Luke 22 : 14 – 27
When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. 15 He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; 16 for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” 17 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; 18 for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 19 Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20 And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. 21 But see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table. 22 For the Son of Man is going as it has been determined, but woe to that one by whom he is betrayed!” 23 Then they began to ask one another which one of them it could be who would do this.
24 A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. 25 But he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. 26 But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. 27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.
It snowed in El Paso. When I was … 8 or 9 maybe? … as I remember it, it was maybe even spring and not winter … it snowed in El Paso. Our usually full sanctuary, several hundred folks, was down to a couple dozen that morning. I mean, it was a Sunday morning late season snow in the middle of the desert. That’s a thing that makes you stay in your house! So this small gathering moved out of our pews and onto the chancel. And worship that day was reading scripture, and singing songs we all knew, and passing around a loaf of bread and a cup of juice. That’s how I remember it anyway.
Five or six years later, it was summer, at the church camp near Carlsbad, New Mexico. Standing at Black River, which cut into the camp property. A bunch of teenagers … sweaty in the desert summer, striped with sunburn, dotted with chigger bites and calamine lotion, taking cubes of bread off a cafeteria issue plate and dipping them in sun-warmed grape juice, held awkwardly in junior high hands. Renee, Ginny, Eddie, Jeff, Julie, Gina, Randy, Chris, Lisa, Georgia, Mark, David, all of my friends were there. Standing in front of each other, trying not to giggle, because you know it’s a serious thing, but also you’re 13 and everything makes you giggle.
A decade and change later, back at that same chancel in that same El Paso church, I stood behind a communion table to preside for the first time as a minister. Wearing the robe my dad had just put on me, and the cross my mother had just placed around my neck, standing next to the elders who had prayed at the front of that church since I was a child, I offered the invitation for the first time as Reverend Courtney Richards. That meant something. Still does.
At General Assembly in Nashville in 2011, with thousands of Disciples from churches all over the country and even the world, standing the floor of the convention center during worship, I moved to take communion from a deacon holding an enormous basket of bread, and then stood in front of a seminary classmate, by then a regional minister, and he put his hands on my shoulders and prayed for me. For my ministry, for my life, for my direction and purpose. It remains a thing we mention to each other quite often, but still can sometimes barely talk about.
In our tradition, we usually baptize around 5th grade or so, and many students then take communion for the first time. When our students, during that 5th grade year, close their Pastors Class together, they create a small worship service. And they always want to serve communion, to their classmates and their parents and their faith partner elders. They take it so seriously, with such pride. Not just holding the bread and the chalice, but watching each person, moving from their hand to their mouth, as the gifts are received. They know.
Our littlest ones do too. In a church like ours where people have come from all kinds of churches and backgrounds and practices, many of our very young children participate in communion already. And in Children Worship and Wonder, they share a ‘feast’ each week. Along with their storytelling and wondering questions and engaging responses and prayer time and offering, there’s a little feast. Mostly goldfish crackers and water in small cups. But they know. It means something to sit down with people, and say a prayer, and share.
This is what Jesus is doing. It’s all Jesus is doing. In a story that is recounted differently in each of the four gospels – small nuances of placement, and wording, and the order of things, and the number of cups – all Jesus is doing is saying : Sit down, take this bread, share the wine, pay attention to this moment, it matters. And you should repeat it whenever you can.
That’s what we’re trying to do this month in the sermon series we’ve named ROLE CALL.
In August, we opened a new season in this church’s life, an interim season toward the calling of a new Lead Pastor. We moved into the first weeks of this in-between season, and took the first month to remind ourselves that we are at our best when we are together, that we are the people we claim to be in our core values, people ready to Be Loved, Believe, Become.
In the second month of our interim season, we marked the season of Creationtide, and took every angle we could to explore what it means to honor our Creator, caring fully and well for all of creation, and how we can join in as co-creators, building together the world God has in mind.
