October 4, 1998
First Congregational Church, 36 Main Street, New Milford, Ct  06776
Rev. Michael Moran
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Scripture - Luke 22

7 Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. 8 So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, "Go and prepare the Passover meal for us that we may eat it." So they went and prepared the Passover meal.


14 When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. 15 He said to them, "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; 16 for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God." 17 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, "Take this and divide it among yourselves; 18 for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes." 19 Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me." 20 And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, "This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.

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Has anyone here been invited to a party this year?

What kind of party was it? Why were you invited?

An invitation usually means two things -

    1. there is a special day to celebrate and
    2. you have a special relationship to the person having the celebration

Gatherings I like the best are those where people remember stories. It might be a birthday party where you talk about what someone was like when they were a baby. Or it might be an anniversary party where people remember how they met and what their wedding day was like.

I was recently at a wedding where one whole table of male cousins was deeply engaged in remembering what football games were played on the dates of their different weddings. But that’s not what I’m talking about here.

You might find what I’m talking about after a funeral. It’s often sadness that brings us together at a funeral, but there’s a certain joy in remembering stories about someone’s life and the things that made them unforgettable.

Well, today is a day of gathering together and remembering stories. It’s a day when people all around the world hear God’s invitation to gather at this table set with the bread and the cup and remember the story of Jesus Christ. We call this gathering Holy Communion, the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper or the Last Supper. It remembers the words and events of an actual meal Jesus shared with his disciples, the last meal he shared with them before he was arrested and crucified.

What Jesus did on that occasion was take an old tradition of the Jewish people and give it a new twist. To better understand the Last Supper and communion, it helps to know a little about the holiday that Jesus was celebrating with his friends when they broke the bread and shared the cup.

That holiday was Passover, a Jewish holy day that goes back way before Jesus and is still celebrated today. Have any of you ever been to a Passover meal - a seder - in the home of a Jewish family?

It’s a very beautiful evening, and involves eating certain foods and retelling the story of how Moses led the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt. The whole idea is to keep the story of God’s love alive, to keep the identity of the Jewish people intact, and to help a new generation see how the lessons learned long ago apply in the world today.

The story telling on Passover begins with a question:

"Why is this night different from all other nights?"

Then the leader of the seder and others around the table tell the story and explain the lessons. The text that I am using here comes from the Washington Congregation for Humanistic Judiasm. Let me read a little of it.

It is written that long ago, during a time of famine, the ancient Israelites traveled to Egypt. According to this legend, the Israelites at that time were all in a single family--Jacob and his children. One of Jacob's sons was Joseph, whose wisdom caused the Pharaoh--the ruler of Egypt--to make him a leader over all the people of Egypt.

But as time passed, another Pharaoh became the ruler of Egypt. He did not remember about Joseph and his wise leadership. This new Pharaoh turned the Israelites into slaves, and burdened them with heavy work and sorrow.

After the Israelites were in Egypt for over 400 years, a man arose among them. He demanded that Pharaoh let his people go! Many times he risked his life to insist on the freedom of his people, until he finally succeeded.

At our Passover Seder, we celebrate the story of Moses and the people he led out of slavery 3000 years ago. We celebrate the struggle of all people to be free.

Many centuries after the time of Moses, African people were brought to America as slaves. These slaves longed for freedom, and they were inspired by the story of Moses and the ancient Israelites.

The freedom we celebrate tonight is not only freedom from slavery. It is also the freedom to live in peace, with dignity and with hope for a bright future.

Then Leader says: Let us all fill our cups with wine...

A full cup of wine symbolizes complete happiness. The triumph of Passover is diminished by the sacrifice of many human lives when ten plagues were visited upon the people of Egypt. It is fitting that we mourn their loss of life, and express our sorrow over their suffering. For we cannot take joy in the suffering of others. Therefore, let us diminish the wine in our cups as we recall the ten plagues that befell the Egyptian people.

As each plague is named, everyone dips a finger in wine and then touches a plate to remove the drop.

In the same spirit, our celebration today is also shadowed by our awareness of continuing sorrow and oppression in all parts of the world. As the pain of others diminishes our joys, let us once more diminish the wine of our festival as we repeat the names of these modern plagues:

Hunger, War, Tyranny, Greed, Racism, Injustice, Poverty, Ignorance, Pollution of the Earth, Indifference to human suffering.

There is so much more to the meal that we do not have time to go into this morning, but my point is that the idea behind our sharing this bread and cup is not so different from the ideas of Passover.

We have a story of how God has entered human history to set people free and help them live their lives to the fullest joy. We have a story that tells us that the suffering, even of our enemies, diminishes our joy, that we cannot be free until all people are free. The biggest difference is that in place of the story of Moses we have the story of Jesus Christ.

Like Moses, Jesus had a mission, a mission he declared the day he walked into his home synagogue and read from the Prophet Isaiah:

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me

to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives

and recovery of sight to the blind,

to let the oppressed go free,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor."

Jesus came to set people free from the fear they had of God, from the sin that allowed some people to oppress and steal from others, from stupid selfishness and religious prejudice. He wanted people to learn to love one another.

That’s a pretty big mission, and before he could get people to change their ways he had to convince them that they needed to change. Not everybody wanted to hear that, especially not people who liked things fine just the way they were - and that meant some of the most powerful people of his time.

And those people conspired to arrest him, to put him on trial and falsely accuse him, and to kill him on a cross.

Jesus knew they were going to do this, but it didn’t stop him. He knew that he couldn’t do everything he needed to do by himself, that everyone wasn’t going to change overnight. But he hoped to change a few lives, and he hoped those people would continue to spread the message and to work on the mission.

To help him they had to believe in him, but this would be hard if they saw him get arrested and nailed to the cross. So at this last meal he’s trying to get them ready for the shocking events that are about to unfold and he does this by reinventing the Passover meal they share together.

He knows that after this meal, when these friends, these disciples, see him again he will be beaten, bloody, broken, even dead on the cross. He wants them to understand that his death is not the end, but a new beginning; he wants them to be open to his resurrection and the gift of his spirit. So he takes a loaf of bread, he gives thanks, he brakes it and gives it to them, saying, "This is my body, which is broken for you.

And he does the same with the cup, saying, "This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. Do this in remembrance of me."

You may know that in many churches there is a big discussion about what happens to the bread when it is broken during the ceremony and the pastor or priest says: This is my body broken for you. Here we don’t care much what happens to the bread - we care about what happens to the believer. Do we receive Jesus Christ into our lives? Do we become closer and more trusting of his presence and power? Do we renew our dedication to participate in the mission he began.

Christ invites each of us to our place at the party, at the banquet of life. You are invited, invited by name, and it’s a come as you are invitation.

We are about to share the elements of bread and cup - not to fill our stomachs, because there is not nearly enough food for that. No, we take just a morsel, just a taste, because this meal is intended to fill our hearts. This meal is a gift to remind us of how much our Holy God loves us and how much our Holy God is willing to give that we might live a full and joyful life together with our brothers and sisters around the world.

Simply open your heart to the good news of God’s love, and everything else will fall in place for you. Open your heart, and remember the story, and receive this sacrament to your comfort.

John 3:14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,

16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

17 "Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Amen

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