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Encounter God and Commune – A sermon for Holy Thursday

Encounter God and Commune
Exodus 24:3-11

† I.H.S.†

May the grace of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ convince you of the feasts to come, and that you will dwell in peace until those days are here.

74 out of 2.4 Million

It struck me, as I was starting to write this sermon tonight, that while 74 of the leaders of Israel communed with God that night, it was 74 out of 2.4 million people camped there at Mount Sinai.

Those their share in the covenant meal, on behalf of those who were below.

I have to wonder if those gathered in the presence of God, eating and drinking, were aware of those who were not there with them? Did it affect their mood?

What about for the apostles in the upper that night, some 1990 years ago.  Did some think of who they wished were there?

This is getting me to think of all those I wish could be here, when things are normal, and who are not.

Some of those people are far away, in places like New Hampshire, or Sicily, or Michigan.

Others are in heaven, friends, and family who rest in God’s peace.

Some have moved on to other places, other churches.

Some, sadly to say, are struggling with sin, and are losing. Or they don’t know God loves them, and are not ready to listen to that news… quite yet.

There are a lot of people that I wish could be here… and yet, there is just a handful.

Let’s look back to the feast in Exodus, for there, we will find peace, and hope – that is a vision for the future.

But look at the feast – and what didn’t happen.

I want to read one verse again, listen to it well,
1`11  And though these nobles of Israel gazed upon God, he did not destroy them. In fact, they ate a covenant meal, eating and drinking in his presence!

I love this picture!

There they are – in a room blazing with brilliance, the glory of God reflecting off of everything. A light that only God’s holiness could create! Looking at God – gazing at him!  They mouths dropped open, then eyes bugged out wide,
Despite the fact they were sinners, they were welcomed into God’s presence, so welcome they were fed a meal guaranteeing the relationship with God – for that is what a covenant meal is – that is what communion is, a meal to celebrate the relationship. It is given as a guarantee of it.

Eating and drinking in the presence of God.

With no fear of His wrath, with no hint of wrath or even disappointment on the part of God.

This is a little picture of a more substantial feast to come.

As is this covenant feast at this altar tonight.

This isn’t the feast we long for, it just helps our desire for that feast.

Just as that feast in Exodus, pointed to this- yet, even more, pointed to the feast when we all arrive before the throne.

Knowing that we can share in the suffering…

While we cannot share in the feast together this evening, there is another way we can commune, something else that we are sharing in….

When Jesus asks the apostles to wait and pray with Him when he faced suffering.

We need to realize He was doing that for those disciples and for you and me.

It is the tears that Romans describes us sharing in together; as one cries, we all dry, and when we laugh, we share in that as well. This is what He invited the apostles to

We surely share in this, and as we do, as we find a bittersweet communion.  Bitter because what we are going through is hard, it requires us to forgo one of the usual ways God strengthens and nourishes our faith, and reminds us we are His family, that we are one.

And yet to realize how much we miss it, has an oddly similar effect, as we long to share in the feast that will eventually take place.

Desire the Feast – and yes, the feasts to come.

The feast that is yet to come, the feast of the bread and wine, the feast of being welcome home into not only Jesus’ presence but the presence of the Father.

Not just a small percentage, but the entire people of God, Old Testament and New, Jesus and Gentile, the entire one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, united in Jesus Christ.

This is our hope, our expectation, and nothing can separate us from it, for we cannot be separated from our God.  AMEN!

 

Communion of a Different Sort

church at communion 2Devotional Thought of the Day:
36  Then Jesus went with them to the olive grove called Gethsemane, and he said, “Sit here while I go over there to pray.”37  He took Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, James and John, and he became anguished and distressed. 38  He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”
Matthew 26:36-38 (NLT2)

Therefore, when I suffer, I do not suffer alone, but Christ and all Christians suffer with me, for Christ says, “He who touches you, touches the apple of my eye” [Zech. 2:8]. Thus others bear my burden, and their strength is my strength. The faith of the church comes to the aid of my fearfulness; the chastity of others endures the temptation of my flesh; the fastings of others are my gain; the prayer of another pleads for me. In brief, such care do the members show one another that the more honorable members cover, serve, and honor the less respected members, as is so beautifully set forth in 1 Corinthians 12 [:22–26]

When I was 8 years old, a family friend who was a priest asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up, and specifically why.

