Remember: past, present and future
The story chapter 26 communion
Today we start the last leg of our journey through THE STORY. What a journey it has been!
· Do you remember when we started and the language of the “upper story, lower story, and our story” was new to us?
o Now when I say UPPER STORY, you all know we are talking about God’s intention or ideal will for history and for us.
o When I say LOWER STORY, you know that I am talking about what actually happened in history: usually that has been what was actually recorded in the Bible.
o And when I say OUR STORY, you all understand that I am talking about the way we fit our lower-story lives into God’s upper-story vision.
· Do you remember 16 months ago, when we started talking about the creation story and how foreign all those names sounded to you? And how strange the geography was on the maps that I showed you.
· Do you remember a year ago, we struggled through the kings, and wars, and kingdoms of the Old Testament?
· Do you remember last spring, learning about the exile, and the Babylonians, and the return, and the building of the second Jewish temple?
· Do you remember the key story of the Old Testament to which we kept returning? The Exodus, in which the Israelite slaves were led from slavery in Egypt to freedom?
· Do you remember how we kept coming back to it, through 40 years in the wilderness, through the period of the judges, through the rule of Saul, and David, and Solomon, through the Babylonian captivity? We kept referring back to the exodus because the Bible story kept referring back to the exodus. The exodus was a turning point in the Biblical story.
In today’s story, we return to that central event. Jesus last supper with his disciples was part of their Passover celebration, remembering those very same events of the exodus that were so pivotal in the Biblical story.
The last supper was either a Passover supper, or it was the night before the Passover supper. Scholars disagree, because the Gospel writers disagree. There have been many attempts through the years to shape and mould the scriptures so that there is no disagreement in them, but the truth is that there are four gospel writers and Paul, all writing about the same event, with different agendas, and different degrees of remembering. (Mark and John were remembering an event they witnessed. Luke and perhaps Mark, one about which they were told. Paul was reflecting theologically on something he had read about.) And there are some variations in the stories. We just have to live with that.
I’m going to assume that this was the Passover supper, because the bulk of the Biblical material indicates that, as does 2000 years of church tradition. Also, because it is clear to me that there is one thing on Jesus mind… Passover… and he clearly sees the events of those days, the final days of his life, as another turning point in salvation history. Looking back, we know he was right.
As Jesus planned this special meal, he arranged for a place to eat. Now you have to picture a nicer house in Jesus day as two boxes, a smaller on top of a larger one. The smaller one served as a combination deck, dining room, family room an when a rabbi was in the house it was often also a classroom. It is one of these “upper” rooms that Jesus reserved for the dinner. He arranged that the disciples could look for a man carrying water, which was an unusual sight since water carrying was usually women’s work, and make final plans for the room and supper with him.
The night of the dinner, all of the disciples gathered in that upper room. It probably was not a very large room, but comfortable enough for the 13 of them. They were reclining on one elbow at a low table. You might think they were sitting at the table because of DaVinci’s last Supper painting, but that is a medieval interpretation- and he got that one detail wrong.
The gospels don’t report everything that was said that night. If it was a Passover supper, a whole litany of prayers and rituals accompanied the meal. If not, there were still customs that prevailed like a servant washing the feet of guests as they entered, an abundance of bread, and a good supply of wine since that was the primary beverage of the day.
Out of all the events of that night, there are a few things that the gospel writers thought warranted special attention. One was the remarkable sight of the host washing the guests’ feet. Jesus took that simple act of kindness and hygiene, and turned it upside down into a parable of the way we ought to treat one another. We can never look at foot washing the same again.
Another remarkable thing was the presence of Judas the betrayer. The Passover meal was a family celebration. One usually celebrated with people who loved and trusted one another; people who supported and encouraged one another. The presence of this dark betrayer in the room foreshadows the dark events to come. So does the end of the story in John when it says, “As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night.” It was night. It was the hour of darkness. The ominous end was drawing near.
The other event of the evening worth recording was the moment in which Jesus changed the words of the Passover ritual and surprised them all. They may have even been shocked, but if they had been around Jesus for very long, you would think that they would not shock easily.
Jesus picked up the bread. This is the essential symbol of Passover. It is the unleavened bread that reminds the participants of the night their foremothers made bread without yeast, and the angel of death passed over the houses of the Israelites, but struck down every other first born in the land. It reminds them of God’s protecting hand, God’s special provision for his beloved people, and the miracle that preceded their freedom from slavery.
Jesus picked up this symbol of God’s saving hand in the lives of the Israelites, and said, “This is MY body… (MY body) given for you.”
