Soon many of us will be gathering with others for a special Easter meal. A meal is a common gathering place for people around the world. In the Middle East, for example, when you are invited to eat with someone in their home, you have bonded with the host in a special way. The guest becomes more than an acquaintance. The guest is someone the host will defend even to the authorities simply because they have shared a meal in the host’s home.
Even among us here in the US, when we share a meal in someone’s home there is often a feeling of friendship that is formed. Before the Covid pandemic, we held many meals here at church. Usually there was food associated with most of the gatherings we held. Maybe we will get back to this in the near future. Meals are special fellowship times where we get to know one another better and feel connected with one another.
Since our Easter celebrations were cancelled last year and most of us ate alone, I would assume many of us are eager to gather with friends or loved ones this year. You’ve had plenty of time to plan the menu, but I would still expect you’d be serving what is traditional in your family.
The meals are important. It’s much more than just eating. During the meals we visit. We get in touch with one another, renew relationships—some that may have been put on hold the past year—which strengthens the bonds between us.
At church, it’s similar. We gather to eat, but the fellowship and relationship building is really the most important thing. Often the only times we were able to see one another to visit has been on Sunday morning. I know many of you are really looking forward to getting back to these fellowship times again. Ministry takes place around the fellowship tables. When we see ourselves as family, and work to integrate visitors or new friends into the fellowship, the time together becomes important. As such it is important to visit with different folks during these times so we get to know our sisters and brothers better. It is around the fellowship tables that we might make a new friend or meet someone new to our church.
There is another meal which we as a family of God gather around a table for the purpose of sharing. Holy Communion is that meal. It is the focus of our family gathering tonight in a very special way as some of our young people receive their First Communion. Some of the same benefits apply to this meal as apply to our family meals. It’s important for us to gather around the Lord’s Table, His Holy altar, because it is there we find the physical and spiritual presence of our Savior. It is at the Lord’s Table where we renew our ties with Jesus in a tangible way. At the altar we remember what Jesus has done in our lives. As St. Paul writes, “We proclaim His death until He comes.” Remembering, as it was for the Jews at Passover, is an important part of our proclamation. We need to remember what Jesus has done, as the Jews remember the Exodus from Egypt and the wandering in the wilderness. Without the remembering, without the gathering, we run the danger of letting Jesus’ suffering and death melt into the glory of the Resurrection.
Each time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper we do more than remember: We proclaim Christ’s death. It may sound strange, or defeatist to proclaim His death, but it is in the death of our Lord that we are reunited with God. It is in the death of Christ that we are saved. It is in the death of Christ that our sins are forgiven. Here Jesus made the final sacrifice as the Lamb of God, taking away the sins of the world. This meal, this Holy Night when it was begun, then, becomes the point of our uniting with God.
We gather in the presence of our Lord to share this Holy Meal. He has promised to be with us always, to forgive and to love us. It is at His Table tonight that we make this special time with Jesus, to ask Him to forgive us and to bring us back into a right relationship with God our Father. It is here that our Lenten Journey makes a powerful pivot point. Tonight, we make our confession, reminding ourselves that we are no different from those who crucified Jesus, or those who ran from Jesus in His moment of greatest need. We remind ourselves that without Jesus and His love, we are nothing. We are lost. We are without hope and without a home. We need someone who can restore our broken relationship with God. The one we need, of course, is Jesus.
We remember as we gather around the Lord’s Table the awful agony Jesus felt as He came to the completion of His mission of salvation. He didn’t want to suffer and die any more than you or I would, yet He willingly walked the way of suffering and death for us. Like a parent would do for a child, Jesus took our place on the cross.
With all the events going on in the world around us, we need the presence of the Savior in a concrete way. We need this visible, tangible, sign of Christ’s presence. We need to be reminded that we are a family, and we gather around the altar to be fed and nourished even as we are in conversation with our Lord. The Church is the gathering place for God’s people. It is the place where we renew family relationships and find that haven—that security—to unburden our souls and put our lives back in perspective. With the Last Supper Jesus has given us His Holy and precious body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins. He has provided us with a tangible gift of His presence with us.
Tonight, there is the sense of something far greater than what we can comprehend going on here. It is the love the Lord has for us, and the miracle of salvation coming together on this unsettling, yet holy night.
In contemplating His love for us, we leave this service in silence following the stripping of the altar, proclaiming our Lord’s death.