Strengthened by Sacrament (Sermon)

This is an adapted form of the sermon I preached on Maundy Thursday, April 6, 2023. The gospel text was John 13:1-17, 31b-35.

Every now and then someone will say to me “I don’t go to church because I don’t get anything out of it.” I never know what to say to that: “I’m sorry?” But I don’t know that you’re supposed to “get something out of it.” It’s not a form of entertainment. It’s worship. We gather here to praise the God who creates us, redeems us, loves us, and sends us out in mission. We don’t gather here to get something – we gather here to offer our praise. At least that’s what I think worship is.

But maybe there is something that we get out of worship. The season of Lent this year has taught me that perhaps what we get out of worship is strength. Let me explain. Six weeks ago, on Ash Wednesday, I said these words to you:

As disciples of Jesus, we are called to a discipline that contends against evil and resists whatever leads us away from love of God and neighbor. I invite you, therefore, to the discipline of Lent.

And for the past six Sundays, my sermons have focused on six aspects of this discipline. We’ve looked at self-examination and repentance, prayer and fasting, sacrificial giving and works of love. And we’ve seen, I think, that these aren’t just things we are called to do for six weeks in Lent. On the contrary, these disciplines are gifts to us from God: they are six ways of living our lives well, six ways of following our Lord’s command, six ways of being disciples, six ways of living the full, abundant lives that God desires for us. But they’re not always easy. We could use some help, some support, some strength. And I shared some good news from you on Ash Wednesday. I said this:

I invite you, therefore, to the discipline of Lent – self-examination and repentance, prayer and fasting, sacrificial giving and works of love – strengthened by the gifts of word and sacrament.

God gives us strength for our Lenten journey through word and sacrament. In fact, God gives us strength for all our journeys through life through word and sacrament.

We’ll talk about Word tomorrow night. Tonight, let’s look at Sacrament. Specifically, the Sacrament of the Altar, the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion. Because tonight is the night we remember when Jesus instituted that sacrament.

It’s not just bread and wine, you know. Which is good, because as physical meals go, it’s really not much. We don’t receive much nutrition for our bodies in this meal. Yet we receive far, far more than that, something that meets a different kind of need and craving in our lives.

The need that comes from loneliness. The emptiness that comes from feeling alone, from being unsure of who you are or where you belong. The deep yearning to be understood, and indeed to understand. The hole deep inside us that wants to feel connected. To someone. To something. We are always reaching out from that place, looking for connection.

On the night in which he was betrayed, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and Jesus took a cup of wine, and he gave them to his friends, his followers. And he said to them, “This is my body. This is my blood. Take and eat. Take and drink. Do this in remembrance of me.” Something so simple. Something so small. Yet in that moment, Christ created something that has endured for two thousand years, and will endure for two thousand more. Christ created the community of faith.

Christ promised that when we share this meal, he is present there. And even today, even here in Johnsonville in 2023, when we share this bread and wine once more this evening, Christ will be here, just as he was at that supper in Jerusalem. Christ will be here – somehow, we don’t know how – as we share this Holy Communion, and that means that we are united with him in one meal. All of us in this space will be united with Christ, and therefore with each other.

And here’s the cool thing. This meal transcends space. People in Pen Argyl will be sharing this meal tonight as well, and they will be united with him in that meal. Which means we are united with them as well. We are sharing this meal together. People in Philadelphia and New York and Baltimore will be sharing it as well. People in Kansas and Canada and Ukraine. People in South Africa and Jordan and Brazil. We are all united in this meal together.

Whenever Christ comes to be a part of this meal, those eating and drinking are united together as the body of Christ. Sharing the body of Christ makes us the body of Christ.

And here’s the really cool thing. This meal transcends time. We are united with the disciples who shared this meal in the year 33 or so. And also with everyone who shared this meal in 1933. And those who shared it in 1723, and in 723. We are united with people who will share this meal in 2033, and 2133, and beyond. This is the biggest, greatest feast in all history, the feast that Christ created that night. The feast that has no end. The feast that will be completed in the kingdom of God.

We are not alone. We are not isolated individuals. We are a community, a family, a people, companions and friends. And this is strength. This is strength that enables us to get through whatever tomorrow may bring. We can lean on one another, and allow others to lean on us. We can share our intimate fears and dreams, and find hope and fellowship. Our emptiness can be filled.

This community we share, this communion that we are part of, is a gift that Christ has given us. It’s mystical and spiritual. But we have a sign of it right here in our midst. This congregation is a sign of that community. We’re not a perfect community; there’s no such thing in this world. But we are a community made by God through the gift given on Maundy Thursday.

A community who strives to live out the new commandment Jesus gave, to love one another as he loved us. We don’t do that perfectly, but we strive faithfully. And as we do that, it strengthens us all. And we in turn receive strength to do this through the gift of Sacrament. The gift of Holy Communion. Receive that gift tonight, and be strengthened for the rest of the Three Days, and for the weeks and months and years to come.

Image by Jeff Jacobs from Pixabay

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