Come Together

A Maundy Thursday Meditation

April 1, 2010

Southminster Presbyterian Church

Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19

I love the LORD, because God has heard
my voice and my supplications.
Because God inclined his ear to me,
therefore I will call on the LORD as long as I live.

What shall I return to the LORD
for all his bounty to me?

I will lift up the cup of salvation
and call on the name of the LORD,
I will pay my vows to the LORD
in the presence of all his people.

Precious in the sight of the LORD
is the death of his faithful ones.

O LORD, I am your servant;
I am your servant, the child of your serving girl.
You have loosed my bonds.

I will offer to you a thanksgiving sacrifice
and call on the name of the LORD.

I will pay my vows to the LORD
in the presence of all God’s people,
in the courts of the house of the LORD,
in your midst, O Jerusalem.
Praise the LORD!

I Corinthians 11:17-29
Now in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse.
For, to begin with, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you; and to some extent I believe it.
Indeed, there have to be factions among you, for only so will it become clear who among you are genuine.
When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord’s supper.
For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk.
What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What should I say to you? Should I commend you? In this matter I do not commend you!
For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord.  Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup.
For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves.

This is the night where all of our theology and traditions and practices as a church come together. Where the rubber meets the road, as they say.

Because this is the night we lift up our praise of God as the psalmist tells us in the 116th psalm—“I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord. I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all God’s people. In the courts of the house of the Lord—in your midst, O Jerusalem—Praise the Lord!

And we are gathered in the presence of God’s people and we will gather around God’s Table—lifting up the cup of salvation—even as we remember that it was in the courts of the house of the Lord on this night, many many years ago, that Jesus was betrayed by one of his own, right after they had eaten a meal together around God’s Table.

What does it mean for us to call ourselves followers of Jesus, to try to be the Beloved Community, when we know that betrayal didn’t come from outside of the family, but from inside? It is easy to read the gospels and to think, “those evil Romans” or “those unfaithful Jewish leaders”, but we should remember that the ultimate betrayal was from one of his followers, from someone who loved him.

And Jesus knew it too. He knew that Judas would betray him, and yet he still ate dinner with him. And yet he still washed Judas’ feet. Listen to a portion of the text from John’s gospel that is assigned for tonight:

After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you?  You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am.
So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them.
If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

And not only did Jesus wash Judas’ feet, but he wants us to do the same.  Jesus washes the feet of the disciples to give us a model for how we should treat each other. With trust, with humility, with forgiveness, and ever mindful of the fact that we are called to act as Jesus did. In all we do. And to all people, even when they betray.

Needless to say, that is easier said than done.

But the fact that, on some days at least, the job seems impossible, doesn’t mean we aren’t still called to it.

Tonight is NOT the night to say, “getting along with each other is too difficult, so we’re not even going to try.”

This is the night to say, “if Jesus Christ, on the night he was betrayed, can love everyone in the room, than I will do my very best.”

Of course, it is sometimes easier to love the people in the room than to love those who are outside of this room. I look around at our nation and am saddened by the fracturing of our civic and political discourse. How did we get here? How can we get past it? How can we come together?

And so I think about Jesus, on the night he was betrayed—“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

If you were wondering what “Maundy” means, by the way, it is from this verse. It is from the Latin “mandatum”—This is my mandatum, my commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another.

The church in Corinth knew something about how hard it is to love one another as Christ loved us. When Paul writes to the church in Corinth, he is not happy with them. “Now in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse.

When they were coming together for the Lord’s Supper, it was a real meal. But not a communal meal. Everyone brought their own food. So one of you would have brought a peanut butter sandwich and someone else would have brought filet mignon. And their differences were dividing them, because communion became about personal satisfaction instead of living life abundantly in community. It was as if their own, private experience at the meal was all that mattered.

We can’t have life abundant and salvation if it is only for us and everyone else is going without. Life abundant is meant to be shared and to be passed around and to be given as freely to our neighbors as it has been given to us.

So Paul calls on them to remember—remember who they are and to remember whose they are. “Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took a loaf of bread…”

For Jewish communities, the act of remembering around a meal was a familiar act. The Passover dinner every year was a time to remember the great deliverance of God’s people at the Exodus—not to just remember that it happened, but to connect their lives to it today, to see their lives as Exodus lives now. We’ll experience that tomorrow night at our Seder dinner as we connect our lives to the story of God’s people being delivered from slavery in Egypt into freedom in the Promised Land.

Paul doesn’t call them to remember that Exodus. He calls them to remember another act of liberation. “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes”.  We are called to remember this Table not as something that happened a long time ago and far away, but as an event that we are a part of tonight, right now.

“This is my body, broken for you”.

Betrayal from within, arguments over meals, and dissension within the ranks—that is the setting for this, our Holiest of Sacraments.

It means that the Lord’s Meal is for people just like us—broken and breaking, wounded and wounding, loved and loving. But it also means that as we come together around this Table, we have to be aware. Paul told the Corinthians “Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup.”

So, friends, I invite us to examine ourselves, and to remember that if Jesus could love and serve everyone in the room, even the one who betrayed him, then surely God will help us do the same. And as we come together for communion tonight, we will be a sign for the world that coming together is possible.

We will be a sign for the world that we take seriously Christ’s commandment to love one another as he loved us. And with our lives, we will proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes again.

Hear again the words of the psalmist:

I love the LORD, because he has heard
my voice and my supplications.
Because he inclined his ear to me,
therefore I will call on him as long as I live.
What shall I return to the LORD for all his bounty to me?
I will lift up the cup of salvation
and call on the name of the LORD,
I will pay my vows to the LORD
in the presence of all his people.
O LORD, I am your servant;
I am your servant, the child of your serving girl.
You have loosed my bonds.
I will offer to you a thanksgiving sacrifice
and call on the name of the LORD.
I will pay my vows to the LORD
in the presence of all his people,
in the courts of the house of the LORD,
in your midst, O Jerusalem.
Praise the LORD!

Amen.

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