Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Sermon: Ten Things Your Pastor Wants You To Know About Holy Communion

February 16, 2014
6th Sunday after the Epiphany
Narrative Lectionary, Year 4 
Preaching text: John 6:35-59 

 10.  This is God’s grace, given to us in a way we can comprehend.
God doesn’t really need us to take communion, to gather around what isn’t really a table to eat what isn’t really a meal.
But WE need it.
We need to go through the motions, hear the words, practice receiving this grace from God, because too often we either don’t think we deserve it at all, or we miss it when it’s right in front of us.
Communion happens in a way that we can’t miss—God’s grace and love, here in a bite of bread and drink of wine that startles our senses into paying attention.
We may not always fully comprehend the grace that comes to us in this holy meal, but when we actually take and eat, take and drink, we can’t miss that it’s there.

9. It’s a sacrament—Jesus commands us to do it.
In the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we hear the words of institution—the words Jesus said to his disciples at his last Passover meal: “Take and eat, take and drink, do this in remembrance of me.”
We hear those words every week as we prepare for communion, remembering that this is more than just a cool thing or a quick snack on a Sunday morning: this is something Jesus wants us to do.
Communion is an ordinary thing used for God’s extraordinary purpose;
it’s open to all; and it’s commanded by Jesus—this makes it a sacrament for Lutherans.

 8. This is an open Table—all are welcome.
Since this is not “our” meal, as Lutherans or as Living Word, but Christ’s meal and his invitation, everyone is welcome, as we say, “to receive God’s gifts of grace as they come to us in this holy meal.”
Lutherans talk about baptism, communion, and preaching as the “means of grace”, the means by which God’s love is conveyed to us in a way we can comprehend.
As such, I think they’re all the same, and if we’re going to offer any one of them to everybody, then all of them should be offered to everybody.
God’s grace is not about deserving or understanding—it’s a gift.
And Jesus was talking to all y’all—this holy meal is something we do together, as we recognize Christ present among us, together.

7. So that’s why I think young children can receive Holy Communion.
They may not understand what’s going on theologically with a sacrament—but we don’t really want to make that a test question, do we?—but they certainly understand what it feels like to be left out of what everyone else is doing.
And it’s one of those things we learn from experience: we know love because we are loved, not because we understand love intellectually. 
We know God’s grace because we receive it, we live in it, it surrounds us. That’s also why we have frequent sermons about communion!

6. There’s no such thing as “too much”.
At Living Word we celebrate communion every time we gather for Sunday worship.
It is God’s grace, given for and to us—why wouldn’t we want it as often as we can get it?
We used to think that communion was something “special” that we “saved” for only a few times a year, or if you were an extravagant Midwestern pietist, maybe once a month.(!)
But when we think about it as God’s free gift, something we don’t and can’t deserve, we realize we need it more often, not less.
This table is always ready for those who hunger for its gifts. 
5. What we eat:
Bread and wine are used in communion because that’s what Jesus used, but also because there is some form of bread, some form of wine, in every culture.
Not wanting what we eat to be a stumbling block, however, we also offer alternatives: grape juice and gluten-free wafers.
It doesn’t matter what kind of bread or wafer or wine or juice is used; you’ve probably seen a variety of wafer flavors, shapes of bread, types of wine or juice as you’ve taken communion in various places.
There are theological justifications for all of them, as well as practical considerations.
But the focus is not on the form—these elements are merely the vehicle God uses to get that holy grace from God to us.

4. This is the body and blood of Christ, given and shed for you:
 One of the most difficult things about Holy Communion is the language we use to describe what’s going on, specifically Jesus’ own words that we heard in the gospel lesson today.
Is this bread and wine, or body and blood?  Why would Jesus say that? Those who have grown up with this language know it’s metaphorical—Jesus does not expect us to take these words literally.
Martin Luther spoke of the presence of Christ being “in, under, and through” these elements; body and blood inseparable from bread and wine, but more than just a “symbol” to make us think of Jesus.
I think of it as the lengths God will go to to make sure we know this amazing love: Jesus gives everything he has, and everything he is, gives his very life, body and soul, to BE the love of God for God’s beloved creation.
That’s where grace and faith come in, rather than acceptance or understanding:
God wants us to have this grace, and we may never figure out how it works, but it’s for us. 

3. Forgiveness:
Jesus himself tells us this is “for the forgiveness of sins”.
We occasionally use the Brief Order for Confession and Forgiveness; even less often I hear a private confession; we sing the kyrie, which is a kind of communal confession.
But it is in this meal that we receive God’s forgiveness, that <getting rid of anything that stands in the way of God’s love getting to us>
—whether or not we’ve asked for it in confession, whether or not we think we need it.
Forgiveness is part of the grace, part of the “all”, of this holy meal.

#2. God comes to US--

#1. This is FOR YOU
And thank God for that!
Given that we cannot comprehend all that God does for us and to us in this holy meal, we probably can’t be trusted to find our way to God—we would spend all our time wandering in the wilderness, wondering where God is to be found.
So God comes to US.
The God who knows everything about us, knows who and how we are, knows where and when to find us, and comes to us—week after week, bite after bite, in faith and in doubt.
God comes to us in this holy meal and assures us we are God’s children, beloved, forgiven, filled with God’s grace, given and shed FOR YOU.