sure, God as expressed in Jesus the Christ, loves you so much that no sin can keep you away from God’s love. Don’t you see, God IS LOVE. Not even Judas, in the moment of betrayal is outside of this inclusive love. Nothing will ever stop God from loving you. Nothing will ever stop God from loving you. Nothing will ever stop God from loving you.
This is a meal for the living. We eat in order to gain strength of body, mind and spirit. We eat because there is work to do for the church, which is the body of Christ alive today. We gather our strength because the world still prefers the status quo to justice, and that status quo is defended with violence, like it was, and is now, and only love can change it.
Just as Jesus served communion to his disciples, we serve each other. It has nothing to do with whether or not we deserve it. It is not about what you have done, or even what you will do; it is who you are, a beloved child of God. Amen.