Thanksgiving and community

Maundy Thursday

In the name of Christ, our sustenance.  Amen.

As an Episcopal priest who is the son of a Methodist pastor, one of the first questions I often get from people when they learn this about me, is about how my father deals with the fact that I went my own way.  Indeed, my dad often gets asked this same question.  My answer is usually pretty matter-of-fact: I think he’s just glad I’m still a practicing Christian.  That’s not always a given among “preacher’s kids”.  My dad’s answer, though, is a little more artful.  He says, “Well… the apple didn’t fall far from the tree…  It just rolled a little.”

Maundy Thursday is the day in the Christian life when we commemorate the institution of the Lord’s Supper – the sacrament of Holy Eucharist as it was first practiced by Jesus with his closest friends as he prepared himself (and them) for his death.  They were about to enter some of the most difficult days of their lives.  Some of them wouldn’t even survive.  So, to prepare, Jesus brought them together as a community.  He prayed with them and lifted them up to God.  And then they were fed together.  Together, they took on nourishment to bolster themselves for what was to come.

We hear this story in the context of that first reading from the Exodus – the story of the first Passover – the one that models the Jewish ritual even today.  But it’s important to remember that the Holy Eucharist is not just a “Christian Passover meal” or a “Christian Seder”.  And most assuredly, Passover Seders are NOT “Jewish communion”.  Though related, the two faith observances are different.  As my father said, “the apple didn’t fall far from the tree…  but it did roll a little.”

Tonight, though, as we celebrate the Holy Eucharist in this very special context, with the impending reality of Good Friday breathing heavily over us, I want to bring us back to that same question that I asked on Sunday:

You can change where you’re going, but you can’t change where you’ve come from.  This holy meal that we share tonight, in commemoration of and thanksgiving for all the times we’ve shared it before, isn’t just something we do because we’ve always done it.  We do it because Jesus showed us it was important.  It’s important to get together with people who are important to us.  People who join us on this journey of faith.  People who struggle on their way the very same way that we struggle.  And, when we come together, it’s important for us to pray – to give thanks to God.  That’s what Eucharist means, after all – it means “thanksgiving”.  And we also sometimes call it communion.  The real communion, however, is that we do it together, and that we do it with God.

The bread and wine are important vehicles for us, but the real Eucharist is our gratitude and the real Communion is our community.

Moreover, Jesus showed us that this pattern we’re called to continue isn’t just for its own sake.  It feeds us.  Literally and spiritually.  We’ll need that to face the days ahead.  It is nurturing and fulfilling to thank God.  It is nurturing and fulfilling to do so together.  It sustains us for whatever trials we’re about to face.  The food helps us.  The gratitude helps us.  And, the fact that we share them both with each other helps us to face the future.

That’s where we’re coming from when we share in this celebration of Holy Eucharist.  That’s some of the foundation that the ritual is based upon.  So how will that change where we’re going?  How will that foundation influence our path?  How will it help us to follow Jesus, even when it isn’t as easy as we’d hoped it would be?

That’s where the last bit of sustenance comes in.  As a part of this sacrament that we know so well, Jesus gave us new marching orders – new instructions: that we love one another.  That guidance feeds us more than bread.  That’s what will strengthen us when times are hard.

So this is where we’ve come from.  How will it change where we’re going?

Hopefully it changes where we’re going because of a renewed understanding of the importance of this community and our prayers.  Hopefully that understanding helps us begin to see a path – a path that takes us somewhere different from where we’ve been.  A path that more closely follows Christ.  Because that’s what reliving this cycle each year is always about: it is the path that means to move us in the direction of more closely following Christ.  You are invited to walk with Christ.  The path is sometimes treacherous, but it leads to where we need to go.  And together, we can weather the storm.  Amen.