Tonight we have heard the story of Jesus giving us the sacred meal of bread and wine, which we will soon participate in. The Eucharist is a meal where our eyes are opened to the Incarnate Love of God given freely to each one of us. A meal that is prepared for all of creation and a table that is set for all, yes all, who seek to commune with the Divine. Today, we celebrate the institution of the Eucharist. It is hard for us to know exactly what Jesus had in mind when he gave us this sacred example and anyone who has studied church history knows it has been a point of contention from the very start. There have been disagreements and church councils held again and again trying to determine exactly what happens on this table. Even new words have been constructed to try and describe the miracle that takes place before us. But perhaps all those fancy words, which few of us know, let alone understand, and those 2,000 years of disagreements have completely missed the point of this simple holy meal Jesus gave to us.
In an attempt to try and consider what its all about, let’s reflect on the final words of our Gospel reading today. After blessing the elements, Jesus tells his followers that one of them will betray him, to which they respond with shock and questioning awe for perhaps 2 minutes, if we are generous. Then the passage tells us that a dispute quickly rises among them as to whom is the greatest follower, the greatest disciple and perhaps the “great one” meaning the intended replacement for Christ, if he really does leave them. Pause and think about this for a moment. Jesus has just told them someone will betray him and turn him over to a painful and barbaric death and the disciples waste no time in making it all about themselves. They almost immediately turn to quarreling amongst each other about their own superiority. Sadly, it sounds all to familiar doesn't it?
I have to wonder if Christ didn’t see the forthcoming countless theological arguments, church schisms and denominational wars in this moment at the table. If he was able to see into the future, he undoubtedly saw the grim, often depressing, future of the church. A future church where leadership would glory in its own power, a church where the marginalized would be forsaken and left on the outskirts and a church that was divided because they placed dogma above loving others. Yes, Jesus must have been weeping inside realizing the ones who had walked and talked with him day and night for three years still had little understanding of the radical counter-cultural religious gathering he was attempting to establish in the name of God.
This night Jesus broke the bread and said, “This is my body.” In the symbolic act of breaking the bread Jesus revealed that the love he embodied could not be contained and that it was to be distributed freely to all the world. Once something is broken it must be distributed, it can not be held on to any longer. To hold on to that which is to be given freely causes death and decay. It is the opposite of Jesus’s way and practice of life, the One who gave freely without reservation. Jesus takes the cup and said, “This cup is my blood poured out.” Jesus is essentially saying to his disciples through all the centuries, “You can not contain what I am about to do for all of creation, soon I will lay down my life in the greatest act of love the world has ever known and absolutely no container or barrier can hold it back.”
The disciples however, miss the message Jesus is giving to them. They quickly began to worry themselves wondering who in the greatest in the context of this sacred meal. A meal where Jesus has just explained the reality that all people are made equal, all are invited and none may control its offering. So Jesus speaks up and he says, “The king of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the one who serves. 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 the one who serves.”
To place these words of Jesus in a modern context, listen to them from The Message Bible: “Kings like to throw their weight around and people in authority like to give themselves fancy titles. It’s not going to be that way with you. Let the senior among you become like the junior; let the leader act the part of the servant. Who would you rather be: the one who eats the dinner or the one who serves the dinner? You’d rather eat and be served, right? But I’ve taken my place among you as the one who serves.”
Jesus slaps his followers upside the head and says look at what is happening here. I am your leader, I am the chosen one of God and yet I have not asked you to serve the table, rather I have served the table for you. I have not endowed myself with fancy titles and bureaucracy, like others do, rather I come to you humbly and simply offering all I Am and all I have. Jesus is telling them, Jesus is telling us today, “This is how you must minister as well, if you desire to carry on my message of inclusive love.”
Bloomington Inclusive Eucharist Community has been formed in an attempt to continue in the edict Jesus gave to us on this night 2,000 years ago. We are named for this very meal, Eucharist, which means, “thanksgiving.” Tonight is our feast in a special way, we exist because of this very night, this very moment, instituted by Jesus with a simple loaf of bread, a small cup and the words, “Serve all!” May we never allow ourselves to enter into theological battles or self-righteous quarreling but, with God’s help, may we continue to offer this simple holy meal to all who grace our presence and walk through those doors. We receive each other and every person with great thanksgiving, seeing them as our equal, and knowing we each have a rightful place at this table because of God’s unending grace. Never may we allow ourselves to place any barriers on the Incarnate Love of the Divine that is made known to us in the breaking of the bread and the pouring of the cup. We must never become so become consumed with our own place at this table that we forget the one who stands next to us, we must serve them as Jesus first served us, as Jesus serves us this very night.
The Eucharist is, or should be, a beacon of equality and inclusion. Tragically, much of history has turned it into a tool of manipulation and degradation. It has been used to say who is is good enough and who is not. However, to truly eat at this table, in the name of Jesus, is to accept the mandate to love all and offer thanksgiving continually. In doing so we become the servant of all, just as Jesus was and is. Will you serve as Jesus served? Will you give this meal away freely to all creation? If Jesus could commune and break bread with his very own betrayer, who are we to determine who communes at this sacred table. Today, we are given a new commandment: To love one another as Jesus loves us. Will we participate in this holy mandate, not only on Maundy Thursday, but everyday?
Come...all of you...taste and see that God is good!