This post is dedicated to my great-aunt, Jimmie Ree Wardlaw, who passed away last night at the ripe age of 103 years old.  “Aunt Jip” was a great lady, known for her independent spirit,  her sense of humor, her inability to drive without centering on the yellow lines, her love of family, and her love of Christ and the church.  Aunt Jip’s father, and my great-grandfather, James Anthony Stone, was one of the founding members of Gordon’s Chapel UMC, and she was especially proud of this heritage.  She served with her time, money, and energy well beyond her means and years of capability, but did so with a thankful and loving heart.   Without a doubt, this fine lady “Let Jesus show!”  The world will miss Aunt Jip while she rests in the peace of the presence of Christ, and is a better place for having been her home.  Aunt Jip, this is my prayer until we meet again…

And we bless Christ’s holy Name for all thy servants departed this life in thy faith and fear;
beseeching thee to give us grace so to follow their good examples, that with them we may be
partakers of the heavenly kingdom. 

Amen.

(Adapted from Prayer for the Church Militant, 1662 Book of Common Prayer)

At The Last Supper

by Frederick Buechner

“Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where l am going you cannot come’”…. Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered, “Where I am going, you cannot follow me now; but you shall follow afterward. . . Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself that where l am you may be also. And you know the way where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.”

(John 13:33,36; 14:1-6)

When Jesus sat down to eat for the last time with a handful of his closest friends, he knew it was the last time, and he didn’t have to be the Messiah to know it — they all did. The Romans were out to get him. The Jews were out to get him. For reasons that can only be guessed at, one of his own friends was out to get him, and Jesus seems to have known that too. He knew, in other words, that his time had all but run out and that they would never all of them be together again.

It is an unforgettable scene there in that upper room — the shadows, the stillness, the hushed voices of people speaking very carefully, very intently, because they wanted to get it all said while there was still time and to get it said right. You can only imagine the way it must have haunted them for the rest of their lives as they looked back on how they had actually sat there with him, eating and drinking and talking; and through their various accounts of it, including the above passage from John, and through all the paintings of it, like the great, half-mined da Vinci fresco in Milan, and through 2,000 years of the church’s reenactment of it in the Eucharist, it has come to haunt us too. But I think of the Last Supper as haunting in another way as well — not just as a kind of shadowy dream of an event long past but also as a kind of foreshadowing of an event not all that far in the future, by which I mean our own last suppers, the last time you and I will sit down with a handful of our own closest friends.

It’s hard not to believe that somehow or other there’s always going to be another time with them, another day, so the chances are we won’t know ifs the last time, and therefore it won’t have the terrible sadness about it that the Last Supper of Jesus must have had. But not knowing is sad in another way because it means that we also won’t know how precious this supper is, how precious these friends are whom we will be sitting down with for the last time whether we know it or not.

Who are these friends for you, who are they for me? We have to picture them for ourselves, of course — to see their faces, hear their voices, feel what it’s like to be with them. They are our nearest and dearest — our husband or wife, our children, a few people we can’t imagine living without or their living without us — and the sadness is that we have known them so long and so well that we don’t really see them anymore for who they truly are — let alone who they truly are to us, who we truly are to them. The sadness is that we don’t see that every supper with them — even just a bowl of cornflakes in the kitchen some night after the movies — is precious beyond all telling because the day will come beyond which there will be no other supper with them ever again. The time will come when time will run out for us too, and once we see that, we see also that for the 18-year-old at McDonald’s as well as for the old crock in the retirement-home cafeteria, every one of our suppers points to the preciousness of life and also to the certainty of death, which makes life even more precious still and is precious in itself because under its shadow we tend to search harder and harder for light.

There in that shadowy room the disciples turned to Jesus, who was their light, with greater urgency and passion than maybe ever before because, with all hell about to break loose, they had no other place to turn. They had drunk the wine he told them was his blood and put into their mouths the bread he told them was his body, and thus with something of his courage in them they asked him a question they had never risked asking so helplessly and directly before. It was Simon Peter who asked it, and what he said was, “Lord, where are you going?”

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A few days back, I began a discussion of things that I believe bind us together as believers;  characteristics that define us as a community.  It’s a broad topic, with a lot of possibilities for subject matter, but I believe that the primary things that knit together are as follows:

1) We are a people of Baptism.

2) We are a people of Communion.

3) We are a people of Creed.

We’re continuing on in our discussion of “The Ties that Bind” today with a look at Holy Communion.  You may call it the Eucharist, Mass, or just the Table.  Regardless of the label, or whether you believe in transubstantiation or consubstantiation,  there is great power in communion when it is regarded as a sacrament.  The bread and wine, whether you subscribe to the idea that they  become the actual body and blood of Christ, that the Holy Spirit is present, or that they represent the essence of the flesh and blood of Christ, are  wonderfully divine mysteries that knit us together as believers.

It’s been said that if baptism is the starting line for our spiritual journey, then communion is the food for the journey.  It’s an intimate contact between ourselves and Jesus.  The sacramental view of the table hold that it is a means of grace,  nourishing us, so that we can better live out our faith in our daily lives.   The Spirit refreshes and restores us through communion, but it’s not only an intimate transaction between us and the Spirit.

It’s a family meal.

I Corinthians 10:17 says that “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread”.  As we perform the individual transaction of communion, we become a part of a bigger reality, The Body of Christ.  Martin Luther wrote that “The communion table is the only place where we can enjoy communion with God, and community with each other.” 

Most churches with sacramental traditions have liturgies that reflects the corporate nature of communion.  We confess our sins corporately; lift our hearts to God together; and we pray the Lord’s Prayer together (The language of the Prayer directly implies that it’s not only meant to be prayed individually, but also corporately…”Our father..give us today our daily bread…forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us…lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”).  Finally, we give thanks to Christ for the mystery of the communion table, together.

I love the show “Blue Bloods”.  My deepest prayer is that Tom Selleck might be plotting a comeback as Thomas Magnum, PI.  As a teenager, I was insanely jealous of his Ferrari, full mustache, and incomparable ability to have relatively innocent hook ups with exotic  women without even trying.  I’m pretty sure that has nothing to do with the topic, though, and likely indicates the depths of my depravity.   Magnum’s shorts were too short, by the way.  I’m just sayin’.

Anyway, back to Blue Bloods.  One of my favorite parts of the show is the inevitable scene where the family meets for Sunday night dinner.  The entire family comes together every week and enjoys a feast.  The meal is always prepared by their father, and it is never mundane.  No hot dogs or PB&J.  It’s sumptuous,  and my wife and I generally have to snack immediately after watching, to stop the salivation and fantasies about eating the meal we’ve just observed.  The people gathered at the table are different.  They have different ideologies, different philosophies and are at different stages in life.  They are different, but bound together by two things: 

1)  They are bound by blood.  They are a family.  They are different, but they have a common father, a like history.  The bond of blood is inescapable.  They may not always like each other, but the bond of blood requires that they love each other.  The table may be surrounded by people who bicker and fight and moan, but there is no doubt whatsoever that they would absolutely give their lives for one another.

2) They are bound by calling.  The Reagan family is a family of policemen and lawyers.  Their grandfather was a police officer, their father is a police officer, the sons are police officers, the daughter works in the district attorney’s officer, and even a young grand-daughter has aspirations of entering law enforcement one day.  They are unique individuals, with one common purpose, the enforcement and defense of the law.  They are passionate about what they do.

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