I’ve been doing that now for over twenty years,

Well, sort of.

I told him I wanted to be a priest, and I am a pastor. Most people would say that is close enough, others might argue differently. But I specifically said, even though I didn’t understand why, that what I wanted to do was commune them, to give them Jesus,

And this evening, on the night of the feast where we would normally celebrate the first Lord’s Supper, it cannot be done for most of “my” people.

I know that some of them will cry because they cannot be here. I know it will wipe me out. I know other pastors who are struggling with this, too, as some simply will go without, and others will try to be innovative. I cannot and will not blame or crucify any of them. Simply put, a pastor is put into the life of people to reveal to them Jesus in their life by explaining the word of God and providing for them the sacraments they need.

Yes, I said, need!

People who are dealing with brokenness, sin, health issues, doubts, anxieties, and fears all need to know God is with them, loves them, will sustain them.

And just as our people need them, pastors have ot find a way to care for their people.

Even in these unmet needs, we find another kind of communion, a sharing in the suffering. For when one hurts, we all hurt.  When one weeps, all do. And there will be a day when we all laugh, and dance and sing, and shout amen.

Until that time, when joy runs amuck, we share, we have a communion based in suffering, but a communion where Jesus still gives us Himself, His body broken and His blood shed, for us. This is the hardest communion, it is the sharing in the dark night of the soul, Yet, it is a journey we never take alone. Jesus is with us, even as He endured his dark night alone, He assures us we will never be alone in these times.

As we share in it, may we know the promise of life, the promise of everything being made new…

And may e know He is with us…

AMEN!

( P.S., please pray for all pastors and priests – this weekend may be one the hardest in our ministries, as we try to do…what we really cannot.)

Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 42: Devotional Writings I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 42 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 161–162.

Jesus gave thanks…and broke…

Devotional Thought of the Day:

“Give us this day, the food We need…”

39      I see myself like a poor little bird, accustomed only to making short flights from tree to tree, or, at most, up to a third floor balcony… One day in its life it succeeded in reaching the roof of a modest building, that you could hardly call a skyscraper. But suddenly our little bird is snatched up by an eagle, who mistakes the bird for one of its own brood. In its powerful talons the bird is borne higher and higher, above the mountains of the earth and the snow capped peaks, above the white, blue and rose pink clouds, and higher and higher until it can look right into the sun. And then the eagle lets go of the little bird and says: Off you go. Fly! Lord, may I never flutter again close to the ground. May I always be enlightened by the rays of the divine sun—Christ—in the Eucharist. May my flight never be interrupted until I find repose in your Heart.

As I have been contemplating the idea of Jesus praying His prayer, and our being able to listen in to the Father hearing, and answering, I arrive at the prayer and promise for God to provide all we need.

Oddly enough, it arrives on the same day we celebrate the same Jesus, reclining at the table with his disciples, taking bread, giving thanks, and giving his disciples His body and blood, the bread and wine.

Luther would talk of this section of the Lord’s prayer being the faith which asks God to provide not only the bread, but all things necessary to life, and more.  While we don’t picture Jesus being weak, being dependent, that was what He became, for our sake.  He needed to eat, and He needed to pray to the Father.

Jesus needed to depend on Him, especially during Holy Week.  Imagine eating with friends, knowing that they would desert you.  Imagine that two would betray you, one to your death, one in your time of need.  Imagine knowing better than anyone the sacrifice the bread and wine foretold, even as we proclaim that same death now, as we commune.  Jesus trusted the Father, and knew His prayers would be answered.  We too can pray with Him, knowing this.  Even when, especially when we bear our own crosses.

All we need, God provides.

