We have come into a new year, the year 2022. In many ways, it does not seem possible that it is the year 2022. The other day I was thinking back and remembering that 22 years have passed since the time many people thought world as we know it would grind to a halt as the clock changed from December 31, 1999, to January 1, 2000. Do you remember Y2K? People were panic stricken about the “Millennium Bug” that would render computer systems inoperative leading to the loss of electrical systems, banking records, communication systems, and so forth and so on. I think we will recall that none of the doomsday predictions came to pass. The lights stayed on and the crystal ball in New York’s Time Square still dropped at the stroke of midnight. Do you remember?
Remembering, the capacity for memory, is one of the greatest assets God gave to human beings. We can remember information and put it to use to guide our future actions. The first instance of a human recalling information to guide a future action is found in the Book of Genesis, Chapter 3, in a conversation between the serpent and Eve. “1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?’ 2 The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die’” (Genesis 3:1-2).
Eve had remembered the words of God that she and the man were free to eat from any tree in the garden except for the one tree that stood in the middle of the garden. Eve remembered information from the past necessary to guide future decisions. This is why God gave us a capacity to remember information. God also gave us free will and we can and do use it to override and ignore information we possess to do what we want in the present. Eve and Adam used their free will and did eat fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden.
Even though we may not use the capacity to remember information it is nevertheless an essential capacity for our very survival. We know that when we see our loved ones become ill and lose the capacity to remember the basics of life. Without the capacity to remember, they become helpless and vulnerable.
We also have the capacity to remember smells, sounds, touch, colors, tastes, and images. For example, the capacity of sensory memory can alter us to dangers. Suppose you are driving, and you see flashing lights right behind you and you hear a loud high-pitched sound of a siren. You react and steer your car to the right, hoping the vehicle with lights and sirens goes right passed you. Or perhaps you go into a bakery, and you smell that fresh bread, and you remember when you were a child that same smell when your grandmother or mother baked fresh bread. Your senses bring you forward the memory of an event from the past.
It is this last capacity of recalling an event that is important to us this day as we gather in this sanctuary. It is important because this day has at its foundation some powerful emotions to it. We remember most vividly events that carry with them great emotions. If I asked you what happened on the 14th day of school when you were in the third grade, I do not believe a single person could recall that day. Why? Because there were no emotions associated with that day. If I asked, “Do you remember September 11, 2001?” virtually everyone could share details about that day. Why can we remember that day so well? Because there were powerful emotions associated with September 11th. Even as I say the words, September 11th, you are experiencing memories of that day, even though it was now more than 20 years ago.
Consider then the emotions that formed the memories we heard and read from the Gospel of Mark earlier today about the time Jesus and his disciples gathered for the Passover meal. This was not the first Passover meal for Jesus or the disciples. It was not likely the first time Jesus and his disciples shared the Passover together. But the Passover meal Mark described among Jesus and his disciples would become an unforgettable event and would become a powerful story spoken about by all Christians.
Consider how that meal began. Mark said Jesus and the disciples gathered for the Passover meal. Everything seemed just right, but things were far from right. “18 While they (Jesus and the Twelve) were reclining at the table eating, he (Jesus) said, ‘Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me—one who is eating with me.’ 19 They (The Twelve) were saddened, and one by one they (The Twelve) said to him (Jesus), ‘Surely you don’t mean me?’” (Mark 14:18-19).
A meal of celebration had shifted to a conversation about betrayal. Personal betrayal only occurs between people who have an intimate relationship. A stranger cannot betray us. Only someone we know and who we trust can betray us. Betrayal carries with it strong emotions of shock, loss and grief, anger, doubting, and fear. The disciples were saddened at the news that one of them would betray Jesus. But the concern of each disciple was not to immediately accuse each other of betrayal. The concern of each disciple was for themselves. Each disciple desired to be assured they were not the one who would betray Jesus. The sense that this was just another Passover meal was over for the disciples. The disciples were now very sensitive to anything, and everything said and done by Jesus and each of them.
Mark said that after some calm had been restored to the meal and everyone quietly resumed eating, without warning or further introduction, “22Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take it; this is my body’” (Mark 14:22)
Another wave of powerful emotions swept over Jesus’ disciples. The bread was still bread, but Jesus had transformed the meaning of the bread to be his body. In the Jewish custom, Jesus had blessed the whole of the bread and then broke it up intending to show the blessing of the whole went along with each piece. This was a moment of great discipleship in which the Twelve were being invited to consume the passion of Christ. The Twelve had to reflect upon the depth of Jesus’ love for them, for the compassion Jesus had for those he healed, for the longing Jesus had that people would repent and come to God, and for the humility that Jesus would offer himself to the faithful follower and betrayer alike. But they were offered not just bread, but the body of Christ. I believe the Twelve ate in total silence trying to take in the full meaning of the moment.
