Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Maundy Thursday, March 24, 2016.For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
From our earliest moments, almost all of us know how to do two things.
We know how to breathe and we know how to eat.
The first we do on our own. We suck in great lungfulls of air and then let out loud cries, still traumatized and fearful from the transition from the womb into the outside world.
The second we can’t do on our own. We need someone else. A mother. A father. A nurse. A midwife. Someone who can put us to the breast or to the bottle and then almost always, instinct takes over. We begin to suckle. We begin to feed.
For most of us, feeding – and the sensations that come with it – being held securely and womblike, the warmth of skin on skin – are our first experience of love, of acceptance, of safety. More powerful than any words, we get the message – this is for you. You are not alone. There is another to sustain you.
To protect you.
To love you.
Or alternately, not.
Feeding and being fed is the central act of being human in community. It is why every major celebration, be it a birthday or a wedding or a funeral or a graduation, involves communal eating. It is why families eating together are directly correlated to them living well together. It is why Thanksgiving dinner can be a glorious celebration or a treacherous minefield. And it is why eating disorders and the body shaming that so often accompanies them are so destructive.
Because eating cuts to the heart not just of how we survive but our very feelings of worthiness to survive.
Feeding and being fed is how we include.
Feeding and being fed is how we exclude as well.
Our earliest and most deeply ingrained purity codes revolve around sex and food – two acts that are about intimacy, biological drive, creation, sustenance and even deep celebration and joy. Two acts that that can be used to wound and destroy as much as they can be used to heal and restore. Just as historically human beings have included and excluded based on sexual norms, we also include and exclude based on what foods we eat and on whom we allow to sit at table.
Feeding and being fed are what defines who “the us” is. Because on a primal, embodied level, feeding and being fed are how we say not just “this (an item of food) is for you” but “this (the community) is for you” as well.
The table defines the community. The community is defined by the table.
What is eaten. Who is served.
What is not eaten. Who is not served.
Who is embraced. Who is shamed.
We see this today here at Christ Church Cathedral. Before we gather at table for the Eucharistic prayer this evening, I will remind us that “this is Christ’s table and all may approach.” Some may choose to approach to partake in the food. Some may choose to approach and receive a blessing. But all may approach.
We make a powerful statement by this invitation. One that is rooted in our scripture and the historic faith of the church that God so loved the WHOLE WORLD that God became human in Jesus the Christ and gave himself up not just for some of us but for all.
Tonight, we hear one of the earliest pieces of Christian scripture – the account of the last supper in Paul’s first letter to the Church in Corinth. Paul hands on to the community what he received from the risen Christ, “that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’”
It is one of the most profound and defining pieces of theology in all of history. Jesus as the host of the table saying that he is both the server and the meal. Both the one that provides and the sustenance itself. Both the giver and what is given.
This is my body that is for you, you plural. All of you.
This cup is the new covenant in my blood. No longer the blood of the Passover lamb for the liberation of just the people of Israel, but as Paul knows as much as anyone the blood of the lamb of God for the liberation of all people, Jew and Gentile, woman and man, slave and free.
The Eucharist is the great equalizer. The great unifier. That all may be one as the Christ and the Father are one through the power of the Holy Spirit. Not just a meal, not even just a liturgy but the very ground of our being.
As St. Augustine said to those gazing on these holy gifts: “Be what you see, receive who you are.”
If only it were that easy.
If only it were as easy as saying all may approach.
If only it were as easy as all of us coming together around this table like Dr. Seuss’ Whos down in Whoville singing on Christmas morn.
If only it were as easy as just saying “here, lay your life on this table and receive new life in return.”
If only it were as easy as just saying “be what you see, receive who you are.”
But it’s not. It isn’t now and it wasn’t then.
Paul relays these words about the Eucharist to the Corinthians not because they are doing it right but because they are getting it wrong. The Corinthian church is a struggling church. They are struggling with division and diversity. They are struggling with competing agendas. They are struggling with strong appetites and preferences and the powerful gravitational pull of human frailty.
Just before the reading we heard this evening, just before Paul hands on this story of the meal that he received from the Lord, Paul writes this:
“Now in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, to begin with, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you; and to some extent I believe it. Indeed, there have to be factions among you, for only so will it become clear who among you are genuine. When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord’s supper. For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk. What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What should I say to you? Should I commend you? In this matter I do not commend you!”
There are some bad table manners going on in Corinth. Because the people of the church in Corinth are forgetting. They are forgetting that this meal is not about them, not about the individual, the needs and wants of the one. They are forgetting that like the love of Christ itself, this meal is always about the love that is always reaching outward, always giving of itself, always caring more for the other than for itself.
The Corinthians are forgetting that when they eat of this bread and drink of this cup, they not only remember Christ they are re-membered – literally knit together as the body of Christ themselves. That they are given for the life of the world. That, as former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams preached, when you are receiving the bread and wine, the body and blood of Christ, you must have excellent peripheral vision. You must see the people being fed on either side of you and ask Jesus not just to feed you but to make you a part of feeding them as well.
The Corinthians are forgetting that the bread and the wine were just one part of that meal. That “after supper, Jesus got up from table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. And that when he was done he said, ‘So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet” you also ought to wash one another’s feet…. I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you’ – intimately, passionately, with my body, with my blood, touching the dirt on your feet and caressing them with love – ‘Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.’”
There are some bad table manners going on at Corinth because they are forgetting not only that Jesus is both server and meal. Both the one that provides and the sustenance itself. They are forgetting not only that Jesus is both the giver and what is given … but that as the Body of Christ…
So. Are. They.
And so we gather together this night to do the most primal act of human community. To share a meal. But not just any meal. A meal where Jesus offers us bread and wine and says “this is for you. I am for you.” A meal where we are bid to have excellent peripheral vision and to gaze on our sisters and brothers and be what we see and receive who we are and say one to another “this is for you. I am for you.”
And like the Corinthian church we are struggling church. We are struggling with division and diversity. We are struggling with competing agendas. We are struggling with strong appetites and preferences and the powerful gravitational pull of human frailty.
And, thankfully God is infinitely patient.
Because like those Corinthians, we struggle with our table manners. We struggle because we are so human. We struggle because we forget. We forget that this meal is not about us, not about the individual, the needs and wants of the one. We forget that, like the love of Christ itself, this meal is always about the love that is always reaching outward, always giving of itself, always caring more for the other than for itself.
Like those Corinthians, we forget that when we eat of this bread and drink of this cup, we not only remember Christ, we are re-membered – literally knit together as the Body of Christ ourselves. And that we need the full diversity of all God’s children truly to become that Body. And that as that body, we do not exist for ourselves but we are, just like Christ, given for the life of the world.
Tonight we commit a revolutionary act. Tonight we remember and are remembered. Tonight we invite all to the table and say “This is for you. I am for you.” Tonight we are what we see. We receive who we are. Tonight we wash each other’s feet and touch and caress and love the long, hard journeys we each have traveled.
Tonight we hear the story, and break the bread and share the cup and we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Tonight we remember that Jesus is both server and meal. Both the one that provides and the sustenance itself. That Jesus is both the giver and what is given. And that as the Body of Christ…