concepts in this sermon came from the commentary in Feasting on the Word
by Christine Chakoian, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Lake Forest, Il]
Is it the incredible speed of change in our age, or the pace of our busyness, or the huge amounts of data available to us now that has made our age so prone to forgetting? Of course, for many of us, our own age makes us prone to that too. In an age when Harvard no longer requires students to take Western Civilization, we seem to have even forgotten why it’s so important to study history.
Tonight, in the midst of this quiet service, we are called to remember who we are and to whom we belong. Each of the readings reminds us of things we can so easily forget or take for granted.
In the first lesson we hear the instructions God gave the Hebrews who were held as slaves in the land of Egypt. They must kill, roast, and eat a lamb, not as a sacrifice to God but to give them sustenance for their coming journey out of slavery to freedom. The blood of the lamb is smeared on their door frames so that the spirit of God will pass over them, sparing them from the death of all first-borns that will descend on the Egyptians.
They are to eat standing up, already dressed and ready to leave, so that when the time came they could hit the road at once. And they are instructed to make this day a day of remembrance, throughout all generations.
To this day, the Festival of Passover is celebrated in Jewish homes and synagogues. The meal is set and all the dishes have symbolic meaning. An extra chair is set at the table and the door is left open for Elijah, should he choose to appear. The youngest child asks a particular set of questions, starting with, “Why is this night different from all other nights?”
The head of the family answers the questions. Thus every generation is trained in the same history of their people. We do not celebrate Passover, as such, but this is our history too, and it is history that we must remember. It is no accident that Easter and Passover happen at the same time of year.
The Synoptic Gospels place the events of this night on the very same night as the Passover. Jesus gathers with his disciples to celebrate the Jewish remembrance of their Exodus from slavery. It is at this dinner that two significant events occur. Jesus institutes Holy Communion and Jesus washes the feet of his disciples.
We hear tonight about the institution of Communion from Paul, who was writing to the Corinthians, in part to remind them of the origin of that practice. They had forgotten, and forgotten badly. Like us, they lived in a time of rapid change and in a place that was a hub of commerce with people arriving from all over the world and bringing their religious practices with them.
The Corinthians forgot that their own private spiritual experience is not the point of faith; they forgot that we do not create our own personalized amalgam of religious practices. As a result of this forgetting, they had corrupted the practice of communion by bringing their own food; the wealthy brought lots and the poor went without. The food was not shared communally.
One of the ways Paul deals with this is to remind them: to call back to their memory the event that created the practice in order to show them how clearly they had gone astray. As in the Exodus meal of lamb, the communion meal of bread and wine is a communal event. Even Judas participated in it. Jesus did not exclude the traitor. We need to remember.
We hear from John the story of Jesus washing the disciples feet. When he is done, he asks them, “Do you know what I have done to you?” No one speaks. Jesus says he has set them an example, and they should do as he has done, to be willing to wash each other’s feet. As usual, Jesus is counter-cultural. No one but a slave would normally wash someone’s feet, but if Jesus was willing to, why not his followers?
Then he gives them a new commandment. “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples. . .” This makes it so clear that the foot washing is the embodiment of this love, the sign of his care for them, his willingness to lower himself to serve them.
We must remember this. If you are like me, it’s easy to forget what it means to love others and to serve others. Oh I’m willing to serve, but I want to pick the people, or I want to only serve those who will serve me back, or those who will be impressed or who will praise me. I know that’s only a form of self-worship and God is long forgotten, but it’s easy to forget and slide back into it.
Instead we must remind ourselves of who we are and to whom we belong. We must remember that being a servant to others is not the same as being a doormat. We must remember that the whole purpose of being a Christian is to bring about the Kingdom of God and that the beginning of that task is to make a better neighborhood and a better community for everyone who lives in it, even the Judas people. We must remember that working for justice and peace in our world is our responsibility, as well as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, healing the sick, and caring for the widows and orphans.
We must remember that we are all tenants and aliens on the land. We really own nothing, but hold all things in trust for him to whom we belong.
One of the ways we remember, is through our worship and our ritual. That’s why we read from the scriptures at every service. That’s why we celebrate communion every Sunday. To re-enact that last supper and to remember what Jesus taught his followers.
If we remember who we are (Who are we?) Children of God, and we remember to whom we belong GOD, then we can also come to the table each week, knowing that we can leave our worries, our doubts, our sins, our betrayals, our grief on the table. We can leave them behind and go forth knowing we have been fed, forgiven, and empowered to be the person God intended us to be.
Rev. Chakoian puts it this way: “The Passover triggers and forms the memory that they were once bound and now are freed, and that they belong to the God who saves them. So it is for us, in the meal that Jesus offered on the night of Passover, on the night before he was to die. We are invited to remember, not as if we were present at the Last Supper with our Lord and his disciples, but that we were at Table with them. Every time we are at Table, the act of Communion triggers and forms the memory that we were once bound and now are freed, and that we belong to the God who saves us.”
And let me add, we belong to the God who saves us, even when we are far less than perfect. Isn’t that good news! Amen.