Proclaiming The Death

Maundy Thursday-April 13, 2017-1 Corinthians 11: 23-26

This semester I’m taking an elective called “Preaching Against Violence” which focuses on the church’s role in opposing state-sanctioned violence. Our assignments focus on Holy Week preaching. Here’s my first attempt at a Maundy Thursday sermon. 

We still gather to remember and reenact that which Jesus did on the night he was “given up,” on the night he was betrayed. This is that night of remembrance, but it’s not about pleasing reminders of familiar words.

This is one of the most difficult times of our liturgical year; we are forced to remember and acknowledge the truth of a text encoded with betrayal. In the Last Supper Jesus shares a meal and offers himself to his friends who are his betrayers.

Jesus looked in the eyes of one whom he loved and who he knew would betray him and fed him in the sacrament of his body and blood saying, “Remember this.” 

It’s a type of death.

“This is my body, this is my blood.”

Remember this. Remember what I have done.

Imagine the scene: “James, this is for you. And you too, James.

John, this is for you.”

It’s not so hard for us to imagine.

“You’ve always been close to me, Andrew, this is yours.”

What a kind soul.

“This is my body, Thaddeus.”

“Matthew, Bartholomew, Philip, and Simon, you’ve learned some important lessons. This is for you.”

“Thomas, you’re a bit of a pessimist, but here you go, this is my body. You will believe.”

Can you imagine that? It’s not so hard. Each of the twelve were flawed, made some mistakes, we can understand that.

“Peter, here’s yours.”

OK, this is getting a little harder.

“I know you’re going to deny me, but this is my body, this is my blood. I am for you in a new covenant. Remember this.”

And then Judas Iscariot.

It’s gets even harder.

“Oh, Judas. You’re about to set this whole thing in motion. Few can imagine the treachery, but Judas, this is for you. This is my body, which is given for you.”

Today, when we eat the bread and the wine of Holy Communion we are following Jesus’ command, a command given on a night when the evil of man’s heart dared to overthrow its God.

Through participation in this sacred mystery we proclaim death not simply by calling to mind the story of Jesus’ betrayal and the loss of trust with one he loved so dearly, but we are also forced to face our own experiences of pain, our own fractured relationships with our Christian brothers and sisters, and with Jesus.

By doing so we proclaim his death, a death that we too experience. After all, Judas was just the face of the betrayal.

Jesus shares his meal with us, too, a people whose hearts would still dare to overthrow him.

And we know it.

“We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table.”

Each time we take the bread and wine we make present the ancient reality, and remembering our role as Jesus’ betrayers and our own broken and dysfunctional relationships with the saints of God.

The eucharist may keep us on the right track, but God’s divine action through it does not inoculate those of us who receive it from the dangers of sin, and just like those saints who’ve gone before we fall prey to the betraying forces of wickedness in the world.

I’m thinking about that movie, Places in the Heart. That final Communion scene. The whole cast of characters sits together in the pews of a little country church in Texas passing the trays of bread and wine—those who have died, those who have betrayed and those who have been betrayed.

There sits a husband and wife. He cheated on her. They’re there together. Their sits the local sheriff, killed in the opening scenes of the movie and along side him the young black man who accidentally shot him, himself the victim of a lynching. They’re there together. I don’t know how they sit with that, some of those things those people had done to each other. The racist things said, the humanity denied.

Remember the death.

I’m thinking about a gay couple in New York. Together 16 years, not married because you couldn’t get married, but committed, living together, combined bank accounts. Might has well have been married. And then one of them tests positive. How did this happen? I’ve been perfectly faithful, perfectly committed. But someone hadn’t been. How do you get through that? How to deal with that? The trust is gone, the relationship fractured. You have given me something that you can’t take back, done something that can’t be undone.

Remember the death.

We are really participating with all of them. Holy Communion is no easier than this: sharing the sobering recollections of destroyed relationships. It’s how we proclaim the Lord’s death and to make those events which we recall to happen again, to happen now.

Sitting down, giving thanks and breaking bread is no small thing—especially not after being so utterly disconnected from our trust and our loss human freedom.

But we’re called to do it. But can we? Really?

It might make more sense to us later, when we strip the alter of it’s adornments and when light is extinguished. Perhaps then we’ll get it.

All ornamentation is vain when darkness comes and uncomfortable silence fills our hearts and our pews. Uncomfortable silence that is, until the choir begins to recite Psalm 22.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

and are so far from my cry

and from the words of my distress?

O my God, I cry in the daytime, but you do not answer;

by night as well, but I find no rest.”

“[But as for me] I am a worm and no man,

scorned by all and despised by the people.”

“Be not far from me, for trouble is near,

and there is none to help”

Bulls encircle me, packs of dogs close in, the jaws of the lion threaten me.

As uncomfortable silence gives way to uncomfortable psalmody, we wonder if we could really imagine serving a meal to our betrayer.

Could we sit next to them at dinner and offer them a piece of bread?

Well, no, I don’t think we could.

But the truth is, simply standing next to them to receive one is enough.


One thought on “Proclaiming The Death

  1. Reminds me of our culture’s fascination with tv shows that feature the elimination of rivals. There have been so many of them. For want of a better phrase, might they be called “dark sacraments?” Holy Communion is the antithesis and cure.


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