Here we are now, rooting ourselves into the fall that seems to have finally (mercifully) arrived. What is our role, our task, our call as believers? If we carry these core values … and we are invited into the wonder of God’s creation … what is our task, our responsibility, our curiosity, our ROLE, in all of it? The world is full of distractions and our days are filled with both meaningful and missed opportunities. How can we sort out what is ours to do – and what is not – in our role as children of God, followers of Christ, the fellowship of the Holy Spirit? Where do we even begin? And what makes us think we can?
This is what Jesus is doing. It’s all Jesus is doing. Sitting with his disciples – his closest companions, his dearest friends, his most faithful followers, and yet even they in so many instances weren’t entirely sure what was happening. But he said, Come. Sit with me. Take this bread. Take this cup. Remember this moment. And then do it again.
This is World Communion Sunday. Today, Christians the world over – in churches of every kind, in buildings of every variety, in languages of every sound – are sharing communion. For us, in the Disciples church, that may seem like a strange thing to celebrate, since we have communion as a central part of our worship experience each week. But it’s a thing that’s worth commemorating, an experience worth marking – that for a Sunday, this Sunday each year, everywhere in the world, we’re all sitting down to supper together.
Last night I attended an author event hosted by a local bookseller. Several friends from this community were there too. And toward the end of the event, the host asked the author one of my very favorite questions … Where do you find hope? It’s a simple question, and not, at the same time. Where do you find hope?
It’s not asking, what are you wishing for? What do you expect or need? That’s not it. Where do you find hope leans toward something different. It suggests that hope is an active thing, engaged and moving in the world. And the question implies that hope is something we move toward, something we find, not something that just sits around. Where do you find hope means that there is something for us to engage in … look for … pursue … The question assumes that we will be the hopeful.(1)
So the question came: Where do you find hope?
And she faced the room, and held her hands out and said, Right here. That you’ve all chosen to show up. On a Saturday night in Tulsa. When we’re so used to hiding behind our screens and staying in our homes, you are here, bodily, with other people, in the same room, for a reason.
That’s it, right? That’s where we find hope. When we could be anywhere and do anything, and yet we choose: to show up, together, in the same room, for a reason.
It’s no small thing to be here. Not just today, on a sort of stormy, not quite sure what it’s doing, Sunday morning. But here you are. When I first started in full time ministry, the church I served in Indianapolis was a little more than ten years old. One of the great stories of its founding was the story of Ruth Henry.
At that time, when a church was ‘planted’ by the denomination, there is a plan and process designed where the other Disciples churches in the area help it get started by providing ‘seeds’ in the form of money toward the new mission, and members to be the start-up congregation. So the church was started, meeting in living rooms and community centers and school cafeterias, and eventually building a sanctuary in the suburbs where it’s grown and thrives today.
When that sanctuary went up, a woman named Ruth Henry came for worship. She was a lifelong Disciple, and lived in the assisted living center down the street. The bus would bring her over each week and take her home an hour later. She said to the senior minister, on the day she came forward to join the church, ‘I’ve been in church a long time. I’ve done everything you can do in a church, served in every way. I can’t do that anymore. But I’ll be here. I’ll bring my offering. And I’ll be here.’
And until the day she was called to eternal life, resting now with the saints, Ruth was there. In her pew. Ready to worship. Always a kind word. Every week. Because Ruth knew that it matters that we show up, and sit down, and share the moment together.
And that’s what Jesus is doing in this meal we now call the Last Supper, the Lord’s Supper, eucharist, communion. That’s what he’s saying: Be here. Share this. Come back. It’s praying with author and priest Brennan Manning when he says, “Lord, when I feel that what I’m doing is insignificant and unimportant, help me to remember that everything I do is significant and important in your eyes, because you love me and you put me here, and no one else can do what I am doing in exactly the way I do it.”(2)
You may have noticed, if you’ve been around this church, or any Disciples church, very long, that we have a distinct symbol. A logo. It’s a chalice. this Disciples movement took shape from the early 1800s, we gathered in worship and always shared communion. It is open to all who come, no matter your membership, affiliation, longevity or status in the community. You will often hear us say, This is not our table, it is Christ’s table. Jesus is the one who invites us. That’s what the chalice reminds us of.
