Sunday, October 4, 2015

Phil Kniss: Many families, one table

What if the church worshiped like a family?
Luke 22:14-23; Acts 2:41-47

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Today, around the world,
    churches large and small come to the Lord’s Table.
    Wouldn’t it be great if we could peek into all those services
        as they issue the invitation to communion?
    I think we’d be amazed at the
        beautiful variety of families gathering at the Table, and
        beautiful variety of ways they share the meal.
    There would be some walking forward reverently,
        in tall, echo-y cathedrals
        with priests in regal, gold-trimmed robes serving them.
    There would be some serving each other
        sitting in a circle on the ground,
        under a tree in the tropical sun.
    For the bread, there would be homemade multigrain loaves,
        there would be paper thin wafers that taste like cardboard,
        there would be tortillas, injera, and chapati.
    For the cup, there would be tiny plastic cups that hold a sip,
        there would be large chalices from which everyone drinks;
        there would be grape juice in some, wine in others.

Some of these table times would overflow with joyful celebration,
    even laughter, maybe shouting in the spirit.
Some would be somber, silent, evocative, even tearful.

Today there will be as many table experiences,
    as there are churches meeting.
Yet, we say—
    “There is only one table of the Lord.”
    Thus, the word, “communion.”—common union.
But how can that be?

In this sermon series we make the claim the church is a family.
    We claim that we are, both in metaphor, and in fact,
        brothers and sisters in Christ.
    And I believe there is no practice we undertake
        more central, more foundational to our unity
            as a family of sisters and brothers,
        than the practice of gathering around the table,
            to eat the bread and drink the cup.

    So how can we take communion, like a family?
    How can we worship like a family?
    How can we, as an oikos—
        the biblical word I introduced last Sunday,
            meaning a household, an extended family of faith—
        how can we sit around one table here,
            as diverse as we are,
            much less with brothers and sisters elsewhere
                who live and worship and speak and believe
                so differently than we do?

I’ll tell you how.
    It’s a miracle.
    A true, honest-to-goodness,
        supernatural, act-of-God, miracle.
    We cannot find unity through heroic efforts on our part.
        It is God’s work, it is the work of Jesus Christ,
            memorialized in the bread and cup.

Remember Ephesians 2, that we looked at a few months ago?
    In Christ . . . in Christ . . . “you are no longer strangers and aliens,
        but you are citizens with the saints
        and also members of the oikos (or household) of God.
    In Christ, and only therein,
        we who are far apart are brought together.
    In Christ, the wall of hostility is dismantled.
    In Christ, we are made one.

And the primary tangible symbol of that unifying work of Christ,
    is the bread and the cup.
    So rich is this meal, so nourishing,
        I can scarcely come to the table enough.

Which is why I commend it to us,
    as a core family practice in this, our extended family,
    the oikos of Park View Mennonite,
        in our varied expressions,
        in our varied smaller family groupings,
            in classes, small groups, fellowship groups,
                even biological families.
    It’s time we return this ritual of the bread and cup,
        to the regular day-to-day life of the people of God.

Like what we heard from Acts 2,
    after the Holy Spirit fell on the early church.
They gathered daily in each other’s homes.
    They broke bread together
        and ate with “glad and generous hearts.”
    They regularly ate a common meal,
        with high thanksgiving,
        and in memory of Jesus.

    There is no doubt, among any Bible scholar,
        that a common meal,
        was central to the practice of worship in the early church.
    That probably included a simple well-rounded meal.
        But it certainly included a ritualized breaking of the bread,
            and drinking of the cup—
            a partaking of the Lord’s Supper with thanksgiving.
        That word thanksgiving is the word “Eucharist” in Greek.

If we make the argument, as I do,
    that the church of Jesus Christ must see itself as a family—
        not a family for its own end, and own purposes,
        but a family on mission with God for God’s purposes—
        then what better practice for us to renew and revive,
            than the practice of pulling up chairs to the table,
            and sharing the bread and cup of Jesus?

    I think we do a disservice to this meal, and to Jesus who gave it,
        when we make the meal into something
            so formalized and rarified,
            so magical and mysterious,
                that we’re almost afraid to approach the table.
    We miss the mark
        if we make the meal into such a production,
            or set the bar so high,
            that we keep parts of our family away who desire to take it.

Now, I’m not speaking against certain Christian families—
    brothers and sisters of ours, like Catholics, Eastern Orthodox,
        conservative Baptist and Anabaptist groups, and others—
    who practice closed communion,
        who don’t serve the bread and cup to non-members.
I have deep respect for groups seeking to be faithful to their tradition,
    but who practice radical hospitality in other ways.

    But what I suggest for our context,
        in our practice of open communion,
        is to open it even more, to take it out beyond the sanctuary.
    It need not be administered by credentialed clergy
        to call it the “Lord’s Supper.”
    Let’s return the meal to the household, the oikos,
        the extended family of God wherever it gathers.

    This meal is for every disciple
        who seeks to follow Jesus in truth and transparency,
        everyone who lives under the new covenant.
    And if we take Jesus seriously,
        we will celebrate it often.
        In fact, Jesus implied that every time we ate bread, period;
            and every time we drank from the cup, period;
            we should remember Jesus.

It’s a God-thing, a good thing, to make the ordinary sacred,
    to make something so everyday as bread and wine
        an occasion for remembering and naming
        the sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf, out of love.

    I think I’ve mentioned before that our small group does this,
        once a week when we share a meal.
        At the beginning, after we sit,
            and before we dig into the rest of the meal,
            we distribute the bread and the wine,
            and we give thanks to Jesus.
        We explicitly name and call to mind the work of Jesus
            to lay down his life on our behalf,
            to reconcile us to God, and to each other.
        It takes all of 2 minutes. It’s high worship.
            And we all take our turns to lead.

    There is nothing keeping any of the rest of you,
        in your respective gatherings,
        in your extended family of faith,
        in your oikos,
            to act like a family united in Jesus Christ,
            and celebrate the Lord’s Supper.
        In case you were afraid that would offend me,
            or offend my ecclesiastical higher-ups,
            let me release you, be free!

    I commend this practice to you,
        just as Jesus himself broke bread and shared the cup
        with his ragtag dysfunctional family of disciples,
            including his betrayer.
        And in Luke’s version of the story,
            Jesus explicitly pointed that out, when he said,
                “the hand of him who is going to betray me
                    is with mine on the table.”
    I say, if Jesus was willing to share the table with Judas,
        who are we to dismiss anyone seeking to follow Jesus
            with integrity, and in truth?

In that Spirit, we will eat and drink
    at the One Table of the Lord this morning.
    We read this scripture a few minutes ago,
        but let me repeat it in part . . .
    “And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it,
        and gave it to them, saying,
        ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’
    In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying,
        ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood,
            which is poured out for you.’”

May God bless this bread and cup as we partake this morning.

—Phil Kniss, October 4, 2015

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