Sermon by Torin Eikler followed by
Communion Service (For All Who Minister Communion Service 4, adapted)
Isaiah 55:1-5 I Corinthians 11:17-22,27-29, 33
Some years ago, a study was done that looked at what was important to several North American denominations by examining their worships over time. In each case the authors were able to pull out one or two things that were. For Roman Catholics the central feature was communion. For Lutherans it was the sermon. For Mennonites and Brethren it was singing and sharing joys and concerns for prayer. These were the rituals that were always present and without which, it seemed, a gathering of believers would not be considered worship.
I think that the study was flawed because of a narrow definition of worship.
Brethren and Mennonites love to sing … and are good at it. And, after four years of planning both “traditional” and “unusual” worships here, I can say with certainty that Carrie and I only leave sharing prayer requests out with fear and trembling. But worship is more than all those things that we associate with Sunday morning. Worship is anything that takes us into the presence of God – anything that bring us into the Realm of God more fully. And there is something else that does that – something that has been part of the Christian community since its beginnings - something that we learned from the example of Jesus and that this church does very well. We eat. We love a good pot luck or picnicking together, and for some of us (raise hand sheepishly) those times around the table may well be more important than the sermon or the prayer or even the singing we do in church.
Surprising? … maybe, … but I don’t think so. Embarrassing? … perhaps, but it shouldn’t be. Sitting at the table with the people we love and care about has been a central practice in the lives of people for thousands of years. How many of us have happy memories of Sunday dinners or birthday meals or gathering with grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles around the table to celebrate Thanksgiving? For many people, that particular holiday is more significant than all the others put together and it crosses the boundaries that make Christmas, Hannukah, or Ramedan greetings so contentious.
Sitting down to eat together is a huge part of our national mythology, holding us together in the face of so many forces pulling us apart. And, it’s not just about eating. The table is a place where we feed the relationships that connect us. It’s a place where we open up to one another, tell the stories that make us who we are, and talk about what’s important in our lives.
In the last few decades we have lost some of that value. Three fourths families still report sitting down to eat together most of the time, but 70% of them have the TV on or regularly use phones to talk, text, or update Facebook pages. But that image of the family around the table is a big part of our cultural mythology. It’s in magazine and television ads. It’s in many of our books. And you’ll find peaple sitting down to dinner in many of our most popular movies (at least the ones that aren’t thrillers or adventure stories). One of my favorite examples is “Big Night” because it shows just how much power the table has for bringing people together across all sorts of boundaries.
The movie takes place in the 1950s – the same era as “Leave it to Beaver” and “The Donna Reid Show.” Two Italian brothers, Primo and Secundo, have set up a restaurant where they serve authentic and … unfortunately … unpopular Italian food. In a last bid to make the venture a success, they throw a banquet party which Jazz and Big Band star Louis Prima is invited. Their hope is that by impressing Prima they will get on the map, but it wouldn’t be very impressive to have an empty restaurant when the singer arrives.
So, the brothers invite all sorts of people: the owner of the successful Italian restaurant down the street, the neighborhood florist, the “booze guy,” their grocer, the barber, and even a car salesman that Secundo met walking around on the big day. As the evening approaches, the brothers work feverously to get the meal ready, pulling out all the stops. And it is a meal to remember: six courses (at least), including roast fish, pasta, risotto, a roasted suckling pig, and timpano (a secret family recipe filled with “everything that is good”).
The guests gather over drinks and appetizers, greeting the others they know while the music of Louis Prima plays in the background, but the singer doesn’t arrive. Eventually, they sit down and begin the feast without him, and in the midst of the eating and drinking, they get to know each other. Stories are traded over the food. People dance between courses. And by the end of the evening, Italians, Irish, and Americans; successful and struggling, older and younger – the guest leave, obviously reluctant to say goodbye to the sense of community they have built.
If there’s anything that sounds like the banquet table of the King, that’s it – a place where strangers become friends and friends become brothers and sisters as they share in the richness and the power of the grace and the mercy … and the love of Christ.
