Narrative Lectionary for the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year Three
September 3, 2017
Lessons: 1 Samuel 21:1-9; Matthew 12:1-8 (or Mark 14:12-25)
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people gather at Christ’s table recognizing the amazing gift of Jesus’ mercy and grace made evident in the simple meal of bread and wine.
Key Scripture: But if you had known what this means, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.” Matthew 12:7-8
Who belongs at Christ’s table? What does your congregation’s welcome statement for Holy Communion include? Does it matter whether we use real bread or wafers? What about gluten free bread and grape juice? Are little children able to partake, or must they first have had instruction or been confirmed as full members of the congregation?
Yes, I realize there are theological reasons for many of our traditions about who is welcome at the table. Leaders with the best of intentions take their responsibility of serving at Christ’s table seriously, and for this I am grateful. Is it possible that we could take things too seriously for the sake of good order and theological purity and in the process alienate beloved children of God who truly seek and desire to encounter Christ?
I’m not going to venture into the theological weeds with anyone, but I raise these questions as a matter of stewardship. How are we to be good stewards of Christ’s table and meal? The lesson from 1 Samuel and from Matthew’s gospel show controversial exceptions to the rule. David and his warriors are fed with the special bread reserved only for priests in the temple. Jesus and his disciples eat grain on the Sabbath. In both cases, human need is met at the expense of good order, tradition, and religious law. Hungry humans are fed with bread and satisfied at the expense of Sabbath expectations.
How do the people in our pews understand this holy meal? Do they come with wonder and open hands, hearts, and minds? Or are our minds clouded about the logistics of the meal? If you’ve been to a variety of congregations in different traditions, you have seen many different practices ranging from when the bread is fractioned to whether the wine is poured into individual cups, presented in pre-filled glasses, or consumed from a common chalice. Even the way the table is set can vary greatly.
In approaching the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion from a stewardship perspective it is always helpful to remember that Jesus is Lord and host. We are simply servers and guests at the table. Whether the meal resembles fine dining or the family table is not so much the point. Instead, we might do well to ask whether we are setting a table that is welcoming and worthy of the Lord of Life. What is our motivation? Who is this feast for? What is its purpose?
“I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,” says Jesus (Matthew 12:7). The Sabbath was created for humankind to rest in God’s abundant mercy and grace, and Christ offers his body and blood, his very presence, to nourish and sustain us for the workaday world into which we are sent. What an amazing mystery of which we are stewards!
Maybe instead of worrying about getting it right and keeping out those who might not be worthy, we should instead come to the feast with hands outstretched and hearts ready to receive our Lord’s mercy. In doing so, we are made worthy. With our eyes on Jesus, we make room for others, too. Come and be fed! Then, go forth and be led.
What does communion mean to you? When you come to the table with your hands outstretched, what do you feel? How do you encounter Jesus in the bread and wine? Consider allowing some time for people to ponder similar questions and talk about them in small groups or pairs.
If you’re really adventurous, engage a few teens with iPhones to interview congregants and share these glimpses into the power and presence of Holy Communion. You might just end up with some powerful witness and outreach tools to share on your website or through social media.
This week’s gospel lesson invites us to think about conflict and how to use conflict for good. Jesus was definitely in conflict with the religious leaders of his day. He went against the grain by feeding his disciples on the Sabbath. He speaks of desiring mercy rather than sacrifice. Sometimes we set up rules and stumbling blocks to others in the name of sacrifice and law. Jesus reminds us that the ultimate point of God’s law—fulfilled in Jesus—is love. Even so, Jesus is merciful to those whose blind observance of the law is harmful and exclusionary to others. Invite you to ponder how they see this being played out today. How can we take a better approach?
Bring several kinds of bread—everything from a communion wafer to challah to sour dough to gluten-free rice crackers. Remind the children that in Holy Communion Jesus comes to us in the everyday presence of bread (and wine). The exact way in which this occurs is mystery, but it is true and real nonetheless. Invite them to taste the various kinds of bread, and take them to see the bread that is prepared for Holy Communion that day. In Mark 14:22 (the alternate lesson for the day), “While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” And now more than 2,000 years later, Jesus still comes to us in a little piece of bread. That is very good news. Say a simple prayer of thanksgiving that Jesus is Lord and host of this very special meal where he is truly present among us.
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
The host of Holy Communion is none other than Jesus himself. The pastor and assisting ministers are table servers, and we are all unworthy but beloved and forgiven guests who are invited to come to the table. It’s not a matter of our worth but rather a result of Jesus’ mercy and grace. Come and be fed, and then go into the world to extend grace and mercy in Jesus’ name.
Stewardship at Home
Spend some time over dinner talking about how Holy Communion is like sharing dinner together. In the first century, Holy Communion was celebrated in homes around tables and a real meal was part of the gathering. Ponder these questions: 1) How can we practice radical hospitality by inviting others to gather for meals? And 2) How can we practice radical hospitality by inviting others to come and experience the presence of Jesus in Holy Communion? What stands in our way? What obstacles do we need to overcome?
Photos: Randy OHC, Rob Blezard, and bsabarnowl, Creative Commons. Thanks!
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