When the bread had been consumed, Mark said, “23 He (Jesus) took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he (Jesus) gave it to them (disciples), and they all drank from it (the cup). 24 ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,’ he said to them. 25 ‘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’” (Mark 14:23-25).
For a third time at this meal, a flood of emotions swept over the room. Jesus had offered a cup to his disciples telling them that was his blood was to be poured out for many. To the Jewish mind, blood was the life-force of the body. For these Jewish disciples understood that to pour out the blood was symbolic of a sacrifice for the sins of others. Jesus was telling The Twelve that his blood would be spilled for sinners, including them, and that in pour out his blood Jesus would not drink from the cup again in this world. Jesus’ disciples must have thought people die when blood is poured out of them. People who are dead no longer drink. Jesus’ disciples must have thought, “What on heaven and earth is going on?” No doubt Jesus’ disciples shocked in silence, sipped from the cup, and were left dazed by Jesus words.
Jesus had left his disciples with a powerful and indelible memories of pending betrayal and an offering of his body and blood. As painful as these emotions might have been Jesus’ disciples also could not deny that they had received the outrageous generosity of Christ. With deceit and treachery imminent, Jesus chose that very moment to bring his friends into the deepest form of discipleship. Jesus wanted his disciples, those who would follow him after the betrayal, to be forever reminded of the true essence of Jesus and to imitate him. This is what Christian discipleship means, coming to be Christ in all ways.
But we would miss the broader point Jesus was making here if we thought Jesus wanted just to strengthen each follower. Jesus chose this moment when his disciples were gathered to speak of giving his body and blood. Jesus wanted his disciples to share this moment as a single body. The bread and the cup were taken together by the disciples. There was one bread and one cup representing Christ. That body and blood of Christ became present in the bodies of those gathered and thus the presence of the faithful disciples would become the presence of Jesus in the world.
The disciples, Peter, James, John, Andrew, Matthew, Thomas, Nathaniel, Philip, James son of Alphaeus, Jude, and Simon, came to understand that what Jesus did was to be remembered when Christians gathered. Sharing the bread and cup, what we now call the Lord’s Supper, was and is a reminder that God entered our world in the person of his Son, Jesus, and that the Son acted to redeem all things to himself. The disciples came to understood that the Lord’s Supper belonged in the context of gathered worship.
Worship is that moment in which we who are many are formed into one people to give thanks to God and to learn how to live in a more Christ-like way. Worship is that moment in which we are reminded of what, whom, we love most. For whatever or whomever forms our vision of the good life, whatever we love, sets the path for our lives.
The goal of Jesus’ sharing the bread and the cup with his disciples was not to transform the elements of bread and wine into something they were not but rather the goal was the transformation of the participants. This emotionally laden unforgettable scene would stay with Jesus’ disciples forever. Celebrating the Lord’s Supper became a universal way Christians acknowledge the significance of Jesus completed work.
Celebrating the Lord’s Supper allowed the disciples the ability to bring the past into the present. By remembering Jesus at that meal, Jesus’ disciples could remember and worship Jesus for his generosity, joy, righteousness, trust, peace, hospitality, and love. Jesus’ disciples could remember that that there was only one bread and one cup that they all shared and making them all one body. Jesus’ disciples could remember what Jesus did through the Lord’s Supper and later through the cross offered them reconciliation with God but also demanded that they be reconciled to each other.
We, of course, were not present when Jesus shared the bread and the cup. But Jesus’ disciples wanted us to know about the Lord’s Supper and its importance to our worship of Christ and our discipleship in him. That is why there are multiple accounts of this event in the gospels and letters of the New Testament. Jesus’ disciples made sure that we had the ability to enter the story of that meal so that we too could become God’s people transformed into the body of Christ.
In being reminded of the bread and the cup, we are called to be like Christ and follow his mission. We are gathered to worship Christ not so that we could engage in some act of self-preservation rather we are gathered to make ourselves open in risky welcome. We are open to inviting and encouraging others to see in Christ the blessings he offers and invites us to share without regard to repayment. The blessings of joy, righteousness, trust, peace, hospitality, and love are all made possible to us by the outrageous generosity of Christ.
I want to invite you now to be drawn back into the story of Jesus at the Lord’s Supper as we too remember what it means to be a faithful follower of Jesus who shares the new creation of God. I am glad you are here today to help me remember and that together we are the body of Christ who bring his presence into this world. Let us pray.