In praying with Jesus, we are the little sparrow of St. Josemaria, caught up with the eagle,   We learn to trust in our heavenly Father, we learn to lay all we need at His feet, we learn to trust in Him for the bread, not just of earth, but the Body and Blood of Christ, what the ancients called the bread of angels. How great how incredible, how uplifting.

At the cross, where His body is broken… His blood shed.

When Jesus trusts in the Father to provide all He needs, all we need…..

He took the bread, and gave thanks…

Amen!

(1)   Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 366-374). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Laity, Liturgy and Worship, Spectators or Participants? A vision for traditional and contemporary facilitators

Devotional/Discussion THought of the day:
23 Jesus replied, “Now the time has come for the Son of Man* to enter into his glory. 24 I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives. 25 Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity. 26 Anyone who wants to be my disciple must follow me, because my servants must be where I am. And the Father will honor anyone who serves me.27 “Now my soul is deeply troubled. Should I pray, ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But this is the very reason I came! 28 Father, bring glory to your name.”   John 12:23-27

We cannot, then, simply be present at a liturgical rite as spectators.… we must become, to an extent, the actors in it. We must therefore see ourselves sitting at table at the Last Supper, standing along the Via Crucis lightning-struck at the mystery of the risen Jesus’ appearances … In any believer who participates in the liturgy there is no sense of remoteness or of being on the outside. Consequently in celebrating the paschal mystery the believer is taken into and overcome by the dramatic power of the ‘hour’ of Christ, ‘my hour’ as he called it (see Jn 2:4, 12:23, 17:1 etc.) (DL 1982: 173).[i]

As I was doing my sermon preparation reseatch yesterday, I came across the quote above in blue.   It struck me pretty powerfully, especially as I compare it to some liturgy and worship I saw this summerFor those unfamiliar with church lingo,  let me define the first three words in our title.

  • Laity – those who aren’t ordained, commission as pastors, priests, deacons, ministers, etc..  In other words, normal people like you….
  • Liturgy – the order to a church service. Sometimes called a worship service or a mass
  • Worship – our response to God’s love, most often thought of as when the church gathers.

Those words in blue struck me, they resonate with me, because that is how I think we need to engage in liturgy and worship – but even more, how we need to facilitate our people’s engaging in liturgy and worship.

Whether it is a song, or the readings or the sermon, it has to be something that engages them, body ad soul and mind.   That heightens their awareness that we – the congregation, is in the presence of God.  That the leaders aren’t doing worship for the rest of the folk to observe,  (which can happen with choirs and praise teams both) that we are praying with the pastor/prayer leaders, that we are bring invited to dine with God….   That this 60-75 minutes is bringing us into the passion and presence of Christ, as much as if we were in the upper room, as much as if we stood at the foot of the cross, as much as if we were on the mountain as He commissions us all to disciple others, baptizing them and teaching them to treasure and guard the revealtion of God that gives them life.

We are part of the drama, the dialogue, and being part of it transforms us.

But this isnt’ easy to do, it takes thought and preparation and consciously avoiding just going through the motions, and most of all…prayer and dependance on God.   Wlaking with Him, being in awe of Him, knowing His presence and longing to see those who’ve come connected to Him.  It can be done by Catholics and Baptists, Non-Denoms and high church Anglicans, Pentacostals and even Lutherans.  In can be done in majestic basillicas, and humble chapels.  In crowds of 10,000, and 5 people at the beach, or in a park.  Rich, poor, whatever class or level of education, whatever ethnic or langauge or music style…. can do this.

It’s about seeing Jesus, lifted up on the cross – drawing us all to Him – for that is what this is all about…

Not just about the forgiveness of sins…
Not just about healing our brokenness..
not just about eternal life in paradise…

It’s about walking with Him.

Not just the pastor, or the music minister, or the praise team…

All of us… with Him.

AMEN


DL Documents on the Liturgy 1963–1979 (1982) Collegeville: The Liturgical Press.

[i] Torevell, D. (2004). Losing the Sacred: Ritual, Modernity, and Liturgical Reform (pp. 170–171). London;  New York: T&T Clark.

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