Then, after supper, Jesus picked up the wineglass. The wine was the reminder that the Israelite slaves slaughtered a lamb and spread the blood of the lamb on the doorposts of their houses, so that the angel of death would know not to stop there. It was a reminder of their exceptionalism. It was a reminder of God’s grace. Much as the cross is for us, the wine was the symbol of the instrument of God’s redemption.
Jesus picked up this wineglass, which was all of those things wrapped together and said, “This is MY blood.” In other words, I am the Lamb of God about to be slaughtered so you can wipe my blood on the doorposts of your heart, so that the angel of judgment will pass over you, and you will be freed from slavery to sin and death.
Whoa! We have heard the words a thousand times. We almost take them for granted. But imagine hearing them for the first time… without benefit of the rest of the story. When they heard, “This is my body. This is my blood.” the disciples must have been awestruck. In that simple act, Jesus brought all of salvation history to mind. Jesus, once again, brought God’s upper story into the lower story and said, “Look it is all happening again.” A different kind of lamb. A different kind of slavery. A different kind of master. A different generation of Israelites. But Jesus brought all of that into the present; into that little upper room; and into the lives of 12 crusty characters by saying, “This is my body. This is my Blood”
Jesus “re-membered the stories.” You know that to dis-member means to take apart. To re-member, means to bring it back together. In re-membering Jesus brought God’s upper story of salvation and the lower story lives of those 12 disciples back together. In re-membering, Jesus brought the God who seemed so far away back together with the creatures he loves so much. In re-membering, he brought all the power God’s grace and forgiveness back together with our hopelessness and sin, to teach about salvation.
Then he added, “Do this in remembrance of me.” In effect gifting those of us who would follow him, the same gift of being re-membered. Put back together with the God who loves us so much that he was willing to give his body to be broken and his blood to be poured out for us. For us.
So today, we come as broken people. We are not the people we were created to be. We are separated from the God who loves us. We are separated from the Christ who died for us. But as we remember, we are re-membered. We are put back together. Creature and creator. Master and servant. Past and present.
It isn’t that we believe that this bread and juice is magically turned into the real physical body and blood of Jesus. That would be transubstantiation, more along the lines of Roman Catholic thought.
It isn’t that we believe that this bread and juice is somehow magically filled with Jesus heavenly body. That would be consubstantiation, more like the reformed tradition and the Presbyterians and even though they use a different term, the Lutherans.
Nor is this merely a symbol that reminds us of Jesus. That would be the memorial theology held by Baptists and other evangelicals.
What we have here, is ordinary bread and ordinary Welch’s grape juice, through which, by some Holy Mystery that we cannot understand, let alone describe, God communicates God’s grace to us. By some divinely ordained miracle, God uses the ordinary physical stuff of this world, to fill us with the eternal power of God’s grace in a very real way.
That is re-membering, bringing God’s salvation past into our present.
Finally, this gets a little harder. Jesus was remembering the future.
Now you KNOW that I have completely lost it don’t you? How can Jesus remember something that hasn’t happened yet?
Well, we have to understand something. We have to understand that Jesus is God and for God, time is different than it is for us. We think of time like an arrow starting here and going there. We know where it came from and we know where it is so we can guess where the arrow will land but we have to wait for that to happen. For God, time is somehow different. God is Yahweh, beyond time “I was, I am, and I will be” all wrapped up in one package. The past and the present are somehow all wrapped up in the future consummation of God’s perfect upper story vision, which we know as the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus says, “I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
What a banquet that will be. That is the same banquet described in the 23rd Psalm, the table prepared for us in the presence of our enemies where our cup overflows. “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the lord forever.”
That table, that banquet, that house of the lord is yet to come, but the feast Jesus was having with his disciples, was somehow an appetizer for the banquet that was yet to come. This banquet today is an appetizer for the kingdom of God for which we pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done. On earth as it is in heaven” This meal today, and the grace that God communicates through it, are dim reflections of the glorious grace that will be ours when “His kingdom finally comes, and his will is really done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Somehow, in the last supper, in the moment of breaking the bread and raising the cup, Jesus brought together re-membered, that very moment with all of salvation history and all of salvation future. In the moment of participating in the bread and cup, we too are re-membered (brought together) with each other today, with all of God’s mighty works in the past and in Jesus Christ, and with God’s perfect glorious vision for all that is yet to come.
I can hardly wrap my tiny little brain around it… that’s why God used the simple things, a loaf of bread, and a cup of juice.
May these simple, ordinary things; communicate to simple, ordinary people; the glorious wonder of the extraordinary grace of God, yesterday, today and forever.
As we receive today, let us remember the wonderful mystery of faith: past present and future. Christ has died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again.