I think I’ve posted this before, but it merits posting again. This is Maundy Thursday/Good Friday Sermon I have preached a time or two, more Maundy Thursday as I recall, because I first did this at a church that wouldn’t even consider foot washing. So, we went with supper and communion.
So, I read Acts 27, either all of it, or parts of it, or something. Because there was another breaking of bread in very difficult circumstances.
This is bullet points because I tend to improvise when I preach. But the essentials are here.
* Before St. Paul even got on the ship, he warned its crew and the soldiers guarding him: “You’re going to lose the ship and your lives.” In Acts 27, Paul is on his way to Rome from Judea. He’d been arrested while preaching in the temple in Jerusalem, and claimed his right as Roman citizen to appeal to Caesar. He didn’t need to — the Roman governor was going to set him free.
* But he’s on the boat. Crossing the Mediterranean in winter. And they run into some very bad weather, a “northeaster” Luke writes. They have to throw things overboard, the sailors were looking to abandon ship, and the soldiers were considering murdering their prisoners.
* In this, Paul does two things: first, says I told you so. But it’s okay — you’ll all get through this okay because I need to be in Rome. Cheeky, but it’s also an interesting thing that God is going to save a whole boatload of people on account of one man. And in the end, the prisoner is giving orders to his captors and the ship’s crew. Frankly, Paul has something to be cheeky about.
* But second, Paul then encourages everyone on the boat to eat. In Luke’s words, Paul “took bread, and giving thanks to God in the presence of all, he broke it and began to eat.” And everyone eats.
* What Paul does is have communion. In the midst of the storm. He doesn’t ask anyone if they believe in Jesus. Doesn’t check their baptismal records. He blesses, breaks and offers bread the same way Jesus did.
* We don’t tend to think of communion as a thing to do in times of crisis. We don’t have bread and wine in a little case that says “in case of emergency.” We pray when we are afraid, or when we are angry — as a church — with each other. When we argue. When there has been tragedy. But we tend not to break bread. It doesn’t even enter our minds.
* But when we are gathered around this table, we commemorate — we do this — in remembrance of a night in which there was no celebrating. Only closing darkness. Only crisis. Only fear. And anxiety. And impending doom.
* On that night, Jesus gathered his disciples, his closest followers, the people he will call friends. He gathers us, for when we gather together to worship we are again with him and the twelve in that rented, second story room. We are there. They are here. Time stops.
* We are formed, that night. As church. As body. Together. By his body. Given to us. We are Christians not because of what we believe, not because of our values, not because of the choices we make, but because he gathers us, at the font and the table. Gathered. Called. We have no control over that call, and like so many Jesus says “Follow!” to, all we can do is drop everything and leave everything and follow.
* But I want you to remember exactly who is it Jesus gathers and sups with that night. Exactly who it is we are.
* We are the betrayers of Jesus. Because it looked so good at beginning of the week, because we want things to turn out differently, or we want to keep all the money, or because as wide-eyed idealists we see Jesus falling short of our expectations — hand him over to the law to be killed. So that what we think of as the real work can be done.
* We are the deniers of Jesus. Because we fear the ridicule of the crowd, or we fear for our own lives, or we simply want to fit in — refuse to confess him openly, or even deny that we are his.
*We are those who flee, having promised to stay to the end. Because we want to be safe. We signed up for success, ease, nets full of fish, not failure. Who wants to be part of failure? Who wants any part of an arrested and crucified Lord?
* We are those who fell asleep in Gathsemane, because we cannot stay awake and pray with him. We’re tired, it’s been a long day, a long week, a long life. He’s asked a lot of us and we just want to rest.
* We are those who drew swords and slashed off ears. Because we’re going to keep him safe. He needs us to do that! Because we’re going to protect our Lord from any and every insult and harm. Because we know exactly what God’s glory looks like. It slashes and pillages and takes and conquers. It gets its way. It does not surrender.
* We are those who told lies about him to the chief priests, hoping to gain some favor with them. Because when the powerful think well of us, life is easier. What’s a little lie when it might make things easier for us?
* We are those who cried out: Crucify him! Because he’s not the savior we wanted. He doesn’t save us in glory and power. Doesn’t make us important and rich and powerful. He doesn’t deliver the justice and freedom we demand. The way we demand it.
* We are those who cried out: We want Barabbas! Because who doesn’t like a sexy ne’er do well? He may be a thief and a thug, but he probably did just enough stealing from rich and giving to the poor to be popular. People probably sing songs about Barabbas! He treats his friends well! But also, who doesn’t want to be rich the easy way — by plundering others? And who doesn’t admire that? We all want some of that.
* We are those who cried out: we have no king but Caesar! Because we know who our real savior is. We know what real power is! And want to serve it. And we want it to serve us!
* We are those who washed their hands of the whole thing. Because really, we didn’t do this, right? It was some other people, a long time ago, far away, not us, definitely not us.
* We are the soldiers who flogged and crucified him. And why not? Didn’t he have it coming? Wasn’t he tried and convicted? Who are we to question lawful authority? We are just doing our jobs. We were being good and loyal citizens and servants of the state.
* We are those who stood and watched and did nothing. Because what could we do? Really. What could we do?
* That’s who Jesus gathered at the table in that rented, second-story room that night. That’s who Jesus gathers at this table every time we follow his invitation to do this in remembrance of him. That’s who we are. That’s who God loves and calls and redeems. And we must never, ever forget that.