Welcome to the Table
Inspired by Matthew 26:17-30
Welcome to the table my friends. Tonight we continue the theme of God’s welcome that we started on Palm Sunday and will end on Easter Sunday. This week we will get to see how God welcomes us in a variety of ways through Christ and the events of Holy Week and Easter. On this Maundy Thursday God welcomes us to the table. Now this might not seem like a big deal, we might think to ourselves, well of course we are welcome to the table, everyone is right? But if you’ve ever experienced what it’s like to not feel welcome somewhere, you know this is indeed a big deal.
Maybe you haven’t felt welcome at an in-laws house. Maybe you’ve walked into a room where no one looks like you. Maybe it’s the way someone talks, or behaves, or who they love, or are attracted to, maybe it’s the clothes someone wears, the language they use. There are so many reasons why someone might not be welcomed somewhere. So yes, this story that Matthew shares with us of Christ’s last supper with his closest followers is profoundly important.
Let’s start with our author, Matthew. He was a tax collector. And just in case that fact doesn’t hit home, he was a Jewish tax collector. That means that he was collecting taxes from his own people that were being dominated by the Roman Empire, for the Roman Empire! I mean, to compare him to the IRS doesn’t even come close to the despicable nature of his existence to them! Not to mention the fact that most tax collectors in his day did so unjustly, taking an extra cut for themselves along the way. But let’s move on.
Many of the others were fishermen. Now you might think, “What’s pastor got against fishermen?” Well, nothing, but they were so ordinary! We are talking about a group of people that were going to assist in the founding of the largest religion the world has ever seen! And Jesus goes to fishermen to find his leadership for that effort? They had no formal education, they probably couldn’t even read or write, and it’s not like you had to be a good public speaker in order to be a fisherman! It really does sound like I have something against fishermen but really I’m just trying to point out the juxtaposition, no the absurdity of calling these guys to do the job that Jesus expected them to do. And yet, there they were, sitting at the table, maybe the most important table the world has ever seen.
And how can we forget Judas, the betrayer, the greedy, the backstabber, also sitting at the table. You could say that Judas didn’t betray him until after the last supper but they had lived and traveled with the guy for three years now, and there were plenty of clues along the way, they all knew the kind of character that lied within him. And speaking of character, Peter denied him three times while Jesus was on trial, and like Judas, Jesus knew the content of his character well beforehand. And what about Thomas, the doubter! Do we really think that everyone was surprised then he didn’t believe that Jesus was raised from the dead? Probably not, I’m sure there were a fair share of eye rolls in the room.
All this that I’m sharing with you this evening is to simply say that Jesus’ table was a welcome table. Jesus welcomes you no matter what you have done or what you will do, Jesus welcomes you no matter your education level or your occupation, Jesus welcomes you no matter what your skills are, Jesus welcomes you no matter how you treat or mistreat him in this world, Jesus welcomes you no matter how well you treat or mistreat God’s people in this world. Just look at who was at that first table my friends, no matter what, you are welcome to the table. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Welcome to the Dark
Inspired by Matthew 26:31-27:61
Welcome to the dark my friends. As a kid, like many kids I suppose, I was afraid of the dark. I also loved horror films, which is a bad combination. Though they kept me from sleeping, it didn’t stop me from watching classics like A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, or Chucky. I don’t know if these movies are what necessarily made me afraid of the dark but I was. I remember my dad tucking me into bed at night and as he would leave my room he would try to shut my door.
We lived in a small house so our living room was in easy ear shot of my bedroom so he didn’t want to bother me with his old westerns that he would watch late at night. But a shut door meant darkness and that just wouldn’t do. So just before the door would latch I’d yell, “Don’t shut it all the way!” He’d say, “Ok, how’s this?” Barely a crack of light was showing. “More!” I’d say. And we’d continue this back and forth until it was open enough, which was never enough for me, but we’d both eventually give up.
So my dad would come back, ask me what’s wrong, even though I’m sure he already knew, and I’d ask him to turn the ape around so it was facing the wall and not me. Now, you’d think I’d just ask him to close the closet door right? But in my mind, that was lunacy because then I wouldn’t be able to see what was going on in my closet! Like I said, I was afraid of the dark.
