More than we can ever see
And on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb, his disciples said to him, “Where will you have us go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?” And he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says, Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ And he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; there prepare for us.” And the disciples set out and went to the city and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover.
And when it was evening, he came with the twelve. And as they were reclining at table and eating, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” They began to be sorrowful and to say to him one after another, “Is it I?” He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the dish with me. For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”
And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”
And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
(Mark 14:12-26 ESV)
Tonight the Christian Church gathers in churches of all sizes but a designated building isn’t critical. I’m sure there are Christians gathering in tents and homes and factories and even some in hiding but this night is a night for gathering in preparation, in anticipation, in expectation.
Mark records that Jesus organised the preparation of their eating of the Passover with people other than the disciples. When comparing Mark, Matthew and Luke’s accounts we discover the same story with different details – only Mark and Luke have the man with the jar of water – Mark tell us of Jesus announcing the betrayal and that he and the betrayer would dip bread together while Matthew tells of Judas’ question and Luke records this after the institution of the Lord’s Supper. Mark’s account of the Lord’s Supper is more compact whereas Matthew has the additional items of Jesus telling the disciples to eat and to drink which of course is implied in Mark and Luke even records two cups – the second and third cup of the Passover ritual – it is the third cup – the cup of redemption that is the one Jesus ‘changed’.
There is so much we don’t know – about the wider circle of acquaintances and associates and supporters of Jesus – why the Master of the guest room gave it to Jesus surely is a story in itself. There is the whole issue with Judas – Jesus reaching out to him, identifying him so that they both knew Jesus knew and also there was the declaration of judgement – tough words – it would have been better for that man if he had not been born. What we don’t know is what is going on with – more importantly – within Judas as he takes and eats and takes and drinks. Some scholars suggest he wasn’t there – but Mark gives no indication – and the atmosphere, so to speak, is that Judas was there. We don’t even know what hymn they sang! There is so much we don’t know.
It strikes me that is the way with much of Holy Communion. We know some things – the most important things – what is happening with bread and wine – what is said over them – what the confession / teaching / description of this means and what is being enacted. We declare Jesus’ presence – a person always is where their body and blood is – but our senses will not confirm it – in fact can even deny it. We say that Jesus is performing / doing his work still among his people – even if the minister who says the words doesn’t believe or the people who receive bread and wine don’t believe – but at the same time we insist that what is happening here is not magic. Yes, we can say a lot about Holy Communion.
Nevertheless there is a lot we don’t know. I might call it the psychology of Holy Communion – centred on the communicant – the internal closeness one might feel with Jesus or God – the absence of anything felt – the worry about sins done and the hoped for forgiveness – the worry about sins planned – the struggles and temptations that come and what does Jesus think when he sees those? – or the desire to do better / live better with those around us but the knowledge that the patterns of behaviour that seem to entrench our sin are hard to break – and I haven’t even got out of our heads and hearts!
What about all those issues in Holy Communion when it isn’t so much Jesus one has the problem with but the person next to us – the family members who share deep and shameful secrets or hurts maybe or lovelessness or abuse and who still commune together. What is the dissonance going on – cognitively? Spiritually?
What about the grudges that can happen in congregations that can be played out in ‘Well, I’m not coming if she’s here’ and other similar comments and Holy Communion?
And Jesus keeps coming to us – that’s critical – that he comes not up to us – in front of us – to confront – to keep his distance – to turn away if necessary – no, there’s no space between us and Jesus – for he commits himself to us by coming into us – I don’t want to say ‘becoming one of us’ because of other religions’ ideas of deification – but I do want to say that Jesus wanders into our bedroom knowing it isn’t his home – it’s your home, your life – and loving you where you are but not wanting you to stay where you are if you’re entangled, dirtied, polluted, trapped in sin, fear, and death. And he gives himself to clean, to heal, to break the chains and to give life to us for another day or week in this world and a commitment never to stop serving us.
That is what we think Judas didn’t believe or trust; that when we’re sick of ourselves, Jesus isn’t.
There’s considerable talk at the moment about how with the connectivity of the internet many people seem to becoming lonelier and lonelier. Technology always has consequences and side effects. The cyber church is not a fad anymore nor is accessing technology for worship whether that be screens showing video clips or streaming services for isolated folk. Such a proliferation of gatherings – now with Skype or Facetime – will affect how we view humanity and how we view the Church. In my opinion, the more we disembody meeting together, the more in danger the Church is of losing its way – and not proclaiming the cross and Christ crucified. If words are the only source and norm for faith then we will be blowing in the wind. Look at the proliferation of denominations since Luther stamped his foot at Worms and got away with it. But while we have bodies – in other words, while we live in this world – we also need what God has given to us – his physical (spiritual) presence that defies our senses but uses them to meet us in bread and wine where he sacramentally strengthens those who gather so that they can then live together as the body of Christ – not ignoring what is going on between them – but dealing with all things – life and death, sickness and health, problems and joys, sins and fears – so that the outcome is what Jesus always planned – the reason he came – so that we can have life – and have it to the full.
Tonight the Christian Church gathers and Jesus has organised the preparation.
- Mark 14:12 - 26