"COMMUNION" - Mark 14:22 - 25
A Sermon by Alex Evans, Pastor
Second Presbyterian Church, Richmond, VA
Sunday, October 6, 2019 – World Communion Sunday
There is an interesting and wonderful line in J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, and the main character in that book, Gandalf, speaks well with a biblical response.
Describing the difficult days they were facing, Frodo says this: “I wish it need not have happened in my time.”
“So do I, says Gandalf, “and so do all who live in such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given.” (see J. Wallis, Christ in Crisis, “the Road Ahead,” loc 3750)
We have only so much control of what happens in the world. We often wish things did not happen in our times. But Gandalf speaks such truth – “all we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given.”
We certainly find ourselves in difficult times in these days – so much rancor and division, perhaps a constitutional crisis. The situation seems to change, maybe worsen, everyday. We also have climate issues, and world tensions, and a volatile global economy, and more.
We have to decide what to do with the time that is given.
Today, as you have learned, is World Communion Sunday. We have special plans for this day. And our text is familiar and brief. Listen:
22While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” 23Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. 24He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. 25Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
We always have to decide what to do.
Here is what Jesus invites us to do in good times and uncertain times: 1) We turn to commune with Jesus. 2) We turn to commune with one another. 3) We turn to commune with the calling of Jesus in tending to the poor, caring for the most vulnerable, and serving the needy.
So, . . . especially in uncertain times, it is always good to turn and commune with Jesus.
Words matter. Words create worlds. Words heal. Words give hope and purpose. Words bless and strengthen. This is what the words say: Jesus, while they were eating, “took,” “blessed,” “broke,” and “gave” the bread to them - four very important words that create a world for us.
The taking of the bread means that we are “taken” – “taken” by Jesus. We are chosen by God. Remember the passage from John – Jesus says “you did not choose me; I chose you.” We are chosen before the creation of the world. We are claimed in baptism. We are “taken” by Jesus, just as Jesus takes the bread – into his hands, into his heart, into his concern.
Karl Barth, the theologian, says “election is the sum of the gospel.” We are elected, taken, just as the bread is taken. Can anything separate us from God? No. Nothing can separate us from God’s love because we are taken, chosen, held always by God’s love in Christ Jesus.
Then Jesus “blesses.” God is the great Blessor of life – of our lives. The psalmist asks, “where can I go from God’s Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? . . . If I go to the ends of the earth, you are there. . . . There is no where I can go, O God, where you are not blessing me!” (see Psalm 139). To be blessed is to have God’s love and light cover us, even when it feels dark. It is to have the promises of God shape our lives.
Then Jesus “breaks” the bread. Jesus always meets us in our brokenness. No matter where we are in life, or what is happening, we do well to recall that in our brokenness, we are never on our own. Even when bad things happen, or life is filled with confusion and heartache, nothing is too much for God. Jesus shares in our brokenness. Jesus shares with us when we feel broken, seeking to help and heal us always. This act of sharing and breaking bread is a powerful depiction of our life with God.
Then Jesus “gave” it to them. Jesus provides for us. And that provision is SO THAT we can go and give – go and provide for others. We are meant to be people who receive from God, and then live as people who give life to God. True living means giving. Generously.
So in these times and all times, it is important to turn to Jesus and commune – find him meeting us, feeding us, and sending us.
Then, we turn to one another. True COMMUNION at the Lord’s table always includes fellowship with others. We meet Jesus at the table. But we meet Jesus as we come to the table with others. That is how it works. We never celebrate this sacrament alone. We receive the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation from Jesus, but we also always turn to one another and share it – “the bread of heaven for you too;” we share the “cup of salvation for you, and you and you, too.”
Life with God, life following Jesus, means life in fellowship. Faith is always communal – so we celebrate COMMUNION in community – and we do this today, not just in these walls, but on World Communion Sunday – with all who seek to trust and serve Jesus Christ. We are just one expression of Christ’s body here – and we seek to commune with all who seek to trust and serve Christ near and far.
We are going on the streets – either literally, or figuratively (because not everyone can do this today). But we seek to enact that extensive COMMUNION of God’s people across denominational lines, even recalling that World Communion is happening around the world today – in grand churches and small burrios, in towns and cities, and in small villages and house churches, in every language and across the globe.
We may live in difficult and uncertain times, but we turn to Jesus, and we keep turning to one another. All of this is to affirm that God is at work; God is in our midst, blessing and feeding us.
And then finally, we must remember what Jesus calls us to do, what following Jesus looks like. We do not just sing and read Scripture and pray. We have to get out of our sanctuaries, get out of our cozy lives – we have to care for the poor, to love all who come across our paths; we have to tend the sick and welcome the stranger. We have to love God and love our neighbor. Christian life means Christian love. Christian life means compassion and justice lived out on the streets of Richmond and across the world.
So we go to the streets today as part of worship. We go to bear witness in this city, to stand with – not just our fellow churches in downtown – but with the needy, the hungry, the hurting. We do this to follow Jesus – who came not to be served but to serve, who reached out to the hurting, who said – “what you do for the least of these you do it to me.” All the people we meet on the street help us serve the hungry in downtown Richmond. And we have to keep feeding and caring.
This is what Jim Wallis says in his newest book, Christ in Crisis: “We do have a serious, political, religious, and moral crisis in America – and it is likely going to get worse before it gets better, given the polarized politics we now confront. If we are going to survive this crisis; or better yet, respond to it; or best yet, put our faith into action to turn dangers into opportunities, we are going to have to go deeper, to be more deeply rooted.” And Wallis talks about being deeply rooted in Jesus. We turn to Jesus. And we seek to be deeply rooted in relationships – striving to build community, especially across racial lines. So we have to turn and keep turning – not away from each other but toward. And then we have to devote ourselves increasingly toward the poor and vulnerable. What we do and how we treat the poor and vulnerable is always the test of our discipleship. We have to be out on the streets, in close proximity, caring and serving the poor – which puts us in close touch with Jesus himself. (see J. Wallis. Christ in Crisis, loc 3658)
Today is world COMMUNION Sunday. We are always people with hope and purpose because we turn and find life from Jesus. We turn toward one another – re-affirming that relationships are always what matter. And we turn to the streets – to the poor and needy – recognizing that real discipleship comes as we live with sincere compassion, commitments, justice, and light especially for the poor and most vulnerable. We seek to root our lives and all we do in Jesus, in our relationships, and in serving all God’s people. May it be so. AMEN
Prayer of Commitment: Show us the Way, O God, and strengthen us in the Way of Jesus. Amen
Alex Evans, Pastor, Second Presbyterian Church, Richmond, VA preached this sermon during Sunday morning worship on World Communion Sunday, October 6, 2019. This is a rough manuscript.