However, as I have gotten older, I have recognized that not all darkness is bad. There are many dark things in our world that are actually quite good. The darkest night sky of a new moon, especially when you are away from any light pollution. The exhilarating darkness in the best hiding place during a game of hide and seek. Dark rain clouds during a drought. The many shades of darkness of people’s skin. All these and more are many examples of good darkness, even beautiful darkness. Maybe darkness isn’t good or bad, maybe it’s just a thing, just a part of our existence, and we make of it what we will. I would love to hear what your own relationship has been with the dark. And so, this week I have been thinking of Jesus’ relationship with the dark and I have come to the conclusion that Jesus welcomes us there too.
No matter the kind of darkness that we are experiencing, even there, Jesus somehow finds a way to make us feel welcome, in the dark. Many times we describe troubling events as times of darkness, so let’s just go with that for a minute. Whether it’s mourning the death of a loved one, or the struggles of parenthood, or addiction, or work stress, or whatever it may be, when we open the door and enter into those places of darkness, I truly believe that the first thing our spirit sees is Jesus, already there. With a look that simply says, “I’ve been waiting for you” and maybe a squeeze of your hand or a full-on bear hug that says, “This place is gonna be rough” because Jesus has already started to experience it with you.
Or maybe it’s another kind of darkness, the darkness of much needed solitude after a stressful time in your life, when quiet dimness is what you really need. Or maybe it’s a hiding place, the best hiding place, when you just need to escape, even if it’s just in your mind. No matter the kind of darkness that you enter into throughout your life, know that Christ is already there, waiting for you, preparing a comfortable place for you, to welcome you in the dark—to sit with you, wait with you, experience all that you experience there—because that’s how much God loves you. And also because, God knows that darkness, isn’t the whole story. But that story is for tomorrow night. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Vigil of Easter
Welcome to the Light
Inspired by Genesis 6:9-22, 8:6-12, 9:8-17; Exodus 14:5-7, 10-14, 21-29; 2 Kings 5:1-15; Esther 4; and Matthew 27:62-28:10
Welcome to the light, my friends. God continues to astonish us in the way that Jesus welcomes us, no matter our circumstances, no matter our faults, no matter what. And on this night, Jesus welcomes us into the light. But that can mean lots of different things to different people! If you’re on your death bed and someone says welcome to the light, well, let’s just say I hope you got all your affairs in order! And, not all light is good, is it? Like last night, Jesus has a knack for blurring the lines as we discovered that not all darkness is bad. We have the same kind of relationship with anything referred to as “light.” Our default position is to think that all light is good but Jesus had other ideas. So, let’s explore that for a minute. When might light not be such a good thing?
For three years Jesus had been shedding some serious light on societal and religious wrongs that had haunted God’s world since the days of the flood. But as that story goes, God promised to set God’s weapon of war and destruction, the bow, in the clouds, never to be used again. What’s a god to do? With hands tied behind the back like that. God couldn’t just start over again, though I’m sure God feels like it some days. But no, instead God appears as part of God’s own creation, in the glorious light of Jesus. A light that revealed where God was active in the world, as well as where God was most needed, also known as, those places where we have really messed things up.
It’s an old story really. God has been in the business of shining a light on societal and religious wrongs, or human shortcomings, for quite some time. Tonight we heard just a few of the biblical stories when God had done just that. In the flood, God shone a light on humanity’s corruption, but in the end comes to accept us the way we were made, faults and all. In the crossing for the Red Sea, God shone a light on the mistreatment of God’s people by the Egyptian nation, saving them from Pharaoh’s army.
In the story of the healing of Naaman, God shone a light on our inability to see and accept help from the unlikeliest of places. And in the story of Esther, we see God shine a light on a political power that was about to commit genocide. All these stories, and so many more from scripture, involve God shining a light so that we can see clearly what is going on around us, places where God is needed the most.
And God welcomes us into that work of the light of Christ. Though Christ’s work on the cross and in the empty tomb was final, the work is also ongoing. God never tires of shedding light on new ministry opportunities all around us. God never tires of shedding light on the needs in this world. God never tires of shedding a light on our path so we can see clearly the path which God is guiding us down. God welcomes us into this light of Christ. And as long as we are ok with that light being directed at us at times, the work we can get accomplished in Christ’s light is tremendous and life-producing for the world. Thanks be to God. Amen.