As the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) took shape, and after 150 years decided that some kind of denominational structure and shape might be a good idea, there was also the call for a unifying symbol. Some way to mark communities as connected to one another. And so with a couple of suggestions and a sketch on a napkin over lunch – I am not making that up – the red chalice, with the sideways cross, became our marker, our sign, our connecting and gathering point.
The chalice symbolizes the central place of communion in worship for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The X-shaped cross of the disciple Andrew is a reminder of the ministry of each person and the importance of evangelism. (3) The saltire, the x-shaped cross, is a nod to our Scottish Presbyterian heritage (the same x-cross is on the Scottish flag) and overlays the cup of Christ, which we raise every time we are together.
The chalice reminds us that we receive a gift at the table, remembering Jesus gathering with his disciples and giving new meaning to bread and cup. And it tells us that we have work to do, that the cup isn’t just ours to hold, it is ours to share.
Here’s something I want to be sure we see in today’s text. In the midst of everything we like about it and all that it shapes and frames for us, there’s a small piece that it’s easy to miss: Everyone is there. Everyone. It’s a Passover meal, so yes, as good Jews, they would all have gathered. As those invited by Jesus to be part of this inner circle, to come and see and witness and walk together, they were all there, yes. But don’t miss that one verse: But see, the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table.
They are ALL there. Everyone is at this table.
Jesus doesn’t say to him, No, you can’t be here. I know who you are and what you’ll do later tonight and you’ve really got some nerve showing up here, betrayal on your mind, thinking you can sit with the rest of us. Jesus doesn’t reveal who the betrayer is. He doesn’t unleash any wrath, he doesn’t encourage any mob mentality, he doesn’t vent any anger, even when – knowing what he knows – he really very well could have.
He says: This is my body, for you. This is my blood, for you. The one who will betray me, this is for you. I will do what I have to, because this is for you. Too.
And when I see that verse, and I think about Jesus being there, and I think about how I often come to this table, carrying my grudges, harboring my resentments, making my list of things that should be and things that should not be … none of that is about the people on those lists. And none of that is about Jesus. And if ever there were a time, a moment, a ROLE, where it should be all about Jesus, it’s at this table.
If we’ve made it about how we feel about a thing, then we’ve made it not about Jesus.
If we’ve made it about who we think is good and not good, then we’ve made it not about Jesus.
If we’ve made it about what this person does that we like or don’t like, then we’ve made it not about Jesus.
If we come to this table because it’s just the thing we do at that point in worship and we don’t, every single time, think about the fact that this is a gift and a privilege and a responsibility …
If we come to this table and we think that there’s someone in this room, in this world, that Jesus would not welcome to sit right here with him too …
then we’ve made it our table, and not the Lord’s Table.
We’ve made it a feast of pride, and not a banquet of grace.
We’ve made it what we want it to be, and not what Jesus says it is.
When we prepare a meal to have in the freezer just in case we hear of someone who could use a little extra.
When we sit on the floor with a child and take in rambling stories and hand out goldfish.
When we see a person in the same place every week and then realize they’re not there for a bit and call to check in and say hello.
When we offer a ride to church, or a book to read, or an umbrella in the rain, or a hello at the door.
When we know it’s a season of in-between and we bring our offering and get ourselves here anyway.
When we see something that needs doing and instead of telling someone it needs to be done we take care of it ourselves.
When we hear something we disagree with and instead of walking away, we ask to know more.
When we feel like there isn’t a place for us, but we remember the time someone pulled up a chair.
When we decide instead of rushing in and rushing out, we’ll take time to say hello, and goodbye, and linger over the joy of a table’s feast just a little longer …
Then we’ve played our role.
We’ve made room.
We’ve made it about Jesus.
“This is my body, which is given for you.
“This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant
Do this in remembrance of me.”
If there’s bread, and a cup, there’s a feast.
So make room.
(1) This phrase is borrowed from Jamie Tworkowski, founder/director of To Write Love On Her Arms (twloha.org)
(2) Brennan Manning, Souvenirs of Solitude