Preached Thursday, March 29, 2018, at St. Margaret’s Anglican Church, Diocese of Toronto, Barrie, Ontario
Lections: Exodus 12:1-14, Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, John 17:1-17, 31b-35
profound, so clear in its meaning, that I think the act of washing one
another’s feet speaks clearly to our souls.
To kneel before someone, to touch and wash their feet, to accept the
other’s offer of vulnerability and grace, and to hold that offer, like their
feet, in the greatest trust and humility – these things speak clearly and
eloquently to our Lord’s call to love one another that I think they scarce need
a sermon to illuminate their meaning.
Besides this service where we do this one
extraordinary thing once a year, we also do the perfectly ordinary thing of coming
forward to take the bread and wine.
Well, sort of. The bread is
really a weightless, tasteless disc that might be distantly related to wheat,
and a tiny sip of wine. Nevertheless we
recognize that this symbols stand for something greater, and see them as a glimpse
of the love and forgiveness of the heavenly banquet. So we do this every Sunday, and as we receive
the bread and wine we hear the same words each Sunday, the same words that we
just heard in our second lesson, “this is my body”, “this is my blood”, “do
this in remembrance of me”.
are so caught up in the novelty, perhaps even the shock, of water and strange
hands on our gnarled and unlovely feet that we miss the importance of this
strange meal that we have become so accustomed to in our weekly liturgy? What if we were to try and recover the
strangeness of this meal – can we even call it a meal? maybe a ceremony? a ritual? – of bread and wine that we observe
communion, certainly was strange to the first Christians. It was absolutely foreign to their thinking. When Paul wrote his first letter to Corinth,
he was writing to new believers who had started a church, but had almost no
clue what they were doing or why. They
knew about communion or the Lord’s supper, but they observed it as if it was
just a normal meal, conducted according to the usual social rules of the
ancient world. The haves ate with the
haves and had quite a nice time. The
have nots stood at the fringes and watched,
Paul writes angrily:
20When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord’s
supper. 21For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your
own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk. 22What! Do you
not have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you show contempt for the church of
God and humiliate those who have nothing? What should I say to you? Should I
commend you? In this matter I do not commend you! (1 Cor 11: 20-22)
this was an event for all of them. No
one should be left out. It was a meal
for all, to be started only when the community had come together, so that all
believers would be fed, regardless of their wealth and status (1 Cor 11:33). These instructions on how to conduct this
meal were not up for debate. As Paul told this struggling church, “I
received from the Lord what I also handed on to you” (1 Cor 11:23). These instructions came from Jesus himself,
and when he said “do this in memory of me”, he was speaking to all his followers.
the table was a community that cared for one another. It was also a community that wanted its witness
about Christ to have integrity and credibility. No one was left out of this meal, slave,
rich or poor, man and woman, observant Jew and gentile believers in Christ, all
were welcome. That was a huge message in
the ancient world.
inequality and injustice, where a few control vast amounts of wealth and
billions have inadequate access to food and water. When we come forward to receive the bread
and wine, rubbing shoulders with people from all walks of life and from different
races and places, we come forward and are welcomed by our God who wants all to
be fed. I think we make a mistake to
think that the bread and wine are just spiritual food, that communion is simply
about the feeding of our souls. Food is
food. In taking the bread and wine, we
remember a savior whose place was with the poor in body and spirit, who called
us to care for the least among us.
handed on to you”. Tonight, our act of
communion may not be as dramatic as the ritual of footwashing but they both
point to the same thing. Both actions
remind us that just as God came to serve us, so are we expected to serve. The life of this parish, particularly what we
do around food, should be in the spirit of the eucharist. If one of us brings some folded twenties to
slip into the free will offering, and someone else brings an appetite sharpened
by want and hunger, both should be welcome.
No one should be resented for being a free rider, because we are all
free riders at the communion table. Our
social events, our programming, our mission and outreach, need to point the
God who wants to feed us all out of his love and abundance.
seems symbolic compared to the physical reality of footwashing. I suppose we could do something to make
communion more concrete. We could tear
off chunks of bread for one another, leaving the floor covered in crumbs, and
drink the wine in big gulps so that it dribbles down our chins. That would be fun, though it would be messy
church. But better still, I think, to
make our communion truly real and truly urgent by remembering the amazingly
generous spirit of the words that we hear each time we take the bread and
This is the bread. This is the wine. This is the love. This is the abundance. Given for us. Given for all of us. Paul
wrote, “For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you.” May we, who have received so much grace and
abundance from the Lord, hand them on to others. May we wo do these things in remembrance of
him, remember also those who are physically and spiritually hungry. Amen.