Let me go over with you again exactly what goes on in the Lord’s Supper and why it is so centrally important. I received my instructions from the Master himself and passed them on to you. The Master, Jesus, on the night of his betrayal, took bread. Having given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, broken for you. Do this to remember me.” After supper, he did the same thing with the cup: “This cup is my blood, my new covenant with you. Each time you drink this cup, remember me.” What you must solemnly realize is that every time you eat this bread and every time you drink this cup, you reenact in your words and actions the death of the Master. You will be drawn back to this meal again and again until the Master returns. You must never let familiarity breed contempt. Anyone who eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Master irreverently is like part of the crowd that jeered and spit on him at his death. Is that the kind of “remembrance” you want to be part of? Examine your motives, test your heart, come to this meal in holy awe. If you give no thought (or worse, don’t care) about the broken body of the Master when you eat and drink, you’re running the risk of serious consequences. That’s why so many of you even now are listless and sick, and others have gone to an early grave. If we get this straight now, we won’t have to be straightened out later on. Better to be confronted by the Master now than to face a fiery confrontation later. So, my friends, when you come together to the Lord’s Table, be reverent and courteous with one another. If you’re so hungry that you can’t wait to be served, go home and get a sandwich. But by no means risk turning this Meal into an eating and drinking binge or a family squabble. It is a spiritual meal—a love feast. – 1 Corinthians 11: 23-33
The writer of First Corinthians asks questions of examination:
When do we approach the Lord’s Table irreverently, or in an unworthy manner?
When are our hearts not full of peace but instead the “familiarity” of a world and way of life that so often is not of the Way of Jesus?
When is our hungry physical and not spiritual?
These are important questions. These are faith questions. And these are the questions we are confronted with on this Holy Thursday and Good Friday.
We know the story well. Jesus gathers his disciples, his friends in an upper room. And there he engages with them in a final meal.
The next day he will be betrayed. His betrayer is at the Table.
The next day he will be denied. His denier is at the Table.
The next day his disciples, his friends will not be able to handle his arrest, torture and murder in a gruesome and grotesque way. And so they temporarily free. Those who flee are at the Table.
Jesus seems to know all this and as we listen in on the biblical story of this sacred meal, knowing all that we know, the question comes to many of us, “Why is he so calm, so serene?” Because we know we could not behave in that way if we knew what the next day would bring.
As we sit this Holy Week with the ancient, sacred story – we also sit with the story of today:
On Palm Sunday this year Coptic Christians were killed, maimed, burned and traumatized in bomb blasts in their sanctuaries while they worshipped. Last week children and adults in Syria were attacked with sarin gas and parents cried out in an aching pain that will never be fully addressed. In this week of the Jewish Passover there was a public attempt to erase the full truth of the history of the Holocaust. A doctor was dragged off an airplane because it was overbooked, and then later mocked in the press because of some past mistakes (whom among us have not made mistakes), something that would probably never have happened if he was white. Another shooting in a school this week with the twin evils of the death of innocent children and domestic violence. Missiles shot in the air and news that some of the most beautiful parts of God’s Creation have been bleached and killed. And on Holy Thursday the use of one of the largest bombs in military history – just a step away from a nuclear bomb.
Are we worthy to gather at God’s Table of abundance?
Are our hearts full of the “familiarity” of a violent world that by its actions mocks the Way of Jesus?
When have we been the one who betrays Jesus, who flees from his words and teachings, or who simply fades into the background because the present reality is too overwhelming to handle?
When Jesus is ambushed in the Garden and Peter tries to defend him, Jesus says “put down your sword.” One of the strongest theological interpretations of this passage that I know of comes from Roman Catholic priest Rev. John Dear. It is a challenging piece of writing and I invite you to meditate on it this Good Friday. There is nothing easy in the teachings of Jesus.
The Way of the Cross is at the heart of our faith. Where are we called to go to let go of the violence that lives in our hearts, our communities, our world, even in our churches? What cross are we called to let go of and what cross are we called to pick up? How can we, after standing witness to the terribleness and trauma of this past week, have the courage to celebrate the Resurrection again in a few short days?
Image: Ethiopian Leather Painting Handpainted Art, Coptic Icon, artist unknown.
Rev. Shannan Vance-Ocampo is the Transitional Presbyter for Albany Presbytery. She’s fascinated by the ever-changing landscape of culture and faith communities and how these changes are pointing us to new ways of living into God’s ongoing gift of resurrection. She can be reached at [email protected].
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