Table Gifts

 Inspired by Luke 24:13-35

 First of two-part sermon on the Sacrament of Holy Communion

Today we start a two-part sermon on Communion. And just like the two-part sermon on Baptism, we will be asking the same two questions, “What does this sacrament mean for us?” And, “What does this sacrament mean for the world?” which we will address next Sunday. So, what does this sacrament mean for us? As we explore the answer to that question, remember that us means two different things, us as individuals, and us as a community. One of the things that I like about separating this into two sermons is that today I can focus solely on us. But if this was one standalone sermon, that would be out of character because nothing about our faith is all about us! Or at least it shouldn’t be, but we humans have a tendency to want to make things all about us. 

However, it’s certainly ok to start there, and I’d argue that it oftentimes is necessary to start there, with us, either as individuals or as a community. Because, to paraphrase supermodel Ru Paul, if you don’t take care of yourself, how you gonna take care of somebody else? That’s not being selfish, that’s just being practical, with a future orientation of caring for others, but we’ll get into that more next week. For now, think of it like this. When you’re on an airplane that’s about to crash, and it loses cabin pressure, and the oxygen masks fall from the ceiling, who do they tell you to put the mask on first? Yourself! Even if you have a child. Put it on yourself first they say. 

Again, that’s not being selfish, or cruel. That’s ensuring that you will be able to help someone else afterward. In fact, that’s operating under the assumption that you will help someone else after you put your own mask on, right! That’s the exact opposite of being selfish. And that’s why we come here first to receive the gifts offered at the table, before we go out there to do God’s work in the world. As I was writing this sermon, I was noticing just how similar my words were between what I wrote about Baptism and what I was writing about Communion, which made total sense because the two are indeed closely tied together. What we experience at the table is directly tied to our baptism. It is an extension of our baptismal call to be transformed into something new. 

It is part of that ongoing work of dying and rising with Christ through our baptisms. So, what are the gifts that we receive at the table? Well, you know how we pastors like things in threes! There are certainly more than three, but these are the first three that came to mind so that’s what we’re gonna go with: we are given quality time with Christ; we are fed; and we are given sight. And we are going to use this story that I just read, often called the Road to Emmaus, to flesh out each of these gifts of the table. Let’s start with the first one, quality time with Christ. The Road to Emmaus story is one of my favorite stories from the Gospels. And many scholars over the centuries have claimed that this is Luke’s finest work of storytelling. 

Throughout the story, these two travelers, of whom we don’t know much about, get the gift of all gifts, and get to spend quality, intimate, personal time with Jesus. It’s like they won a contest or something! Or like an evening with Jesus was auctioned off! Imagine the opportunity, to have this time with him, just you and Jesus, away from the crowds, away from the chaos, away from the enemy spies, away from any distraction. Just you and a road and Jesus. It’s the road trip of a lifetime! When the pandemic first broke our broken world, and the claustrophobia of sheltering in place was pushing the limit of our sanity, my daughter Jesha and I started taking evening car rides, just to get out of the house. She and I share a love of music, and so we often would introduce each other to music that the other hadn’t heard before. 

When the sheltering-in-place ended, the car rides didn’t, and they have become a staple of our diet. Thankfully my car is a hybrid! When they started I remember my wife asking me, “So what do you all talk about for so long on your rides?” The question kinda caught me off guard, but I said, “Honestly? Nothing.” We don’t really talk a whole lot, unless it’s about the current song or band that’s playing. And I know, many people might think I missed a golden opportunity as a dad there but for us, it was enough, more than enough, to just sit with each other, be present to each other, and experience something together. It’s this same kind of quality time together that Christ gives us when we gather around the table. And it might come in different forms for everyone. 

Maybe it’s in the teaching, maybe it’s in the eating, maybe it’s in the singing, or maybe it’s in the sitting together. Point is, it’s together, and it’s personal, and it’s such a gift. The second gift given at the table is being fed. Now, that might sound obvious, but you and I know that we’re not talking about being physically nourished. What’s a little morsel of bread and a half a sip of grape juice gonna do for us anyway! But, it’s not so much about what we are being fed, but more about what Christ is implying in the meal, what Christ is communicating to us in this meal. At the table Christ is reminding us that we are alive. Because God don’t feed the dead, my friends! If Christ is feeding you, that means you are alive! Alive in every way! 

If Christ is feeding you, that means you are physically alive! If Christ is feeding you, that means you are emotionally alive! If Christ is feeding you, that means you are intellectually alive! If Christ is feeding you, that means you are spiritually alive! Cuz God don’t feed the dead. And I know that might sound like common sense but I also know that many of us come to the table with our souls limping, with our minds weighing us down, with our hearts battered and bruised, with our bodies failing us, and so to be reminded by the creator of the cosmos that you are indeed alive, in every way imaginable, isn’t merely common sense, but possibly the most profound thing you may experience all week! When those three broke bread together in our story, they not only experienced the resurrected Jesus, but they too, came alive! 

Which leads us to the third gift of the table, the gift of sight. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that there is something special that happens when a group of people gather to eat. Whether it’s your family, friends, coworkers, soup kitchen, or here at church, the shared experience of a meal changes something within the group, changes the dynamic of the group. I have always urged the church councils that I’ve served on, to begin with a meal for this very reason. I imagine that there’s a lot of reasons that this occurs. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that from an anthropological perspective, there’s probably an evolutionary reason why meals connect us so, but that’s probably a discussion better left to our Wednesday evening Bible discussion. 

Anyway, there are too many reasons to explore for this sermon but one thing that this story points out is the connection between sharing a meal, and seeing something new. For them, it was recognizing who Jesus was. Up until that point they didn’t know who they had been walking and talking with. It was the shared meal that did it for them. In hindsight, they realized that there were clues that Jesus had been there all along, but for whatever reason, they couldn’t recognize him. And isn’t that relatable! 

Imagine how long a list we could make of all the things that get in our way of recognizing Jesus by our side in our everyday lives. And that list certainly must include ourselves. We get in our own way all the time! Which is why this gift of sight, given at this table, is so important. This is our weekly reminder that Jesus is still with us. Every week we get to come here, and get quality time with Christ, to be fed by Christ, and experience Christ say to us once again, “I’m still here. I haven’t gone anywhere. I’m still here.” Thanks be to God. Amen.

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