It is a few hours after the celebration of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday and the readings from the end of the Lord's Supper to the death of Jesus in Luke. We hold what are essentially two worship services together for the intensely theological reason that we can't get people to come out to two services: one on Maundy Thursday and one on Good Friday. Not the best liturgical theology I know but sometimes a pastor is limited by what the congregation will do. At least it isn't my fault. It was started by a predecessor.
I know faith is not feelings (although faith can produce feelings) but every year this combination of the Lord's Supper and the reading of the text from the Last Supper to the death of Jesus somehow makes me feel a part of it all. Tonight we were in the midst of the readings and I looked at my watch and discovered we had been there almost an hour and a half, a error in the length of time a service should last that is considered close to heresy by many Presbyterians. I hadn't noticed the passage of time. I was part of the story.
I certainly don't claim any great insight either by knowledge or feeling into the acts of Jesus. Somehow the act of consuming the bread and the juice contribute to a feeling that Jesus is present and loves me. It is an experience of grace.
But the reading of the arrest, trial and death of Jesus takes me home. Like Jews who celebrate the Passover or recited their belief that God had led them out of Egypt and into the land flowing with milk and honey the story does not feel like the past. I am who I am because the story has somehow taken me and made me part of the story, not as an actor but rather as one of the people whose lives today are based on the story.
In Deuteronomy there is a story of the release of the slaves and what God had done for them. It reads:
Then you shall declare before the LORD your God: "My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous. 6 But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, putting us to hard labor. 7 Then we cried out to the LORD, the God of our fathers, and the LORD heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression. 8 So the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with miraculous signs and wonders. 9 He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey; 10 and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, O LORD, have given me."
Note the important change of person in the passage. The speakers starts by talking about his father. The father "he" went down to Egypt. But the Egyptians mistreated "us." The story becomes more than a story. It is a fundamental statement of who the speaker is. If read today among Jews it would still be us for it is their story, a central part of what makes Jews Jews.
I think it is the same, at least for me, when I eat the Lord's supper and hear the story of Jesus' death. This story, along with the resurrection defines who I am. While I am and do many things the center of me is defined by the story of Jesus and all other things in my life are connected to Jesus. Or at least they should be.
I affirm that the Lord's Supper reenacts the Last Supper Jesus had with his disciples. I affirm that Jesus, in a way no theology can explain, is present at the table (and maybe in the meal). I affirm that as Jesus moved from dinner to garden to arrest, condemnation, crucifixion and death and that he did so that humans might be forgiven.
In all communities there are fundamental stories that tell the people of those communities who they are. Americans tell the story of the Revolution, of freedom and free speech (conveniently leaving out the treatment of first Americans). In the Christian community this story is the fundamental story, although there are other things that Jesus did and said that underly this central story.
Who are we? We are people who know that we are followers of Jesus, servants of Jesus, people who have been marked by the cross and the resurrection. Thank God for freeing us and making us a new people in Jesus.