Category Archives: communion

Broken and Unbroken Promises

I have been neglecting my blog for several months for no good reason.  Recently I was contacted by the congregation where I was confirmed, Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Bremerton, WA.  They are celebrating their 70th anniversary this fall and was seeking stories from former congregation members.  My confirmation experience became a kind of crossroads in my spiritual life so I will share it here as well.

Emmanuel Lutheran BremWA

Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Bremerton, WA

Pastor Orville Crawford was my 9th grade confirmation teacher and our class of about twenty boisterous teenagers met most Wednesday evenings in the basement of Emmanuel. We struggled to memorized Luther’s Small Catechism. Being a good student, I struggled less than others. God had given me a sharp mind that grabbed new concepts quickly. I was also active in the small Sunday afternoon Luther League activities, so Pastor Crawford knew me well.

In the spring, as our Confirmation Sunday drew near, Pastor Crawford had a concern. At that time, communion was restricted to confirmed members and thus our first communion would come the Sunday following our confirmation. We were to receive communion as a class, sitting together in the front of the church, just as we would do on our confirmation Sunday. Pastor Crawford was concerned that not all the class would be present for the first communion because it would fall on Memorial Day Week-end that year. So he asked me, “John, how many of your confirmation classmates will be there for the First Communion?” I had no idea, so I said, “I don’t know, but you can count on me being there!” I remember how confident my promise was to him.

Our confirmation Sunday went smoothly. I was very excited to confess my faith in Jesus Christ and become an active member of the congregation. However, that afternoon some friends approached me about going on a backpack trip the next week-end into the Olympic Mountains. It would be my first such trip. I was torn. I remembered my promise to Pastor Crawford, but also wanted to try backpacking. My parents said it was my decision, since I had completed confirmation. With only a brief hesitation, I decided to go backpacking.

Lower Lena Lake

Lower Lena Lake where we camped. It rained most of the week-end.

When I returned I discovered that I was the only member of my confirmation class not present for the first communion Sunday!

Yet when I next came to worship Pastor Crawford did not chastise or judge me. He simply welcomed me to the Lord’s Table, delighted that I was there. I felt loved and forgiven.

What I learned from that experience is that God’s Grace is not about what promises I make to God, but about God’s promises to us. I might make lofty promises to God or God’s people, only to discover that I fail to keep them. Yet God does not hold that against me. God is always willing to welcome me in love. Jesus promises to forgive and heal us. “This is my blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.” Also as an ordained pastor, I have worked to follow Pastor Crawford’s example of grace and hospitality.

The ironic thing is I learned to love backpacking as a member of Emmanuel’s Luther League.  Every summer during high school we made a long hike in Olympic National Park. That love (along with the love of God) continues with me as I prepare to return to the PCT in Washington next week.

First and Last Communion

 

??????????I enjoy teaching first communion classes for families. The children are often excited and eager to learn about this mystery meal. We bake bread, tell stories, and taste foods.  I love connecting the meal to the story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. We walk through the story of the passion: Palm Sunday parade, the last supper, the trial, crucifixion, and burial.

Waiting.

Waiting.

Then the surprise of Jesus’ resurrection, (which is the name of our congregation I remind the children).

But first communion is just the first step. I like having the parents there since they are rediscovering what the meal is for them. Communion grows in meaning and joy as we participate in it.  There may be times we take it for granted, but God never takes us for granted.  It is always his gift of grace for us.

Though the focus is on preparing for their first communion, I often ask the question, “do any of you know when your last communion will be?”  Together we wonder about the uncertainties of life, yet the constant promise of God to be with us in the Lord’s Supper.  I tell them the story of taking communion to people in hospice as they prepare to die. The meal become an appetizer for the feast that is yet to come. When we will all feast with Jesus and drink the new wine.

Jesus said, “I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:29)

Lord Jesus, let me taste again the power of your grace and love.

Prepare the Way of the Lord

Maundy Thursday is about preparation.

Jesus’ disciples said to him, “Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?” Mark 14:12

The Passover Festival was a big deal in Jesus’ time; the festival centered on a meal that remembered God’s liberation of the Hebrew slaves from bondage in Egypt as told in the book of Exodus. Throughout the meal, Jews remembered God’s intervention and prayed for God’s continued activity in their lives. Jesus’ disciples needed to prepare for this meal with wine, bread and lamb.

According to Mark’s Gospel, Jesus gives elaborate instructions , “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the owner, “The Teacher asks, Where is the guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?” (Mark14:13-14) One wonders how Jesus knew that they would meet a man with a water jug? Had there been some secretive pre-planning by Jesus so as to avoid the temple officials? Or was this Jesus showing his “magical” powers?

Throughout the Holy Week story, Jesus sees the future unfolding in a specific way. He knows how to find a donkey’s colt for his entrance on Palm Sunday. He knows that the great temple will be destroyed. He knows that one of his disciples will betray him. He knows that Peter will deny him. Jesus knows.

I don’t think the Gospel writer is trying to answer great philosophical questions with telling the story in this way. Mark is not concern with pre-destination versus free-will. What matters for Mark is that Jesus understands and accepts his role in the story and especially his role to die and rise again.  Jesus is LORD.

Three time prior to his coming to Jerusalem, Jesus had foretold that the Son of Man must suffer, be rejected, die and on the third day rise from the dead (Mark 8:31, 9:31 and 10:33-34). Even as Jesus and the disciples walk towards the Garden after the Passover meal, Jesus reminds them that he will be raised from the dead (Mark 14:28). Like the disciples, we may struggle to grasp the significance of the Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. We may not fully comprehend all that Jesus says and does. Events swirl beyond the control of his disciple, his enemies, or us. Yet Jesus continues to trust in God’s unfolding plan, even as he walks towards the cross and tomb.

