“The Advent of God’s Presence: Holy Communion” (Part Two of Four) Jeremiah & Acts 2:42-47 ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook ~ December 2, 2018
What do YOU need? What do I need? When I was a child, I used to impatiently wait with unabated enthusiasm the arrival of the Simpson’s-Sear’s Christmas catalogue and I would scour through the toy section, selecting the things I need. Needs such as lego, superhero figurines, dart guns and the list would go on…and on…and (selfishly) on. Perhaps you have children and grandchildren who are doing the same thing at this time of year? As adults, we might have loved ones hinting at what they want (or need) as Christmas approaches. What do you need? What do I need? Our most basic needs, of course, are physiological. Abraham Maslow, the famous American psychologist from the last century is remembered for his hierarchy of needs pyramid which place our physiological needs at the foundation of a need hierarchy. Food, water, shelter, and warmth are basic physiological needs that are primal for all of us. As I prepare each month for our services of Holy Communion, that is one of the things I think of. Communion as a basic primal need: the need for food.
Jesus, of course, was very attuned to this human need we share when he instituted Holy Communion. Prior to the ‘Last Supper’, Jesus had long been gathering in communion with people from all walks of life and sharing in this most basic need. While it is something that we all need – to eat – Jesus was condemned for eating with people of different races, creeds or status. He was condemned for eating with prostitutes; he was condemned for eating with women; he was condemned for eating with tax collectors; he was condemned for creating community with those ‘other’ than he was. In fact, Jesus seemed to go out of his way to demonstrate this nature of his teaching through those he would dine with, those he would include, those he would ‘break bread’ with. You see, for Jesus, eating was much more than just a physiological act to sustain the body. Eating was a way to demonstrate the inbreaking of the Kin-dom of God.
The text that Kathleen just read for us from the book of Acts lifts up the living out of Jesus’ communion way. Just prior to this particular reading, some significant things have occurred in the text. The Holy Spirit has descended upon all the people ~ people from distant lands who had assembled with their various languages and customs and they were united in understanding and love. And then, Peter preached a deeply moving sermon, so moving that 3,000 people converted. The text we heard is what follows these amazing acts and we learn that the primary purpose for followers is to gather in community. The text breaks the purpose of Jesus’ communal gatherings into four areas: teaching, prayer, fellowship and the breaking of bread. For the purposes of our time this morning, we will be considering the later two: fellowship and the breaking of bread.
It is important, I think, for us to understand the significance of fellowship and the breaking of bread. Fellowship was more than just an obligation to be a good neighbor. For the Jewish community, their rituals of purification were tied to the sacred bond of friendship. At the time, there was a parallel understanding in Greek philosophy of friendship as sharing ‘all things in common’. In this text, we are given a Greek term ‘koinonia’ which is that of the Holy Spirit uniting different believers into a common unity. It was not merely a warm-hearted love where one smiles at a stranger as they pass by; but rather a fellowship that produces astounding wonders and signs. It is a fellowship that overturns all material and social arrangements and shows the resurrected community of Jesus’ people as being alive.
Seen in this light, the breaking of bread is an extension of this sacred koinonia fellowship. There was an understanding of this being a jubilee time when freedom would come for all people. The book of Leviticus records it as one of their laws (Lev. 25:10). Every seventh year was a Sabbath year that included intentional rest compared to the previous six. Farmers would rest their land, leaving it fallow, and allowing for it to regenerate. And after seven cycles of Sabbath, on the 50th year, there would be true jubilee. It would be a time when debts would be forgiven and slaves, who could never possibly earn their way to freedom, would become liberated and receive freedom. Their understanding of the breaking of bread was both symbolic as well as tangible. Devout Jewish families would commune after temple worship for symbolic meals which were equally important to the actual worship itself. But the breaking of bread wasn’t just symbolic. It was also enacted as they would have a communal understanding of their property. The selling and redistribution of property among all was a reflection of the social character of the Kin-dom of God. The table of God’s Kin-dom is big, there was room for all, they would not gather until all were included and fed. It was a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy of the Kin-dom where he proclaims: “everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come and buy wine and milk without money and without price”. This might be a poor illustration of this, but I wonder if any of you have ever experienced the “pay it forward” movement? I was recently at a drive-thru picking up a snack and the server at the window said “here you go, sir. And your order has already been paid for”. I was startled. “Paid for…what?” “The driver ahead of you paid for your order as a gift. It happens every once in a while. A generous soul pays it forward”. I was so touched, to have a stranger care for me in such a way. The community that gathered around principles of koinonia and the breaking of bread is even richer and deeper than that! Koinonia is the Shoebox Ministry and the Hot Lunch. It is the Refugee Ministry, Grief Group and the many extensions of Pastoral Care. It is welcoming a new person to church ~ picking someone up for church and going for lunch afterwards. It is checking in on one another who we are missing. Koinonia community is more than merely breaking bread. It is creating a table that extends into the way we live and love and serve. Koinonia is the living heartbeat of Christ’s love alive on earth.
And so, when we come to this table, we are embraced in one of the most primal places of our need ~ our hungers. And we are assured that we are welcomed, fed and satisfied. We are called to live into this ‘Way’ in our faith expression as people of Christ. Living the koinonia way of fellowship ~ the breaking of bread in ways that embrace the presence of the ‘other’ at our table. One of the questions that I struggle with is the tone in which we should approach communion in our hearts. Quite often, the tone of communion is quite somber. And, in many ways this is fitting. Communion was instituted at ‘The Last Supper’ when Jesus broke bread with his friends following the Passover meal, later followed by his arrest, trial, sentencing and death. Thursday and Friday of Holy Week touches the absolute depths of human pain and suffering. It is a deeply sad time. Yet the story does not end there. Indeed, there is more to communion than Thursday. Communion is not only a re-enactment of ‘The Last Supper’, it is also when Jesus instituted what I think we might call: ‘The First Supper’. A ‘First Supper’ where all who follow experience Jesus’ Way. A ‘First Supper’ offering us a new reality of life that offers hope from despair, liberation from oppression, new life when we might have thought death was the end. The ‘First Supper’ is a tangible hope that becomes ours as we come forward, as we receive, and as we take in the mystery. To come and receive Holy Communion is to taste the meal of the Kin-dom. And that is a time that touches all aspects of our emotion. It is truly a time of celebration! For we taste the Kin-dom Way of God.
This morning is the first Sunday in Advent. The Sunday that we prepare for the Advent of “Hope”. And whenever we take the bread and the wine, we truly experience that tangible reminder of this “hope” that is ours … now…this hope that is coming…then…this hope that is offered … through God in Christ.
May we find the hope of God at this table…and at all the tables where we commune.