Good morning, Friends! Thanks again for joining us here today for worship.
We’ve had a pretty challenging week here at Springfield. The tornado which struck our community on Thursday passed right over this neighborhood.
All of a sudden, it got black as night outside. The wind started to roar. It started raining, just like a fire hose. Joyce and I caught the warning, and headed down to the basement. The power went out. Things got calm again, and we came upstairs again. There were limbs down in every direction.
Later, we found some damage over across the street. Steven and Eugene came by, and did some emergency repairs. We set up an emergency work day for yesterday. But we were so grateful that no one was hurt, that our meetinghouse and our other buildings were safe.
One tree missed the picnic shelter by inches. The top blew out of a big tree in the cemetery. It should have gone right into the statue of the angel. But the same wind that hit the tree, blew it just a couple of extra feet, so that it missed.
We really felt that we’d been spared, during what could have been a terrible disaster.
OK, let’s change gears now. At the end of next week, our Jewish cousins around the world will start celebrating Passover. They’re remembering the time when God saved the entire nation of Israel, when the angel of death passed over them all.
The highlight of Passover is a special meal, called the seder. At the seder, people eat special unleavened bread and other things to remind them of the last day they spent in slavery, and the way God delivered them.
OK, let’s change gears again: Jesus and his disciples celebrated the Passover together — it was a Jewish passover meal, a seder. We call it the Last Supper, because it was the last meal they spent together. I want to read you the story of the Last Supper now, from the gospel of Mark.
On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb, Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Where do you want us to go and make preparations for you to eat the Passover?”
So Jesus sent two of his disciples, telling them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him. Say to the owner of the house he enters, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.”
The disciples left, went into the city and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.
When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me—one who is eating with me.”
They were saddened, and one by one they said to Jesus, “Surely you don’t mean me?”
“It is one of the Twelve,” Jesus replied, “one who dips bread into the bowl with me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.”
While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.”
Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it.
“This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” Jesus said to them. “Truly I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”
When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.Mark 14:12-26
I thought pretty hard before choosing this passage of Scripture for us to look at together this morning. Quakers always seem to be a little bit nervous about the story of the Last Supper. It reminds us that we’re different from the rest of the Christian church, because we don’t have an outward celebration of communion.
The rest of the church hears Jesus say, “Take it; this is my body,” and hears Jesus say, “This is my blood of the new covenant.” And the rest of the church feels that they are required to re-enact this scene in some way.
Other churches sometimes question Friends, because we don’t celebrate sacraments in any outward way. Part of the reason for that, of course, is that other churches fight so much about them.
At the time Quakers got started, other Christians fought with each other over the sacraments. There were civil wars and religious wars, with armies and blood shed. People cast each other out of churches, because of the different ways they interpreted these Scriptures.
Quakers took a long, hard look at all these goings-on, and we said, “Surely, Jesus didn’t mean for his followers to fight each other, over these things.
We’re not going to go with one side, or another, on this. We’re going to understand these Scriptures, in our own way.”
Quakers think that true communion is something that takes place inwardly, inside ourselves, inside our hearts.
Again, back when we got started, Quakers saw people go to church, and take communion, and come away unchanged. People didn’t seem to be better, or holier, or more forgiving. They didn’t seem to be more Christian. It didn’t seem to make any difference in their lives.
There is no question that some people find going to communion a comfort. But there are also people who find that outward ceremonies get in the way of their experience of the presence of Christ.
For a lot of people, what’s important is getting the words exactly right, and having a special meal that’s celebrated in exactly the right way. For Friends, what matters is the fellowship with Christ. What matters is the true and inward spirit of communion that can be shared anywhere, at any time.
For many Christians, the story of the Last Supper means that they have the very same body and blood of Jesus Christ there with them at communion. Or to put it another way, some people feel that it’s only at communion that they know for sure that Jesus is really there.
That’s something Quakers aren’t so sure about. Yes, Jesus may be there at those special times. But we feel the presence of the Lord to be with us at other times, too.
A special meal in church with special words said over it isn’t the only time we feel close to God. Every meal where we ask God’s blessing and are gathered in Jesus’ name is a sacrament of communion for us.
