given on Sunday, March 7, 2010
This sermon was incorporated into the full liturgy of Holy Communion found on page 6 in the United Methodist Hymnal as part of a seasonal focus on the basics of Lent.
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Come to the Table
Growing up we soon learned that when the smells from the kitchen reached our noses we were ready to head to the table. The nose knows when the meal is ready. I have always found the smell of fresh bread cooking especially appealing. Walking into a house when bread is rising or baking seems to fill a sense of emptiness deep within my soul.
Other scents coming from a kitchen can also be just as appealing or trigger a flood of memories. For instance the smell of coffee percolating on the stove top makes me remember the mornings that Dad would get up, start the coffee pot and make breakfast. When breakfast was done, he came to our rooms and called us to come to the table. It was a comforting feeling and made waking up easy with breakfast already prepared for us.
I imagine when Jesus and the disciples reached the house, the smells of a hearty meal greeted them, too. Their stomachs may have started growling. The mouths probably started watering. The smiles broke across the faces of these travelers as they were greeted with such welcoming hospitality. The dust from their feet was washed away. They were escorted into a room where the table was prepared. They were probably laughing and joking even though they were tired.
The future was still a blank picture in their minds. As far as they knew, the morning would bring another day of teaching, healing, and walking. The people would be friendly, but there were hecklers who made it difficult to spread God’s message. Right now, as they sat down at the table, the sense of camaraderie was all that mattered. The food they needed to continue the work Jesus had given them was ready. The host asked them to come to the table.
The disciples heard the call to come to the Passover table simply following the traditions of the Israelites. But Jesus was there and this was the last supper. Jesus knew that the old traditions were going to change and these new Christians, even his own chosen disciples, did not know what was to come. As they joined each other for that evening meal, there was only Christian fellowship at that table.
The call to come to the table is usually simple: a call to eat a meal with my family and/or friends. I can remember, though, some of those meals did serve as a setting for a major announcement. Granted dinner announcements turned out to be good news in my experience, but I am sure that we all have had some rather difficult news given us while sitting around a dinner table. The announcement can be life-changing.
When Jesus began speaking from that reclining position at the table, many did not even notice. But he continued to talk. Slowly the room became hushed as the guests sensed a change in the mood. Jesus himself probably took on a new look. No longer was he eating. His shoulders probably were drooping. His gaze fell on the different groups of people talking. His heart was aching, as he knew he had to share some difficult news with them.
The room now silent, the people listened, and Jesus began to talk in a low voice, almost a whisper. His first words may have thanked the host for allowing them to eat or complimenting them on the food. But something in his demeanor and tone hushed those at the table. One began to feel uncomfortable and could not look up at Jesus’ face. And then Jesus began …
In Matthew 26: 20-24, Eugene Peterson’s translation records Jesus’ words:
After sunset, he and the Twelve were sitting around the table. During the meal, he said, “I have something hard but important to say to you: One of you is going to hand me over to the conspirators.”
They were stunned, and then began to ask, one after another, “It isn’t me, is it, Master?”
Jesus answered, “The one who hands me over is someone I eat with daily, one who passes me food at the table. In one sense the Son of Man is entering into a way of treachery well-marked by the Scriptures—no surprises here. In another sense that man who turns him in, turns traitor to the Son of Man–better never to have been born than do this?”
The Passover meal turned into a frightening announcement and those around the table were confused and afraid. Accusations, questions, and distrustful looks filled the room. But Jesus would not identify the traitor, instead he called his disciples to come to the table and he began to share the bread and the cup with them one last time.
The words are so familiar to us: “Take, eat. This is my body. … Drink this, all of you. This is my blood. God’s new covenant poured out for many people for the forgiveness of sins.” We find the same words in the liturgy for our communion services. We are called to the table to remember.
Come to the table today, and hear Jesus speak to you. How do you feel when you hear someone is betraying Jesus? Is it you? Is it a brother or a sister? Is it the neighbor? Are you sure, it is not you?
Today, at the table, listen to Jesus’ words and hear the truth of how God came to be with us in person through the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.
Today, at the table, remember that God speaks to us through the words of the Bible and the Holy Spirit.
Today, at the table, remember that God warned the Israelites that they needed to keep the Ten Commandments given Moses. Remember that Jesus taught us a simpler way to live with one commandment to love one another. Remember that Paul, too, had to explain God’s messages to the young Christians in Corinth. Remember, we must keep our focus on God and his words.
Come to the table so you, too, can hear the words of Jesus. As you hear the words, ask God to speak to you. Open your ears, your minds, and your hearts as the words of our liturgy reconnect us to God, to Jesus, and to the Holy Spirit …
Return to the liturgy of communion ….