Homily, Maundy Thursday, April 9, 2020 St Petri
Matthew 26: 26-28, 45-46
26 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’ 27 Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the[b] covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 45 Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. 46 Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!’
On no occasion more than Maundy Thursday am I missing Holy Communion.
For many Christians, missing that holy meal with God’s holy community in Jesus’ presence feels like being a batter without a bat, a car without a battery; an AFL player without a game!
Lots of Christian see and do Holy Communion differently. They don’t see any issue with simply ‘doing communion’ via a radio speaker or a TV or computer screen.
In this COVID-19 moment, some of our people have suggested the same; people could get some bread and wine in their lounge room in from to the screen, and I, as Pastor could ‘say the words’ as people partake.
Can I tell you why we have always struggled with practicing Holy Communion in this way? I say this not to judge anyone or to poo-poo any of our brothers in sisters in the gospel of any denomination or tradition. That would be above my pay grade!
I say it to offer a view on it, hoping it gives everyone some clarity and possibly deeper understanding of that view for you to ponder this Maundy Thursday in these viral times.
On this first ‘night when he was betrayed’, and every time we have gathered together with Jesus for this meal since, it has always a very human meal. The very nature of Holy Communion (Like Baptism) is human – taste, touch, smell, sight, listening; words on a page, a real face-to-face fellowship in God’s Spirit in actual bread and wine which we share together; whether in a house or a church building or out under the gum tree.
We are human bodies and God knows this. He created us this way! It makes perfect sense that the way we receive his forgiveness and life through Jesus would be in ways we can grab ahold of; ways we can know and see and understand; ways that match up with who he has created us to be – human.
Indeed, God knows us and loves us so much he enters our humanness to speak to us, free us, love us. He loves humans!
It is easy to see that we receive the good news from Jesus via real human things via our bodies; things like water, bread, wine, human voice, human touch, even for many Christians, the physical sign of the cross, not to mention beautiful architecture and art and symbol that tell the greatest story ever told in ways we can receive.
So, Holy Communion is a human community gift. It is done in real time with real people via real things God has made holy, ‘set aside’, ‘consecrated’ for this purpose.
One thing is also true, Holy Communion is not magic. Even though Christians differ on what they believe actually happens to the bread and the wine in communion, we all would surely say that those words Jesus said as he established this new meal of forgiveness and life don’t do some magic trick, either in person or through a screen.
Jesus has no need of magic tricks of or superstitious beliefs. If that were so, why would he do what he is about to do after this meal?! Why bleed and suffer and be socially isolated from his loving Father if all he had to do was snap his fingers and say ‘Open Sesame” to deal death the killer blow for us!
No, these words of Jesus, are human words for a human community in the moment, every time we gather with him to share his meal of life.
Those words of institution, that prayer of Jesus (The Lord’s Prayer), those words as we begin the meal and end the meal, the actual action of eating and drinking together with Jesus make the meal what it is.
The power of God in this human meal is a whole package, not a few magic words or a magic formula to be done by anyone any time by any means.
Can you begin to see why we have tended to steer away from ‘doing communion’ via Radio or online or via the Telly?
Again, I say this not to judge anyone, especially our wider family of Christian faith. We are family!
I know you miss this holy meal of love. But we don’t need to be alarmed! The King of love who put this meal in our life is still alive! Easter is here! He is with us still and will remain with us and this gift will return.
The church has in many times and places not been able to celebrate Holy Communion together. We have been through times of persecution, war, famine, illness, and more.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran pastor imprisoned in a Nazi consentration camp in WWII said,
God’s people remain scattered, held together in Christ Jesus alone, having become one because they remember him in the distant lands. The believer need not feel any shame when yearning for the physical presence of other Christians, as if one were still living too much in the flesh. (“Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible”, trans. Daniel W. Bloesch and James H. Burtness (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005), 28 and 29. 29)
We need each other and this human communal meal, but we will be OK as we wait. We need feel no shame. It will be a cracker of a day when we can finally share this great communal meal together!
This pandemic time is requiring lots of things of lots of people. For Christians foregoing the usual joy of Holy Communion is one more act of obedience of faith and trust in him as we live through this.
Yes, this time of pandemic invites us into the spiritual discipline of trust, waiting, vigilance, hope, and a deep desire to be united in community.
When everything is stripped away, we can rely only on Jesus. We cannot always have everything we want right away. In times of pandemic, God assures us that we have been given, not a spirit of timidity but rather “a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7).
We are invited into the spiritual disciple of restraint. Our yearning for being together at the Holy Communion meal now shows and will grow a stronger faith among us.
We have his word. We have daily prayers and psalms at our fingertips. We have a telephone. We have a computer and a phone. We have outside news coming in. We have each other still and we have him still, even on Maundy Thursday.
Jesus will willingly enter the garden of death’s dark isolation for us. He will let their threatening fear take him where he does not want to go. As he comes to his sleeping disciples, Jesus calls us the same as he did them – to see this time as his hour.
Rise, Christian. Keep going. The meal and the gift will return on the other side of this and like now, Jesus will be awake and well.