Thursday, March 28, 2013

Proclaiming the Lord's Death

Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, Moorhead, MN
Maundy Thursday—March 28, 2013
I Corinthians 11:23-26

In the name of Jesus.   Amen.

Welcome to worship!  I’m really glad you’re here—because today you will be giving the sermon!

What was that?   You’re saying:   “I’m giving the sermon??”

“Well, that’s a fine how-do-you-do!   I didn’t show up here today to be put on the spot.   I came to sit in the pew, sing the hymns, pray the prayers, and hear God’s Word.”

“I didn’t come here to preach,” you’re probably thinking.

Except that today you WILL be delivering the sermon.  You may not have picked out a text, drafted an outline, found any illustrations or practiced your delivery.

But—not to worry!  The text is one you know.   The outline is provided.   A powerful illustration is already here.   And most of you have practiced this sermon so often that you can probably give it in your sleep.

You will be preaching the sermon this afternoon/evening.

In a few moments you’ll step forward with your fellow worshipers, hold out your hands, receive some bread and wine, consume this Meal, and hear how all of this is “for you.”

And that will be your sermon…”for as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes…”

That sentence is so simple, so stark—and for good reason. The Apostle Paul needed to do an intervention with the Christians living in Corinth.  Paul had to get their attention fast and re-orient them to the power and purpose of  the Lord’s Supper.

The Corinthians, you see, had forgotten what the Lord’s Supper was all about.   Back in their day, when the Supper was still a real meal, the Corinthian Christians came together to eat real bread--lots of it--and to drink even more real wine.

Except that they didn’t really “come together.”  

The Corinthian church around 50 A.D. was a “house divided.”    They had well-to-do members, the poorest of the poor, and everyone in between.

The rich folks got off work early and started partying with the other rich Corinthians.  Only later did the poorer members arrive—the ones who had to work a full day and punch a time clock.

So the Lord’s Supper, which was meant to draw Christians together, instead became a point of dissension in the Corinthian church.  The social and economic divisions that ordered daily life spilled over into the community of Christ.  

It got so bad that some Christians were getting filled up and drunk, leaving little food for the ones who arrived later.   “This is not the Lord’s Supper,” Paul solemnly warned them.

So here in our Second Reading Paul re-orients, re-educates the Corinthians about what they were actually doing when they come together for the Lord’s Supper.   

The Corinthians were proclaiming something by how they celebrated the Supper—but it was the wrong sermon.   They drew attention to who’s well-off and who’s not, to the social divisions that separated them from one another.

The Corinthians had to re-learn that this wasn’t their supper, it was the Lord’s Supper.  It was about the death of Jesus Christ for their sins and the sins of the whole world.    Believers stand on level ground at the foot of the Cross and at the communion table—preaching one unifying Word, “proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes.”

What about us?  Thank God, we don’t turn the Lord’s Supper into a time of carousing or a game of one-upmanship  the way the Corinthians did!  We take this Supper far more seriously, don’t we?

But is “taking it seriously” perhaps merely another way to drain this Supper of its profound meaning and power?   Have we domesticated this meal, reducing it to the barest of acts that sometimes feels like a tack-on, a” liturgical lean-to “that (we hope!)  won’t make the worship service exceed the sacred sixty minutes?

My dear friends, whether we treat this Supper too frivolously or too seriously, we’re always in danger of losing the profound significance and power of this Meal.    Therefore we never outgrow our need to ask ourselves what it means to “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes?”

It means this:  coming to the Lord’s Supper  is the biggest deal of your life.  All the ways we fritter our days away can’t hold a candle to what happens here, in the sharing of the bread and the wine, the Body and the Blood of our Savior.

Indeed, every single time we approach this Meal we preach a powerful sermon….the sermon you will in fact preach in just a few minutes.

It’s a sermon, first, about our hunger and thirst, our fears and our doubts, our insufficiency and bankruptcy.   As often as we eat this bread and drink this wine we proclaim that without it—without Christ—our lives aren’t worth a plug nickel.  We’re starving for this Food!   There is something about us that only the death of Jesus can fix.

But what if we don’t always feel this hunger?  When that happens Martin Luther suggested, “First put your hand in your bosom and ask whether you are still made of flesh and blood.  Then look about you and see whether you are still in the world…and finally, if you cannot yet feel the need therefore at least believe the scriptures…for they will not lie to you…. Listen to Paul when he cries out:  ‘I know that nothing good dwells with me, that is in my flesh.’”

We preach a sermon here about our hunger for God.  That’s why the proper posture at the Table is with hands outstretched and open.

Second, we preach a sermon here about God’s nearness, God’s actual presence here in the Supper.   This is where God de-cloaks, where God shows up, where God  draws so near to us that we take God into our bodies, and thus become the body of Christ.  

Whenever we “proclaim the death of Christ until he comes,” we proclaim the amazing nearness, the inside-of-us-ness of God in Jesus Christ--whenever we eat the bread and drink the cup.

Third, we proclaim our interdependence.   “Independence” or autonomy are not Christian virtues.  That’s why, properly speaking, the Lord’s Supper is something you cannot do for yourself.  It takes a bare minimum of two Christians, always, to celebrate this sacrament.

Here at the altar, unlike so many other places we inhabit, there is no “first class” seating area for big contributors or heroic deed-doers.  Those with masters degrees line up with 8th grade graduates, those who wear denim rub elbows with those who wear 3-piece suits, those who pay-their-own way kneel with those who never make ends meet.

We’re all here because we all received the same invitation.   We’re all present and accounted for because Jesus’ last will and testament names us ALL as his heirs, beneficiaries of his goodness.

Fourth,  we proclaim that this Meal changes us.   After going to Holy Communion we can never return to “business as usual.”   This is the meal of God’s New Covenant, God’s New Creation, God’s Reign among us.  

If you just want to stay the same as you are, this Meal probably isn’t for you.   Because eating this bread and drinking this wine will not leave you unscathed.

By partaking of this Supper you lean into God’s gentle and glorious rule in Christ the crucified and risen one.    This meal gives you the gumption to start living now as if the Kingdom of God were already here, among us.   Eating this food makes you long for peace, pine for justice, and turn in compassionate ways toward your neighbors and this good creation.

….which brings us to the fifth thing we proclaim here:   we proclaim our hope.   “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”  That is to say:  until Christ returns to bring to fruition all that God is up to.    In this Meal we proclaim that we have a God who plays for keeps and who will finish the good thing he has begun in us.

This meal is God’s “earnest money,” God’s downpayment on the New Creation.  We proclaim that God’s going to finish what God has started--of that we can be certain.

“For as often as you eat this bread and drink the wine you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”   That’s all you need—your text, your outline, your illustration, your sermon.

I need to shut up now.   It’s time for YOU to preach.

In the name of Jesus.   Amen.    

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