September 6, 2020
I found kind there was a church theme in our two readings todays. In the gospel reading, Jesus spoke of the church, of keeping the fellowship relatively pure and the promise of God's presence when we gather together. It's interesting to note, Jesus seldom spoke of the church proper. In fact, only 4 times in the gospel is he recorded using the term church. All four are in Matthew's gospel and two of them in today's reading. The church as we know it today came well after Jesus walked on the earth. We are still struggling to figure out exactly how to do church in ways that both are giving glory to God and being the hands and feet of Jesus in the here and now.
But let's turn to the story of the Passover from Exodus, what does it say bout church and worship? We heard only a small portion of the story of God setting the Israelites free from the slavery in Egypt. Most of us know the story from movies rather than the scriptures--The Ten Commandments and The Prince of Egypt are the two biggies. And they give a good broad picture of the call by God to Moses, his reluctance to follow and how he eventually demonstrated God's power in many ways; particularity the plagues culminating with the death of the first born in the land. Our account today gives the instructions for that night, the night the angel of death visited Egypt. Slaughter a lamb, mark your dwelling with the blood, eat bread without yeast and be fully dressed ready to escape. A little further along in the chapter, we read this, “The Israelites then went and did what God had commanded Moses and Aaron. At midnight God struck every firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sits on his throne, right down to the firstborn of the prisoner locked up in jail. Pharaoh got up that night, he and all his servants and everyone else in Egypt—what wild wailing and lament in Egypt! There wasn’t a house in which someone wasn’t dead. Pharaoh called in Moses and Aaron that very night and said, “Get out of here and be done with you—you and your Israelites.” And God called on the people to remember that night of salvation through the blood of the lamb in the ceremony of the Passover, ““This will be a memorial day for you; you will celebrate it as a festival to God down through the generations, a fixed festival celebration to be observed always.”
You've probably realized the sense in which we as the Christian community of faith also commemorate the Passover memorial. For we too have been saved by the blood of the lamb. We celebrate the Lord's Supper today, instituted during the Passover feast when Jesus used the elements of bread and wine to demonstrate his body broken and blood shed. Paul tells us in Corinthians to commemorate that meal in remembrance of Jesus. He concludes his instructions with these words, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”
The Passover celebration was and is about remembering and proclaiming the saving power of God. The Lord's Supper was and is about remembering and proclaiming the saving power of God's Son, Jesus Christ.
And I'm not telling you anything you don't know. But we also know that our worship, from communion to the singing of hymns to greeting each other with the peace of Christ, our liturgy is different than it was 7 months ago. We have a dozen people here and a couple dozen on line. We don't get to hear Jayne's music or share treats after the service. We don't pass the bread and the cup to each other in the pew. There are no hugs or shaking hands. But that doesn't change the fact that we are called to gather and worship. Hebrews 10:24-25 puts it this way, “ And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another.” Today this happens both in person and online. And there is one advantage of online worship, instead of looking at the back of so many heads, you get to see the faces of so many fellow worshipers. And follow Theo's climbing on the furniture.
We gather also because Jesus encouraged us to gather, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” This provoked a question in this week's These Days devotional reading. Daniel Benson wrote, “Jesus seems to suggest that a minimum attendance for him to show up is two or three. What about one?” Does this suggest Jesus does not meet with us individually? I don't think that's what Jesus is saying, he seems to be emphasizing the importance of gathering in community. And while that looks different today than it did last year, we are gathering in Jesus' name and Jesus is here among us, and there among us.
Like this call to gather and like the command to observe and memorialize the Passover, we have received a call for liturgy, ritual, memory, and tradition. There is comfort and strength to be found in our liturgy; confessing our sins together, sharing the cup and the bread/wafer. The ritual of announcing together, “Christ has died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again” reminds us of the eternal nature of who it is we worship. The words of institution quote Jesus, “eat, drink in remembrance of me” and so we remember. And tradition binds us with the saints who have gone before us. In what was to be a year of celebrating our 150th anniversary as a church, we have been thwarted in our gatherings. We remembered with by ringing the bell 150 times on the date of incorporation (even though the rope broke and we had a quick repair done) and on that Sunday we had a bagpiper and communion and potluck. But most of the events scheduled have fallen victim to the virus.
But gathering in the name of Jesus has not fallen by the wayside. It is different. Communion is different. But Michael J. Chan, Assistant Professor of Old Testament
Luther Seminary in St. Paul points out that “The Passover meal... ensures that (the Israelites) are regularly attentive to the memory of liberation. The ritual offers its participants a specific promise, bound to the concrete reality of the sacrificial victim’s blood.” The promise is freedom and the blood seals the promise. Our gathering to worship ensures that we are attentive to the memory of God's grace shown in Jesus. Our worship offers us all a specific promise of salvation by faith through grace.
One final thought on the Passover command that kind of fits with our worship style these days, it doesn't call for a priest or pastor or minister to lead the ceremony. It has been and is being done in the home, by the family, around the table or, today around the computer or phone. I am here saying the words of institution, but out there, the priesthood of all believers is demonstrated. At home it is your bread, your juice, your preparations. It is not my words or my hands that consecrate the elements but the presence of Jesus where two or more are gathered.
And so in the midst of a pandemic, we gather. We worship. We eat the bread and drink from the cup. We pray. We carry on the liturgy of redemption and freedom and salvation and grace in a pandemic because we trust that God is Lord even of this. As we gather in the name of Jesus, we remember the blood of salvation, from the Exodus to the cross. And we give our thanks. May our bonds of fellowship fill our hearts and minds with hope and peace and power and love for others. Amen.
Hymn: Blest Be the Tie That Binds