Thursday Dinner, Eating With Sinners: The Second Coming
What we do on Maundy Thursday is attempt to reenact and experience everything Jesus taught us to do while we wait for him to come again.
We might even say that we do what he asked us to do to help him or invite him or make him come again.
I have a hunch that the Second Coming is not the apocalypse of fireworks and epic battles across the skies that we’ve been led to imagine by end times pop theology.
What if the Second Coming of Christ is actually us?
What if the Second Coming of Christ is we, the Body of Christ, growing more and more conformed to the Mind of Christ until we are able to fully manifest his will in the world?
If that is the case, it is vitally important that we understand what he asked us to do when he prepared his disciples for the end that would become a beginning.
And the disciples, after participating in both Footwashing and the Last Supper that Thursday evening, chose the Last Supper to be the moment they would reenact over and over again to bring Jesus into their presence.
At millions of worship services from that day to this, followers of Jesus have remembered and said and lived his words and his deeds. “This is my body, this is my blood. Do this in remembrance of me.”
What makes this particular Eucharist special tonight is that we attempt to come closer to what the original disciples may have experienced.
We call it our Agape Meal, and we gather at these tables with not just bread and wine but other foods as well, and we think and talk about Jesus together.
We ask ourselves difficult questions, we reflect on his teachings and how we can carry them out, and more than anything else, we seek to take his presence deep within ourselves.
Why? What makes this Eucharist different from the ones we have every Sunday morning?
Well, our willingness and our determination to receive Jesus to the very depths of our souls may well make the difference in whether or not we can find the strength to stay by his side through the next few terrible days.
We cannot go into the Garden of Gethsemane, follow him as he is arrested, watch the sham of a trial, bear his flogging and the jeers of the mocking soldiers, on our own strength.
We cannot climb the long hill behind him as he struggles to carry his cross, stand at the foot of it with Mary and John, and then watch him die and help take his body down, by virtue of our own determination.
We cannot survive the terrifying silence of the death of God just because we have good intentions.
We need a supernatural source of strength to endure these grueling hours and days, and tonight is when Jesus himself gives us that gift, his own body and blood.
He never thinks about whether he should be building and conserving his own strength.
He gives himself away totally.
And speaking of his lack of self-preservation, consider what has frustrated the Pharisees and scribes the most often in their ongoing criticism of him.
What makes them the angriest?
What do they balk at over and over again, which Jesus not only refuses to repent from but also keeps doing over and over again?
Jesus eats with sinners.
He shares table fellowship with tax collectors and prostitutes and every kind of unclean, disreputable and irredeemable people.
He seeks out the people who have broken the most important rules and tells them, “These broken rules do not make you broken people. You are loved. You are valued. You are worthy of grace and mercy and joy and hope. You matter, and I want you at my table.”
So what is Jesus doing at the Last Supper?
Is he creating a fancy liturgy so priests can prance around in elaborate vestments?
Is he providing a mechanism for the church to get off on a power trip by granting or refusing the sacrament to people based on stupid human worthiness tests?
Is he giving us rules to beat each other up over, like which candle the acolyte has to light first or which prayers the priest has to use or the whole thing is moot?
No! Richard Rohr says and I agree, “In the Last Supper, he’s doing what he’s been accused of all along: eating with sinners!”
That takes us down a peg, doesn’t it?
For centuries who would be admitted to communion was a weapon viciously wielded by the powerful in the church to preserve their own control and dominance.
That is still the case in many churches today.
Our own Episcopal Church is in the painful but important and life-giving process of slowly admitting that we don’t get to choose who is welcome at God’s table.
Jesus gets to choose, and he chose sinners.
So congratulations! You got here because you’re a total screw-up!
I got here because I’m a total screw-up!
Jesus loves to eat with people who can’t figure it out, who’ve gotten it all wrong over and over again, who keep making the same mistake.
Jesus loves to eat with people who know the right thing to do and do the exact opposite every day.
We, the sinners, are his people.
We’re not here because we’re special.
We’re here because we don’t get it.
But Jesus knew we wouldn’t get it.
That’s why he told us to just keep doing this, just keep giving thanks for bread and wine and eating and drinking it together in his name, and we would be changed, molecule by molecule, into what we were ingesting.
We receive the Body of Christ so we might become the Body of Christ, and I’m convinced that is what he meant by the Second Coming.
But he’s going to pay a price for it.
The authorities will no longer his tolerate his eating with sinners or healing on the Sabbath or living out the truth that he is the Son of God, and we all know what lies right around the corner.
And here’s another interesting reality. You would think with the stakes this high Jesus would fall back on what has consistently caused people to follow him this entire three years: the miracles.
Perhaps some people followed him because they were excited when they heard things like, “You must lose your life to save it,” and “Sell everything you have and give it to the poor.”
But probably most people were brought in because they witnessed a healing, or experienced him feeding the five thousand, or heard of him walking on water.
Surely, in this moment, when he was searching for a way to help the disciples endure the unendurable, he would use his supernatural powers to change them or help them or equip them in some way.
But he didn’t.
The miraculous thing about the Last Supper is that it is not miraculous at all.
He gives them bread and wine and tells them why it is important, but he doesn’t make it fly around the room or emit holy light.
It’s not holy or special at all.
It’s just bread and wine that we say is holy and special because he gave it to us.
This is the birth of sacrament, the birth of the great sacrament that we rely on to heal and transform us every week.
And what is sacrament? It is grace poured through utterly everyday, ordinary, physical objects for the purpose of transforming the receiver.
This is the turning point for Jesus.
This is when he commences his self-emptying in earnest, his giving up of all his power and glory which will end in his having emptied himself so much that by the time he is dying on the Cross, he can no longer feel or communicate with God.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Jesus has so given himself away at that point that when he reaches for the Divine, he finds nothing.
He has become utterly human in his solidarity with us on the Cross.
And it starts here, tonight, now.
Here, in the unmiraculous sacrament, he begins his emptying of himself, the draining away of his divine power and glory until he becomes the broken and beaten man crucified on the Cross.
This is the birth of sacrament. It comes from his unmiraculous and human self, and becomes the miraculous means of our being in touch with his divine self.
In addition to helping us understand Jesus, seeing this moment for what it is helps us understand ourselves.
Jesus told us to follow him, to go where he goes and live as he teaches.
So we have to examine the terrifying possibility: if the self-emptying Jesus chooses in table fellowship to offer is his un-powerful, non-miracle performing human self, to be the means of feeding and healing us, what does that mean for us?
He is human like us, more in these few days than in any other of his life, and that is how he becomes the sacrament.
So too will we ordinary human beings become sacraments ourselves by participating in Jesus’ work here.
He channeled grace into them by giving himself, and we can channel grace into others by giving ourselves.
No miracles necessary.
Only ordinary human things like bread and wine and water and hands and feet and arms to walk, lift, carry, hug, bathe, serve.
Only the humble practice of eating with sinners, like he did, which means eating together.
This is the challenging but energizing reality we accept by sitting at this table tonight.
Doing work that honors and serves Jesus by honoring and serving others does not require you to muster any divine power.
It simply requires you to be human like Jesus was, and at the Last Supper, Jesus was human by doing ordinary things with extraordinary love.
This is how we become the Second Coming of Christ, by letting ourselves be used and given to the world as sacrament, grace poured through the everyday, the unremarkable, the familiar and small and powerless.
It is a high calling to be ordinary for Jesus.
But it isn’t just business as usual, because it means letting the grace of God stream through your ordinary self, and that is an act that requires unparalleled courage.
Thank God that Jesus gives us that courage tonight by giving us himself.
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