Just as Jesus made preparations for the Passover Meal, he prepares his disciples and the readers of the Gospel for his death and for his resurrection. The meal becomes our place not only to remember his death, but also to claim the promise that he will drink the new wine with us in Kingdom of God (Mark 14:25). Jesus keeps his promises, including rising from the dead. Though we may scatter (like the disciples), he will gather us together as his children. He has prepared the way for us.

Lord Jesus, as you prepared to eat Passover with your disciples, so prepare us to eat with you at your table now and in the Kingdom to come. Amen.

Who me? Betrayer?

For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed. . . (I Corinthian 11:23)

In the Catholic church the Wednesday of Holy Week is often called Spy Wednesday, because it is the day we remember that Judas betrayed Jesus and spied upon him. Judas had been one of the twelve disciples, trusted by Jesus. But he arranged with the chief priests to turn Jesus over to them at an opportune time, when there would be no fawning crowd to interfere.  In the Garden of Gethsemane, Judas betrayed his master with a kiss.

People often wonder what motivated Judas to betray Jesus. Was it only the money? Or was he trying to force Jesus’ hand so that he would call down God’s angels to overthrow the Romans? Or did he simply lose faith in Jesus, choked by the worries and concerns of the world?

The scriptures are unclear. That non-clarity may be intentional because it can push us to think about the ways we may have betrayed Jesus. Probably not as openly as Judas, but we all betray, deny, run from, or avoid Jesus and his call upon us. We all fall short of his command to love one another. The story of Judas betrayal is both a warning but also a description of our own wandering hearts.

Yet the words of Paul in I Corinthian 11 are the opening words of Holy Communion, the supper Jesus gave to his disciples and to us. The meal holds the promise of forgiveness and grace. “This is my blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” Even in the midst of betrayal, Jesus gives us mercy and grace.

Though we be faithless, he is faithful. Praise be to God.

Lord Jesus, renew a right heart within me.

Table Matters

My wonderful new daughter-in-law, Maggie Keller, wrote a awesome post on Something Holy about the Table.  It reminded me of how my wife worked hard and long to finish our dining room table when we were first married.  And how many thousands of meals around that table began with the invitation, “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest.  May these gifts to us be blessed.   Quakers teach that every meal can be a meal of Holy Communion.
As I sit in a hospital room, waiting for my Mom’s hip surgery, I remember all the delicious meals she made.  Our table may have been simple, but it was blessed.  Thanks be to God.

image

R U Hungry?

This coming Sunday at Resurrection our Gospel reading will be Mark 6, Jesus’ feeding of the 5000. It is a familiar story that is in all four gospels. On several occasions when food was running low at a church event, people would approach me as pastor to duplicate Jesus multiplying the loaves and fishes. I have failed every time to perform some magic trick. However, I never remember anyone going away hungry. Usually we “s-t-r-e—t – c—h” out the food to feed whomever is needy.

Like many stories in scripture this is open to various interpretations as to how it impacts our lives. I don’t believe the story has only one meaning to it, that once the reader discovers it, the story is finished. Rather the story rubs up against my life, challenging, enlightening, guiding my life.

A primary interpretation is that Jesus is like Moses in the Exodus, providing manna in the wilderness for the people of God. In fact Jesus is God himself, since he did not need to consult God about the people’ need, but simply blessed, broke and gave the bread to the people, a foreshadowing of his “blessing, broke and gave” sequence at the Passover meal (Mark 14:22). Jesus is the one who feeds us. John 6 is a lengthy teaching on Jesus as the bread of life.

But I think a second interpretation is the calling of the disciples to feed the people.

Jesus said to them, “You give them something to eat.” (Mark 6:26)

Jesus gave the loaves to the disciples that they might feed the people. As followers of Jesus we are called to be people who feed others, literally. The church has often been an agency that works to feed the hungry. Whether it is the hungry in the horn of Africa or local hunger of our city streets, we are still called by God to feed the hungry around us.  God has blessed us that we might give to others in Jesus’ name.

Lord Jesus, teach me how to feed the hungry in your name.

Acts 2:42 part 2

Lord's Supper by Sadao Watanabe

The second chapter of Acts is a pivotal chapter in the history of God’s people.  The chapter begins with the explosion of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the Jesus’ disciples, continues with Peter’s first sermon which results in 3000 baptisms, and concludes with a summary statement on the life of the earliest disciples.  The 3000 new believers did not simple wander off into their old patterns of behavior. Rather they became devoted followers of Jesus.

They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (Acts 2:42)

The breaking of bread was mostly likely the earliest version of the sacrament of Holy Communion.  The meal was one concrete way to stay connected to Jesus Christ.  Through the Lord’s Supper they remembered him (I Cor. 11:24).  The meal also meant that Jesus communed with the believers because it was his own body and blood that he gave with the bread and wine.  Jesus was truly present.  Also it proclaimed the Lord’s death until Jesus returned (I Cor 11:26).

Holy Communion continues to be a central part of our Christian faith and worship. We remember the past events of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  We commune with him in the present moment as we share the meal of his body and blood. And we look forward to our future hope of Christ’s return in glory.

 The early disciples also devoted themselves to the prayers.  Prayer was not new to the church. The Jews had been praying for centuries.  Jesus had taught the disciples to pray using the words of the Lord’s Prayer.    With the coming of the Holy Spirit, their prayers became supercharged.  So can ours.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. (Romans 8:27)  

The same Holy Spirit that powered the early church in its mission is the same Holy Spirit that works through our prayers.  Let us ask God to create within us a similar devotion to the Apostle’s teachings, fellowship, breaking bread and prayer.

To which practice is God calling you to be devoted?

Lord, create in me a heart of devotion.