Rev. Dr. Martha ter Kuile
Thanksgiving Communion Sunday
October 11, 2020
Matthew 11.28 -12.6
‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’
At that time Jesus went through the cornfields on the sabbath; his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. When the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, ‘Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the sabbath.’ He said to them, ‘Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him or his companions to eat, but only for the priests. Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests in the temple break the sabbath and yet are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here.
May God bless to our understanding these words from Holy Scripture.
It’s a reassuring picture for the strangest ever Thanksgiving Sunday, perfect for those who are worried or weary in the middle of covid. Jesus gives us the most encouraging words he ever utters – come unto me, you who are weary, and I will give you rest. The yoke easy, the burden light. And then as Jesus and his disciples walk through the sunny fields that Sabbath day, lighthearted, they help themselves to a handful of grain, to munch on as they amble along. The Pharisees are scandalized – inappropriate for the Sabbath, not what we do. And Jesus laughs them off. King David did much worse than this – they ate the bread right off the altar! Then he makes his point – something greater than the Temple is here.
From the beginning, Jesus was going to be different. He loved God, and revered the Torah and the prophets, but he would never be bound by the ritual practices of his own faith. He wouldn’t validate the norms of worship or the Sabbath restrictions or the food rules. Instead he always pointed them to the centre of their faith – to the meaning of God’s abundance, and the power of God’s love rather than the details of religious observance. That was what made him so refreshing – so interesting to his followers, and so threatening to the Temple officials. He focussed them on what was really important.
And of course, human nature being what it is, within a very short time after he was gone, his followers started doing exactly what he had resisted. Without seeing the irony, they set up new rituals and formulas to try and hold on to what he had said. To try and hold on to him. Communion is the most important of these, and it is a central part of almost all Christian practice. The bread and the wine recall and re-enact the Last Supper and evoke in us a sense of physical connection to Christ’s life and death and resurrection. From the beginning there were various ways to celebrate this connection and share this ritual meal. The early Christians were criticized – one hopes falsely! – for turning their communion feasts into wild parties. But slowly the shared meal became a church rite, a sacrament tightly controlled by the religious authorities. By the 16th century, the Church had decreed officially that the bread and wine were transformed into the actual body and blood of Christ, by the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit. Through many centuries, it was only the priests who would have had both bread and wine. All others would have bread only. In some places a woman would have to hold a napkin over her hand to protect the bread – the body of Christ – from the pollution of a female touch. ()
It’s not just in history or in other denominations. Many of us here will remember very different ways to celebrate communion – passing small glasses of grape juice with cubes of white bread from person to person was standard in United Churches for decades. And you may remember the first time you were invited forward to take a piece of bread and dip it in the juice or wine – intinction. It seemed revolutionary at the time, and strange at first. But communion is always strange.
Jesus would surely agree that there is no one method or interpretation that makes communion correct. Communion is a matter of the heart – an expression of the faith of a gathered community. It is an outward manifestation of our belief that God works within us in our daily lives, nourishing us spiritually as well as physically. But what happens is always invisible, communion is always a virtual reality. As Jesus said, something greater than the Temple is here.
So just as some of us are going to eat turkey by ZOOM this weekend in the strangest ever Thanksgiving, we find ourselves invited here to the table of the Lord for the strangest ever communion. Our many tables (and computer desks and living room couches and coffee tables) become one table. Some may have crackers and water, others bread and wine, or even cheese sticks and Coca-Cola. But we will join our hearts in thanksgiving and offer our blessing to one another. We will remember the redeeming love of Jesus, and let ourselves be fed, even in a strange time and a strange way. We will remember that he said, do this to remember me. It is the strangest ever invitation, and for this we give God thanks.
Image Credit: A. Shimmeck – unsplash.com