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Matthew 26: 38, 39, 42, 44
38Then he said to them, ‘I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.’ 39And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.’…42Again he went away for the second time and prayed, ‘My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.’… 44So leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words.
I believe that God has created me together with all that exists. God has given me and still preserves my body and soul: eyes, ears, and all limbs and senses; reason and all mental faculties. In addition, God daily and abundantly provides shoes and clothing, food and drink, house and farm, spouse and children, fields, livestock, and all property along with all the necessities and nourishment for this body and life. God protects me against all danger and shields and preserves me from all evil. And all this is done out of pure, fatherly, and divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness of mine at all! For all of this I owe it to God to thank and praise, serve and obey him. This is most certainly true.
Then God said, "Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth." So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth." God said, "See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food." And it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.
Whenever we have this reading from Acts, I feel like the church finds itself dreaming of the good, old days. The days where we faced no problems, where growth required no work on our part, where everyone seemed so happy and there was no conflict, and when we could safely gather together with no restrictions. The problem with reading Acts 2 in this idyllic way is that it does not take into account that problems, yes problems and conflicts existed in the church. Ideally, we should read this that the church existed and did its work, experienced God’s blessings and growth all while dealing with problems, conflicts, and challenges. In many ways, this better describes what we face each and every day as the church in this post-Christian/post-Christendom world—the church still can do its work, feel and experience God’s blessing, all while dealing with problems and conflicts. Ministry is not void of conflicts or problems, however, sometimes ministry is void of leaders who are willing and or able to deal with the conflicts presented today.
They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers...All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
The problem was that the disciples/apostles are busy. They need to devote themselves to the word and this conflict of division is keeping them from this holy task. The people are dividing themselves into two different groups. The Hebrews, who are Jewish/Christian converts and the Hellenists who are also Jewish but share a different language and culture. And if you are keeping track, this is a common problem that the church has faced throughout its entire history—problems of race, ethnicity and gender…but that is another sermon for another time.
Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. 2And the twelve called together the whole community of the disciples and said, ‘It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait at tables. 3Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, 4while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word.’ 5What they said pleased the whole community, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. 6They had these men stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It was revealed to the disciples, during the breaking of the bread, that the person who walked with them this entire time was the Lord, Jesus Christ. Alleluia. Christ is Risen.
This story from Luke holds significant value for the church. One can almost imagine someone coming up to Pastor Luke and asking him, “Why do we read the gospel first, have a sermon, and then share the meal? Where did this form, this structure come from?” And Pastor Luke probably responded by retelling this story of Jesus meeting his disciples on the Road to Emmamus.
I remember the first time that I realized this Road to Emmamus story resembled our Sunday Morning liturgy. I was in college, preparing my entrance essay for candidacy so that I could enter seminary. I don't know why I was reading the gospel of Luke, but I read this passage and it was like a light bulb went off in my head. That is why we do what we do. First we start with the word—Peter and another disciple tell this stranger all that has happened in Jerusalem. Then, we move to a deeper explanation of the events that took place—Jesus interprets all that had been written by Moses and the prophets. Then, in the moment of the breaking the bread, we realize that Jesus had been with us all along the way. For 2000 years, we have done this exact same thing. We gather for the word, expand upon it in a sermon, and then we see Christ in the breaking of the bread.
Yet, when we talk about communion these days, it is often around frequency, the specialness of the meal, and in these times—whether or not we can celebrate it over the internet. I am not going to go into virtual communion debate today but I will say this: During WWI, the radio was one of the most important tools on the battlefield. There was a debate at the time whether troops could gather bread and wine and then have a priest say the words over the radio. The church deemed that this practice was too far from the standard and norm of communion being done within the community of faith. If we decided that the troops, who were risking their lives could not do this, then we should also avoid such actions. The internet is no different than the radio.
Outside of this self-isolation time, I often hear that if we celebrate communion too often, it will not be as special. If we do it too much, it will be too much work for our volunteers. That if we share this meal every week, church will be too long. However, rarely do I hear conversations around the benefits of eating this most holy meal and truth be told, I never really experience the importance of such a meal until this past summer.
