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Sermons are preached within the context of a particular worship service, and are most meaningful when experienced in that way. We encourage you to view or listen to the entire worship service.
April 6, 2023
Grace to you and peace from God, our Creator, and from our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Shortly after I finished grad school, I participated in a mission trip to Papua New Guinea, and most of our time there was spent in the bush. We and our gear had to be weighed for flights on single-engine planes, the whole bit.
One of the things we learned after we got there is that the family who cooked for us didn’t have enough plates and utensils for us to each have our own set. And there were 25 people in our group, so taking turns wasn’t an option. But there were enough plates that 3 or 4 of us could gather around each plate to share and eat with our hands.
It only took until partway through our first meal for us to not worry too much about manners. We’d crammed into this family’s home and arranged ourselves in our small groups on the floor as best we could. We chatted quietly as we ate, and eventually someone held out their group’s plate toward where the pot of rice was.
A woman in our group, Cristel, was the person seated closest to the rice, so the person said, “Hey, Cristel – would you put some more rice on here please?” There was a serving spoon in the pot, but without skipping a beat Cristel just reached her hand in, scooped up a handful of rice and plopped it on the plate.
We carried that moment with us for the rest of the trip and referred to it often. And there were times when we needed it. The experience of that trip was life-changing for many of us, me included. But it wasn’t all sunshine and roses.
There were moments when the memory of Cristel serving rice with her hand on that first night helped us keep going when all we really wanted was to be someplace familiar and more comfortable than where we were.
In the first Holy Week, as it’s recorded in the Bible, Jesus and the disciples shared many moments that the disciples probably never forgot. Moments that gave them comfort and a sense of familiarity.
Matthew’s gospel tells us that they remembered Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem – the crowds shouting, “Hosanna! Save us!”
They remembered going from that to watching Jesus cleanse the Temple and disrupt the system that had hindered people’s relationship with God.
They remembered the parables he told – stories that both criticized the religious leaders and also gave hope to the people in Matthew’s community decades later, as they figured out what it meant to live as Jesus-followers in the wake of the Temple being destroyed by Rome.
In all of those moments, most of which happened on Sunday-Monday-Tuesday that week, the disciples felt as though their time had come. That, as the Messiah, Jesus would lead them in an overthrow of Rome and they’d be free from its oppressive system.
But then things started to change. Jesus told them that, after the Passover, the Son of Humanity would be handed over to be crucified. And then, at the Passover meal itself, he foretold his betrayal by one of his own – that one of the disciples, a person he had hand-chosen to follow him and who was seated at the table with him, would hand him over to the authorities.
So, in a matter of moments, the disciples had gone from the high of feeling like everything was coming together – to saying, “What?!” Their emotions had done a complete 180. So, the feeling at the table that night wasn’t one of celebration like it normally would have been. Instead, it was ominous and distressing.
And that’s where Jesus met them.
It’s in that setting that the Words of Institution are given. It’s in that moment that Jesus promises his presence in the bread and wine forever. Even Judas, who’d gotten the 30 pieces of silver only hours before, shared in that supper and received that promise.
For the disciples, the memory of that moment connected them to the memory of the promise God made to the Israelites centuries before. A promise that was still being honored. It carried them through the confusion and chaos of the coming hours. And it held them together as they moved forward into a life without their friend and teacher at their side.
In the memory of that moment, Jesus assured them of his presence in the bread and the wine every time they took it in. And every time they gathered for that meal after that night, Jesus’ promise helped them remember who they were as his followers, and also that Jesus remembered them.
In our worship service today, we remember Jesus and his promise as we share in the supper that he instituted. The command for us to remember is woven together with the Words of Institution as they’re written in our Communion liturgy.
When we hear them week in and week out, it’s easy to let them wash over us and not really hear them each time. But the remembrance is important.
Theologian and UCC Pastor Mary Luti talks about this remembrance as being something much stronger than reminiscing – like we do when we remember someone at a memorial service. She reminds us that the word for remembrance in Greek literally means “against amnesia” – refusing to forget.
So, for Pastor Luti, every time we remember Jesus in Communion, it’s like standing up to an adversary because we refuse to forget who Jesus is.
And in our refusal to forget, we stand up to the forces around us and within us that work to take up all the space and squeeze the life out of everything for ego, profit, supremacy, and power. The powers and systems that try to make us forget that Jesus is with us, and that hope we’ll forget we ever knew him.
Because if we do forget, we’ll believe the lies they tell us [ – that the world is okay just as it is]. And injustice and violence will win.
But in the moment we receive Communion, we take a stand. We remember Jesus, and we remember one another. We remember everyone that hate erases. [Because we remember that Jesus remembers us. – my words]
That’s the moment we carry into the world with us every time we receive the sacrament. Every time we take in the bread and the wine, we carry with us Jesus’ promise to be present in our lives.
That promise helps us navigate a world that is too often scary and unfeeling, that works hard to separate us from God and God’s love, and that would prefer we just go along with it instead of standing up to it.
But the promise of Jesus’ presence in the bread and wine tangibly connects us to a promise God made long ago. A promise that still stands, that is still honored and fulfilled today.
Because it’s the promise that Jesus remembers us. Thanks be to God. Amen.
 Rev. Mary Luti. Maundy Thursday: Institution of the Eucharist. Facebook post April 1, 2021