Sermon: Family Meals
Scripture: Acts 2:42
Date: October 7, 2018
One of the inevitable consequences of getting older is that at some point your family begins to shrink, and so memories play more and more of a role in keeping the family alive. And I have become aware that a lot of my memories of family revolve around the dinner table. When I think about my grandparents for instance, I often remember us all around the dinner table, and how every summer my parents and brothers and I, no matter where we were living at the time, would pile into the car and make the long drive to Denver to see my grandparents and spend time in the mountains. And how after a couple of days in the car together we would arrive just in time to eat a meal which would always consist of a pot full of Nana’s “famous” chicken and noodles. And we would sit down at my grandparents huge dining room table and pass the chicken and noodles and one by one we would fill each other in on all that had happened since we last saw each other. The memory of those times around the table somehow have frozen those summer trips and my grandparents in my mind forever. When my grandmother passed, my mother inherited the old wooden roller which she used to roll out the noodles for those family meals and my mother became the one who was now mostly responsible for our family times together. Especially at the holidays. Thanksgiving was, I think, the most important day of the year for my mom. She worked for days to make sure that Thanksgiving dinner was perfect. And if any of us dared to even think about missing it, we would experience the mostly silent wrath of Mom. So many family memories are centered in those meals. And it was often around the meal table when all the family was gathered that we would share all the important moments of our lives with one another – engagements, babies on the way, among other things. I remember so well the Thanksgiving when my brother came back from being estranged from the family for a couple of years and found reconciliation at the Thanksgiving table.
And though my parents are gone now, when those of us who are left, gather for Thanksgiving meal in a few weeks, in my mind there will be a place at the table reserved for my Mom and Dad, because there are so many wonderful memories of family associated with meals.
When we break the bread together, we remember family times. For as long as I can remember, the dinner table has been at the center of our family gatherings.
I suspect that’s what Jesus had in mind, at the disciples’ last meal together. He broke the bread and passed it to His disciples and said, take and eat and from this moment on, every time you gather as a family, do this in remembrance of me. And so He established this meal as the center of the faith – and so it has been for the last 2000 years. But really the meal as the center of faith is a constant theme throughout scripture. Will Willimon writes: “Just as an invitation to someone’s table is the supreme sign of human hospitality to us, the prophet Isaiah tells us that when the Messiah comes, He will invite all the wretched and the poor to come and eat. His invitation is: everyone who thirsts come to the waters, and he who has no money, come and eat.” David wrote in the 23rd Psalm: You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. Peace was often forged at the dinner table. Some of the most important moments of Jesus ministry happen around the table. Zachaeus comes down out of the tree to eat a meal with Jesus. And Jesus frequently ate with sinners and was often criticized for it by church leaders. He had no authority to make peace with sinners they said. And so every time that we approach this table, we remember. We remember Christ and the sacrifice He made for us so that by His grace we can be forgiven of our sins. We can find peace with God and one another. That all of us can feast at His table. And I remember times of personal struggle, when I have come to the table lost and wrestling with tough choices, and have encountered Jesus in the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the juice and found the peace and assurance of His presence all over again. Because this is a meal of remembrance. And He invites us today to come and remember.
And then Jesus intended this to be a meal of reconciliation. At this table we are reconciled with God, and with one another, because through His body and blood, Jesus reconciles the world to Him. Of course, the irony is that the Cross was meant to be anything but an instrument of reconciliation. In fact, the Romans used it as just the opposite. To them the Cross was an instrument meant to divide and conquer. To keep the Jews in their place and to put an end to anyone who would have other intentions. But God turned it all around and upside down and through Jesus’s death on the cross, He reconciled us with God once and for all. Jesus took everything that divides us from one another to the cross. Now that certainly doesn’t mean that disputes will not arise among us. All families have their difficult moments. Even the family of God. But through this meal, God provides the answer to all of our disagreements and disputes. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans that through His death Jesus reconciles all people to God. “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless,” Paul writes, “Christ died for the ungodly as well as the righteous. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (For you and me.) Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through Jesus. For if when we were separated from God we were reconciled to Him through Jesus crucified, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life. Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” By sharing in this meal, we participate in Christ’s act of reconciliation with the whole world, friend and foe alike. When the Disciples gathered, Jesus took the bread and broke it and He passed it to the Disciple that was sitting next to Him. And as they passed the bread, Jesus spoke these words. “This is my body broken for you and for many, for the forgiveness of your sins and the sins of the world.” In other words I am sacrificing my life so that we may all be reconciled one with each other, and through His grace and forgiveness we may be reconciled to God. And here’s the thing that makes this act of reconciliation even more incredible. The person sitting immediately next to Jesus at the table, the Disciple He handed the bread to, was Judas who would leave the meal and betray Jesus. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke about reconciliation when He said.
