Year C, Maundy Thursday
March 28, 2013
The Rev. Dr. Brent Was
“For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”
It is so fabulous to share this table with you again. We should have communion like this more frequently. This was how it was in the early church, a real meal. The early church, like the first 100 or 200 years, met mostly in people’s homes, quite often in the homes of rich women, actually. Everyone would gather for reading scripture, praying, singing hymns and giving alms. