The New Covenant – October 1, 2017, World Communion Sunday
October 1, 2017
Jesus said, “This bread is my body, broken for you.” “This [cup] is the blood of the New Covenant, which is poured out for many.”
As I’ve said before, those are things that were very familiar to those “good Jewish boys!” Bread. Blood. Covenant. In John’s account, Jesus also used the word “Commandment.” Those were all part of the Passover event they were celebrating. But(!) the way Jesus used those words, and what he was saying about himself, would have been shocking to those “good Jewish boys” that night! I can’t stress that enough! “Yeah, we’ve followed you, Jesus. We’ve heard you speak. We’ve seen you heal people. But bread? Blood? New Covenant? Really?” Are you putting yourself in the place of Abraham and Moses? …or is it even more than that?!
Remember, we say these things with our understanding. We say them “liturgically.” They’re just part of our belief system. These guys were having their belief system turned upside–down! That’s why sometimes I change things around a bit when I stand at this table. I never want just to “rattle off” the traditional words and phrases. I don’t want them to be without meaning. I try to say it in a way that makes it come to life a little bit more. I say how these elements were part of the Passover meal – a meal that had been celebrated for centuries. But then Jesus changed their meaning!
That’s what happened here! Yes, he would have blessed the bread. He would have broken it. He would have given it to them. That was normal. That was part of the Passover. But then, what he said… “This bread is my body.” “This cup is the blood of the New Covenant.” Their collective jaws would have hit the table!
This time in the upper room was shocking, yes. But it was also a foundational moment for those men, and for all of God’s people. It was the beginning – the “institution” – of this sacrament we now have celebrated for centuries. We call those words I say, the “Words of the Institution.” Sometimes it’s printed that way in the order of worship.
Those words and their meaning have come down through the ages to us. We are among “the many” that Jesus said his blood was poured out for. And today we celebrate the “many” around the world, and down through the ages.
I hope we get a sense of that on this day we call “World Communion Sunday.” I hope we can think about that “Great cloud of witnesses that surrounds us,” as Paul described it to the Hebrews. And I’m sure, as he wrote those words he meant all who came before, all of those great patriarchs of the Hebrew faith that he believed were included in that picture!
I want us to think today of all those “witnesses.” This is not “All Saints Day.” We celebrate that at the end of this month. Well, I say we “celebrate” it, but I’m not so sure we really do. At least we don’t celebrate it the way we do Christmas or Easter or Pentecost. But we should! And I’d like us to begin that process, today, as we think about the “many” for whom Jesus’ blood was “poured out” in this sacrament. I’d like us to think about “the saints on earth and those above.”
There’s actually a hymn by that name. It was written by Isaac Watts. Do you remember Isaac Watts? He was a prolific hymn writer of the late 17th century – and one of my favorites! He wrote some 750 hymns among which are, “I Sing the Mighty Power of God,” “Come Holy Spirit, Heavenly Dove,” (we did that just the other week) “Joy to the World,” “O God, Our Help in Ages Past,” and “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” Those are some of my favorites! (Yours, too?)
Well, in the Lutheran Hymnal, we find his hymn entitled “The Saints on Earth and Those above.” Verse one goes like this:
The saints on earth and those above,
But one communion make;
Joined to their Lord in bonds of love
All of his grace partake
Maybe we can do that hymn on All Saints Day! It’s a familiar tune. “St. Flavian.” (Anybody here can sing that tune from memory? St. Flavian? Anybody? You get extra points!) I’ll get the words printed.”)
In the meantime, maybe we can think today of the saints on earth. Imagine the people – of various cultures – celebrating this sacrament! Try to picture them in your mind. See the high liturgical celebrations – with a lot of incense – maybe bagpipes! See the simple celebrations in dirt floor churches in developing countries. See this communion in small churches, in large churches, in European, Asian, and African churches. See all of God’s people, celebrating together this moment when Jesus gathered with his disciples.
That’s all of us – “the saints on earth. And then we can think of “saints above.” They’re part of this picture, too. I asked you recently to think about the beginnings of your faith. So today you might think about those “saints” who helped spark that faith in you, who helped nurture it, who helped form it. They’re part of this day, too. Picture them in your mind!
The other day we laid to rest the mother of a friend of mine from my home church. She was a woman who was “always there” in church, always supportive, always an example. As I sat with my family in “our pew,” I just kept thinking that she was a “true saint” of the church! I’m sure you know many like her. “Saints on earth and those above…”
So then, with all that in mind, let us turn now to this sacrament. Let us see ourselves as part of that celebration in the Upper Room. We are definitely “the many” for whom Jesus’ own blood was poured out. May we truly know that today!
Eternal God, we are astounded by the depth of your love for us. We are eternally grateful for what you have done for us, represented at this table. Help us to feel the spirit of all your “saints” celebrating this today. For we all pray in our Savior’s name, Amen.