Therefore if you are offering yourself at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave the altar and go and be reconciled to your enemy, then come and offer yourself. At the heart of this sacrament is reconciliation. To the Colossians, Paul spoke of this. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in Jesus, and through Him to reconcile to Himself ALL things, whether on earth or in Heaven, by making peace through His blood shed on the cross. This is my body broken for you and for everyone. In my ministry I have witnessed many miracles of reconciliation at the Communion table – moments of reconciliation in the church family.
One church I served was an old, historic church but the church building was deteriorating with age. An engineering study had discovered needed repairs that would cost nearly four million dollars to complete. And so the Leadership Team decided that they needed to move the church out of downtown and they found a piece of property just on the edge of town upon which to build a new church.. And a Charge Conference was called to approve the purchase of the property and begin the relocation. However, there were some who were adamantly opposed to relocating the historic church in spite of the condition of the building and on the night of the charge conference, they packed the sanctuary with long time members of the church, many who no longer attended the church or even lived in the community, but they came and voted against the proposal and it was narrowly defeated. And then they left, they left behind a deeply divided church family. Several talked openly about leaving the church. So the next Sunday I decided we needed to celebrate this sacrament and in my meditation I talked about how down through the century the Lord’s supper had often been a meal of forgiveness and reconciliation and grace because it’s awfully hard to remain angry with one another when you are kneeling next to them at the Lord’s Table, celebrating this sacrament of reconciliation and peace. Well the Holy Spirit got ahold of some people that day. And individuals who had been hateful with one another just a few nights before found themselves kneeling side by side receiving the body and blood of Christ together. And we prayed the great Thanksgiving with special emphasis on theses words: Pour out your Holy Spirit on all of us gathered here, and on these gifts of bread and wine. Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ, that we may be for the world the body of Christ, redeemed and reconciled by His blood. By your Spirit make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world, until Christ comes in final victory, and we feast together at His heavenly banquet. And I broke the bread and as I started to pass it to the person next to me who turned out to be one of the ones who had been particularly hateful at the Charge Conference I spoke theses words of Jesus: if you are offering yourself at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, go and be reconciled to your enemy, then come and offer yourself. and as the bread was passed each person would hold the loaf while the person next to them broke off a piece. And then when everyone had received a piece of the body, I lifted up the cup and took my piece of bread and dipped it in the cup and I said this is the cup of forgiveness and reconciliation. The blood of covenant between us and God and one another. And as the cup was passed we held it for our neighbor as they dipped the bread in the cup. And you could almost see the anger melt away, and tears were shed, and as people got up to return to their pews, they hugged one another. And we left the Table reconciled with one another and perhaps even more importantly as agents of reconciliation. At that last supper Jesus passed the ministry of reconciliation to the Disciples. And when we celebrate this sacrament, we are called to a ministry of reconciliation and peacemaking through the body and blood of Christ. In the last few weeks it has been obvious that there are some people who are angry with the church, with the Servant Leadership Team, with me, with themselves and others in the family, even with God because of the recent changes made to worship times and Sunday School times. Some have even left the church because of it and perhaps there are others contemplating leaving. But I believe that this Sacrament is still a sacrament of reconciliation and that the Spirit is ready to do a miraculous work within us as we come to this table today. Come to this table and let’s be reconciled with the world, and with Christ, and with one another. And if there are those who need reconciliation in their lives today but who are not present here today, then as you leave the table take one of these travel cups with you and then go and see them and offer them this meal of reconciliation and peace.
And then finally this is a sacrament of hope as we recall God’s mighty acts on our behalf. The Last Supper was the Passover meal for the Disciples, celebrating the covenant that God made with the people when the Angel of death passed over the Jewish children, paving the way for the Jews to exodus from Egypt. It is one of the holiest of all the ancient feasts of Israel. And in the course of the meal the father holds up the bread and breaks it and as prescribed by the ages old ritual, one of the children begins with this question: Father, why is this night special above all other nights? And the Father responds
Because we were Pharoah’s slaves in Egypt, and the Lord our God brought us forth from there with a mighty and an outstretched arm. And then the elder tells the story of Passover and Exodus, how the Jews smeared the blood of the lamb on their door post so that the angel of death would passover, It is the story that has been told at the Passover meal from generation to generation for thousands of years.
And when he is done telling the story he offers the cup of wine and says this:
In every generation let each one look upon themselves as if they came from Egypt. “As it is said: Tell thy sons and daughters in that day, saying: it is because of that which the Lord did for me when I came forth from Egypt.” The Passover meal has long been the center of the faith of the Jews. And when Jesus offers the bread and cup He is establishing the Passover feast for all people, not just the Jews, but for you and for me. Because for the Christian, the center of our faith story is the Last Supper, as we recall the blood of Jesus that marks each one of us, Jew or Gentile, sinner or saint, for life and not death. It is the assurance that All of us can be saved by the blood of The Lamb. That’s why in the Methodist Church we place no restrictions on who can come to this meal, everyone is invited to the Lord’s table to celebrate family, and remembrance, and God’s mighty miracles in reconciling all people to Himself and to the world and to one another. And you and I are invited to come to this table today.