Back in July, my dad was watching Thomas. They went out for a drive and while they were out, Thomas got sick. He threw up all over himself in the carseat and was unresponsive. My dad called me and asked what he wanted me to do. They were close to the hospital so I said go straight to hospital. I tried to call Diane. The call didn't go through. I tried again. Still nothing. I tried a third time and she picks up. I told her what happened and she drops everything, and heads over the hospital. Then there was me. I had no car. It was at the car dealing getting service. I was freaking out. I didn't know what to do. I actually considered walking out into the middle of King street, stopping a car and telling them to either get out or take me to the hospital. Luckily, Martha came in the room and told me to take her car. I run to her car and start driving. I just got out of Martinsburg when Diane called me and said, "he was okay." In fact, he was so okay, that when he saw Diane walk into the waiting room, he immediately walked over to her, opened her purse, and grabbed a bag of yogurt bites because he was hungry. They get him home and cleaned up. I get a ride to the dealer and get my car. I drive home. I kiss him and we put him down for a nap. I thought I would just take the rest of the day off, but my nerves were shoot. I couldn't sit at home. I had to get out and do something or I was going to lose my mind. I decided to drive down and see Frances Castlemen. She is a shut-in at St. John's. If you don't know her, you should really get to know her. She was home and welcomed me in to her house. I was still pretty shook up and was not in a good place to be Pastor Matt. Instead, Francis ministered to me. She listened to me. She let me show her all the pictures I have of Thomas. Then it came time to go and I asked I could have communion with her as was our typical practice. I have never needed communion so much in my life but I didn't realize it until I took the host and said to myself, "The Body of CHrist given for you." In that moment, I realized that my Lord had been with me this entire day. He was with me as I received that panic phone call. He was with me as Martha came in the room and offered me her car. My Lord was with me as I drove home. And I fully saw him in that moment of the breaking of the bread.
Communion has benefits that we often forgot. In Luther's Small Catechism, he writes that “The words “given for you” and “shed for you for the forgiveness of sin” show us that forgiveness of sin, life, and salvation are given to us in the sacrament through these words, because where there is forgiveness of sin, there is also life and salvation." Communion is not just a snack we get in church. It brings forgiveness of sin, life and salvation. We see Jesus in the breaking of the bread. I never understood that until this summer when I sat in Frances' living room. I felt my sins forgiven. I felt life restored. I felt salvation. I saw the risen Lord.
This is a powerful gift that our Lord gave to us. It is gift that we, as baptized Christians, are able to participate in. It is special because it is connected to God's word. God's word is holy unto itself and when we put God's word to these simple elements of bread and wine, forgiveness of sin, life and salvation are possible. We cannot use the argument, "Communion will become less special the more we do it." Jesus is revealed in this meal. Would any of us ever say, “I really am not in the mood to see Jesus this week.” No. Communion does not become less special because in this meal, we realize that our Lord has been with us all along. We get to hold our Lord's body in the palm of our hands. And when we eat this bread and drink this cup, it does something for us. It is not mere busywork for us. It has benefits.
It is important that we participate and not just watch it at home or from the pews. Luther says, "a person who has faith in these words, “given for you” and “shed for you for the forgiveness of sin,” is really worthy and well prepared." At the time of Luther, while the Eucharist was celebrate every day, very few Christians partook in the sacrament because they did not feel worthy. There was a whole ordeal that went into preparation for taking the sacrament which included fasting and confession. Most Christians just abstained from receiving it. But that did mean they didn’t come and watch it. In fact, there are reports of stampedes on Sunday mornings in towns caused by Christians running from one church to another just to witness the priest consecrate the elements. As soon as they saw it, they ran out the church and went to the next. For Luther, it was more important that we eat it and drink it because otherwise, we receive no benefit. We do not receive forgiveness of sin, life and salvation unless we take it. Lutherans do not hold to the theology of spiritual communion. We do as our Lord commanded—we eat it and we drink it.
When this is all over, and it will be over, may we look hard at our Eucharist practices. May we ask questions as to why do the things we do. May we explore better ways to bring the sacrament to the people. May we get past the phrases like:
The sacrament does something for us and this time away from the sacrament has been difficult, and it has made me question the status quo— i.e. the way we do the sacraments as a church. It is time we all have a serious, theological discussion around our communion practices. When this is all over and we are able to safely gather back together, I hope we will see the sacrament for what it true is. The body and blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ and it is our job to reveal our risen Lord to the people. (ENDING) We are to be like the two disciples and run back to the others and tell the others, “we have seen the Lord.” Alleluia. Christ is Risen.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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