Sunday, September 04, 2011

Pentecost 12A

Whenever I’m asked to explain Holy Communion, I always start with this story from the Old Testament. And I usually get the same confused stare that you’re giving me right now.

But this story is what Jesus was enacting when he instituted Holy Communion in the night before he was executed. He was being a good Jew. And as a good Jew he was celebrating passover with a special meal called a “seder” meaning “order” or “arrangement” referring to the ritual customs of when and how the the food was to be served, the traditional prayers said, and questions asked and answered . Each item and each event represented something in the story.

They gathered as a family of Jews to remember a terrible night in Egypt thousand of years before. They remembered how their people were slaves. They remembered how they cried out to God for so long that they assumed that God had abandoned them.

They remembered Pharaoh's cruelty and God’s silence. They remembered the bricks made without straw, the monotony of hard labour, and the welcome freedom of death.

They remembered Moses, the burning bush, and the plagues.

And they remembered that awful night when they were told to put lamb’s blood on their doorposts because something terrible was coming.

So they slaughtered their best lamb, and painted their doorposts with its blood.

Who knows what they saw that night, but I can imagine what they heard. The hysterical wailing of mothers whose firstborn children were killed during the night. The angry cries of fathers whose heirs died before the sun rose. They heard loud voices crying out for justice for their generation of dead.

And they remembered that they were safe, because the lamb’s blood that covered their doorposts told the angel of death to pass over their homes.

They remembered Pharaoh telling them to leave. And they had to leave so quickly that their bread didn’t have time to rise. It was unleavened bread that they took with them on their road to freedom. They grabbed it from the window and ran before Pharaoh changed his mind.

This was how the nation of Israel was born. This was the story that they remembered that night.

And then, Jesus, turned that story around and pointed it at himself.

He took a piece of unleavened bread, the bread of freedom, and said the traditional prayer,

“Blessed are you, O Lord our God, sovereign of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.”

He ripped the bread in half as the disciples bowed their heads in reverence.

Then Jesus broke the silence and said, “This is my body, which is given for you. When you eat it, remember ME.”

Remember him? What was he talking about? They were remembering the Exodus story. Why would he ask us to remember him?

Then he took the cup of wine, red wine to remember the lambs blood on the Hebrews’ doorposts, and he said the traditional prayer,

“Blessed are you O Lord our God, sovereign of the universe, who gives us fruit from the vine.”

The disciples probably knew something was up, but didn’t know what. As Jesus passed the cup around, he said, “This is my blood of the new and everlasting covenant, which is poured for you. When you drink it, remember me.”

As the disciples ate and drank and remembered, they probably wondered what Jesus was saying. They knew the Exodus story. That story was as much a part of them as the dirt under their fingernails.

But Jesus was saying that the Exodus story didn’t end at the final chapter of the book. Or when they reached the land of promise, or when they finally had a king, or...

Jesus was saying that the Exodus story finally ended with him. He was the passover lamb that would save them from sin and death. As they eat of his flesh and drink of his blood, death will pass over them, and indeed, pass over the whole world.

His death is your death, my death, the world’s death. His blood which is poured out, is painted on the doorposts of the world, so that the world will be saved.

Even Judas, the one who betrayed Jesus, ate Jesus’ bread and drank his wine. Some traditions have him as the first occupant of Hell for his betrayal of Jesus. Other Christian traditions regard him as a Saint for his role in salvation history.

Because of Jesus, that freedom story is now your freedom story, it’s now my freedom story. The world’s freedom story. That’s why we eat the bread of freedom and drink the cup of salvation.

Because of Jesus the tyranny of sin and death is defeated, the chains of slavery to the powers of this world are broken, the cries of those held in bondage are heard.

Because of Jesus, you are fee. You are free to live your life as a child of God. You are free to ignore other peoples’ opinion of you and other peoples’ expectations of you. You are free to love as Jesus loved. You are free.

Freedom is something we like to hear about and talk about. But it’s often not something we welcome. We spend more time drawing lines, building walls, putting parameters around our ordered lives, than we welcome the responsibility of freedom.

It’s easier to know our place, to know what we can and cannot do, rather than trust that God is guiding our lives, working inside of us, transforming us from the inside out.

We’re afraid of freedom because we’re worried it might descend into chaos, rather than build us up, make us grow, and help us reach the potential that God has given us.

We often shun freedom, and stay mired in captivity. We stay stuck in our painful pasts rather than look to God’s future. Our depression and grief can feel like chains we can never break.

Our feelings of unworthiness or shame keep us from grabbing on to the freedom that God has for us. We don’t trust God’s freedom because we don’t trust ourselves. And tyranny is often more comfortable than freedom.

And as the people of Israel found out, freedom isn’t easy. Freedom costs. Freedom demands creativity and initiative.

Freedom is scary because it can feel like you’ve lost control. But freedom trusts that you know what to do with it when you receive it.

In Christ, you are free. Jesus trusts that you know what to do with your freedom. You have been entrusted with gifts and responsibilities. Because you have been set free, you can use your creativity energy, in communion with the Spirit of God, to bring life to the world.

Because the angel of death has passed over you, you can embrace life with the joy and passion of knowing that you are building something new and beautiful in the world. You can trust that you are contributing to God’s ongoing creation. You can trust that God is using YOU for wonderful things.

You can trust that your labour brings life to others. You can trust that you are a witness to God’s love and mercy.

So, your job, as a follower of Jesus, is to speak words of liberation and healing, from your own experience of liberation and healing.

Live your freedom, knowing that God’s Word is growing inside you, knowing that God’s law is written on your heart, knowing that the blood of the lamb is on your doorpost.

Live like you KNOW that your are God’s child, named and claimed in the waters of Holy Baptism, joined to Jesus’ death and resurrection.

When you come to the table this morning, you receive the bread of freedom and the cup of salvation. That is God’s liberating work within you. As you receive our Lord Jesus in the bread and wine you are trusting that the tyranny of sin and death is defeated in your life. That the shackles of your past are broken. That you have been liberated from captivity of your grief and pain. That you belong to Jesus who belongs to God.

And as you depart from the table, Jesus has one simple request: Now go live your freedom.


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Blogger Bruce Payne said...

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7:58 PM  
Blogger Bruce Payne said...

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8:30 PM  
Blogger Bruce Payne said...

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8:49 PM  
Blogger Bruce Payne said...

Excellent sermon Kevin, interesting how the Biblical stories of the Passover at the exodus and the Passover celebrated thousands of years later the eve of the crucifixion along with the details I've known of and believed in for decades, can and indeed do culminate in a complex commentary spanning millennia, something that only the Almighty God could manage beginning with Moses and coming to fruition in Jesus, which has such simplicity in it's purpose our "emancipation". The secret now is to learn to live within that priceless reality and overcome the human inclination to feel and live as condemned in spite of the freedom we truly have which Christ has entitled us to if only we will trust in him through faith.

8:53 PM  

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