What matters is that we know Jesus is with us, that we haven’t been abandoned, that we’re not alone. For some people, going to a special service of communion is what gives them that assurance. But as we read the words of Christ in the gospel, we find many other assurances that we will meet with him in our lives.
For example, there’s everybody’s favorite passage. “Where two or three of you are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of you…” (Matthew 18:20) That passage gives us the same assurance as communion, in another way. The bread and the wine don’t matter as much as the presence of the living Christ.
Actually, that passage has a deeper meaning. It’s one that we usually overlook. When Jesus said, “Where two or three of you are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of you…”, he had just been talking about forgiveness.
Jesus was promising that wherever two or three people are gathered in his name, for the purpose of forgiveness and reconciliation, for the purpose of bringing peace and bringing God’s healing, then he would be there, right with them. When we get together to forgive and to learn about mercy, Christ is present.
Or take another favorite passage. Jesus said that any time we gave another person even so much as a cup of cold water, because we were following him, we would be rewarded. (Matthew 10:42) When we help other people, we are meeting Christ. We don’t need wine! A cup of cold water is enough. Christ will be there!
Another passage we’re all familiar with says the same thing to us. Jesus said, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to see me…Whenever you did these things to the least of my brothers and sisters, you did them to me…” (Matthew 25:35-36,40)
Again, this is Jesus himself talking about when he is present. It doesn’t matter whether we see Jesus or not. To give to the poor is to give to God. To care for the needy is to care for Christ himself.
It’s not just that when we do these things, Jesus said he would count them as if he were present. He said, “When you do these things to the lowest and to the humblest and to the most insignificant and least deserving people around, I am there and you are doing them directly to ME, in person.”
The Last Supper is important. But we need to be ready for communion at all times, in all places.
What is it that makes an invitation to dinner so special? Think about it.
It isn’t that we couldn’t prepare the same kind of food ourselves, in our own homes. We could all eat alone, in separate little cubicles, and get the same benefit, from a nutritional point of view.
Part of what makes eating together so special is a deep sense of the meal being more than just another breakfast, lunch or dinner. We like to eat together because of the sense we have of someone else being present with us. We know that we’re not alone. The Lord is here, too.
There’s a lot more to the story of the Last Supper than we’ll have time for today. I’m skipping over lots of theology, lots of arguments which have occupied the church for hundreds of years.
That’s tough. Whatever Jesus meant, I don’t think that he intended for it to be beyond the grasp of the simplest of his followers.
One of the traditions which Jewish people practice at Passover, is the tradition of setting another place at the table. When they gather for the Passover seder, they always set an extra place, for the prophet Elijah. “This might be the year that the Messiah comes,” they say, “and Elijah will come, to prepare the way. . .”
In some Christian homes, the same kind of tradition is carried on. They alway set an extra place, for a stranger. Even if no one is expected, the extra place is always there. Because someone might come to the door, and Jesus said that if we welcome strangers, it would be just the same as welcoming him.
After the Last Supper, some people really did think that it was going to be the last meal they would ever share with Jesus. But it wasn’t. It was only the first gathering, in a whole new way of life. The real message of the Last Supper was, “until we meet again. . .”
They didn’t know that at the time. But we know it. And we can help other people understand that they’re not alone, either. Sharing our fellowship, sharing our experience of the presence of Christ, is part of the ministry of the church.
On Easter Sunday, two of Jesus’ friends met someone, on the road to the small town of Emmaus. They didn’t recognize Jesus at first. They only recognized him, when he sat down to supper with them. And later, they said, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us, as we walked and talked together on the road?”
Burning hearts, soaring hearts, are almost always a sign or symptom of the presence of Christ. When our hearts and minds are lifted, when our hearts and minds are on fire with the love of God and the message of Jesus, then Christ is probably there.
At every meal, or on every occasion, the Lord can be present. Everything we do, can be done for Christ. Every time we forgive, Jesus is there beside us. We are never alone. It was Jesus himself who said, “I am with you always, even to the end of the world…” (Matthew 28:20)