And yet, it doesn’t always work out that way. There are times when meals become times of sorrow and brokenness. When people bring their frustrations, their anger, or their hatred to the table and use them to dig trenches between themselves and others. Worse yet, they take advantage of the openness and vulnerability that is so often shown and strike out to wound – deeply and painfully wound – those who would offer them love.
That is what Paul was warning the Corinthians about in his letter. They were ignoring the needs of their sisters and brothers in their selfish indulgence. Eating whenever they felt like it. Drinking too much. Letting others go hungry to sate their own desires for more.
That kind of perversion of the communal table makes a joke of the Lord’s banquet and turns its blessings of unity into sins of cruelty and division. Those who eat and drink in that way turn away from the grace they have been offered. They eat and drink judgment against themselves.
That’s not us. When we sit down together we use the time to reconnect with one another. For some of us, it the only time we talk to our brothers and sisters which is a little bit sad. Still, when I look around at a potluck – in those rare moments when Sebastian and Alistair are occupied – I see people talking and laughing together with a real sense of community and joy. I see a holy space where people share their lives and themselves with each other, finding food for their spirits that is just as important as the food that sustains their bodies.
That is making of the table a place where grace and healing give birth to a deep and rich community of the Spirit and that is worship. That is living into being a part of the Realm of God. It’s just a hint of the richness that is to come … and we enjoy it every time we sit down together with this community of faith that has become of family.
That is what the church is called to be and to do. That is the community of the body of Christ living as sisters and brothers.
We do that … and in those moments, we are gifted with a foretaste of the Kingdom of God.
Hallelujah … AMEN!
We will be singing each of the three verses of “Let us break bread together” at different times during communion this morning. And so I invite you to open your hymnals to #453 as we prepare to celebrate this meal made holy by the rich blessings of God’s love.
The ordinance of communion symbolizes our unity as the body of Christ. It unites each of us in a common bond with each other and with other believers around the world. Just as many grains of wheat and many grapes come together to form one loaf and one cup, so too the people of God, coming from many places and backgrounds, are made into one community in Christ.
Bread: a common, mundane part of everyday life. Yet, it was in the breaking of bread that the risen Christ often revealed himself. On the last night he spent with his followers, Jesus gave them a powerful symbol of his presence. He made special that which was commonplace and ordinary by taking bread, and, as he had done so often before, he blessed, broke, and gave it to them. Then he said, “Take and eat, for this is my body which is given for you.”
(Sing first verse of “let us break bread together” as the bread is distributed.)
Let us pray …
As we take this bread into our bodies, O God, may we take the bread of Christ’s healing and empowering presence into our own lives and extend it to those we meet each day. AMEN.
As we prepare to share in this symbol of unity, let us speak together the words printed in our bulletins - “The bread which we break is the communion of the body of Christ.”
Fruit of the vine: a standard beverage in ancient Israel. Jesus’ first miracle, turning water into wine at Cana, showed the abundance of God’s blessing. That last night, he once again turned something mundane into something holy as he took the cup, gave thanks, and announced to the disciples, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Drink from it, all of you.”
(Sing second verse of “let us break bread together” as the cups are distributed.)
Let us pray …
As we remember the new covenant you established through Christ, O God, may we be renewed in mind, body, and spirit in order to live out of the promise and power you give to all your disciples. AMEN.
As we prepare to share in this symbol of unity, let us speak together the words printed in our bulletins - “The cup which we bless is the communion of the blood of Christ.”
Drink the cup.
Will you pray with me ….
We give thanks, O God, for gathering us together around this holy meal. May the power and presence of Christ be revealed in the community we share just as it is in our thoughts, words, and deeds as we strive to serve both you and our neighbors. In the coming days, bring the example of Christ to life within us and fill us with your Holy Spirit, now and evermore. AMEN.
As we leave this space made holy by our sharing, let praise God for the gift of community born around the table, singing together the final verse of our communion hymn.
(Sing verse three of “Let us break bread together”)
Go in peace.