Friday, April 6, 2012

Table talk: fear, doubt and faith

Text: Mark 14 (anointed at Bethany, the Last Supper, in Gethsemane)

The sacrament of Holy Communion has been a central part of the worship life of Christians for almost 2,000 years now. Tonight we will again share communion around this sacred table of friends after having just heard the story of the Last Supper from the Gospel of Mark.

Mark is the earliest written of the Gospels. Scholars think it was produced in the fateful year 70 as Jerusalem lay burning, or 40 years after the death of Jesus. But Mark's account of the Last Supper is not the earliest one we have of that night. That honour goes to St. Paul in his letter to the church in Corinth. Scholars estimate that Paul's letter was written sometime in the 50s, or 20-25 years after the life of Jesus.

In his letters, Paul tells us virtually nothing about Jesus. He mentions no healings, no parables, no details about Jesus' life or ministry in Galilee or Jerusalem and so on. The only biographical details about Jesus contained in Paul's letters are the fact that he was crucified and then raised on the third day; and that on the night before his death he ate a meal with his friends.

Paul's depiction of this Last Supper, found in First Corinthians 11, is very close to Mark's account. But what Mark's account provides that St. Paul's does not is the context of that Last Supper in an Upper Room. This context includes the high hopes and joy of Palm Sunday, Jesus' anger as he cleansed the Temple on Monday, the anointing of Jesus at Bethany by an unnamed woman on Tuesday, and Jesus' prediction of his own betrayal by one of his disciples on Thursday during the meal. These are some of the details that precede the Last Supper.

Immediately after the Last Supper come Jesus' prayers of anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane, the unfaithfulness of his friends who cannot stay awake and pray with him, his betrayal by Judas, and Jesus' arrest, trials and execution on the Friday following this Last Supper.

The Last Supper is important, or we would not be celebrating it on a regular basis as faithful followers of Jesus nearly 2,000 years later. But the context surrounding it is a difficult one, would you not agree?

One of Jesus' followers betrays him to his death. His other friends misunderstand Jesus, ignore his pleas, flee from him when the authorities arrive and then deny their friendship when challenged about it the next day.

It is not just Jesus' followers who are shown to be fearful and doubtful. That distinction also characterizes Jesus, at least for a time in the middle of the night as he prays in anguish in Gethsemane. Mark shows Jesus distressed and agitated, even deeply grieved to death. Jesus prays in Gethsemane to be relieved of his ministry.

The fact that we remember this Last Supper as often as we can shows in a stark way the passionate and difficult nature of being a Christian.

Jesus is an image of God in human form. He experiences the full range of human emotions, including anger, fear, and despair. If Jesus can feel these feelings, then who are we to criticize ourselves when we succumb to these same feelings?

Mark shows Jesus' disciples to be uncomprehending and fearful right to the bitter end. And yet, these are the people who found the Church, with the help of the Spirit of Christ that touches them at Pentecost.

If this poor human material creates the early church and leads it through its most difficult hours, then who are would we be to complain that we are not fit to carry out Christ's ministry here in Borderlands or anywhere else today?

Christianity is a passionate endeavour. It involves all of our feelings: our desire for justice, healing, and prosperity; our anger and hatred towards violence, poverty, and unfairness; and our love for life and one another, broken though we may be. Christianity involves our fears of pain and death and our hopes for new life despite the human condition and the fallen world we have been fated to live within.

In the Last Supper, Jesus shows us the promise of God, given in his body and blood. This promise of life and love comes to us in the full flood of our humanity and in spite of our ignorance, sin and failures.

Like Jesus' earliest followers, we may not always understand God's promise, or the Way of Cross. Like them, we may often be unwilling or unable to take up our cross and follow Jesus on the difficult path of faith, hope and love. Like them, and even like Jesus, we may often be burdened by doubt or fear.

Regardless, God invites us again and again to Christ's table. There we celebrate our connection to the Body of Christ in body and soul. There we receive nourishment and grace despite our fears and doubts. There were stare down the pain and horror of the cross because beyond it and glimmering like the first light of dawn lies the hope of Easter and new life.

Holy Week presents a wild collection of clashing stories and emotions. As such, it is a difficult time for many of us. But Jesus continues to journey with us, in all of our feelings, both the feelings we love and those we despise. He offers us the hope and nourishment we need to continue. He keeps giving and giving, which is part of the Grace laid bare in the story of Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

Tonight, we come to the Lord's Table again just as we are -- ignorant, doubtful, fearful, and prone to sin and failure. We come to the Lord's Table, to hear again the old story; and to receive the food and drink that connects us to Jesus. The grace revealed at this table is the grace of our baptism -- our death and burial with Jesus on Good Friday and our rising with him to new life within God's Spirit on Easter Sunday.

Our Table tonight is the passionate and flawed table of human life and of God With Us. This is the Lord's Table. This is the Last Supper. This is the promise of God, living within and between us, just as it was 2,000 years ago, and just as it will always be.

This is our salvation.

Thanks be to God.


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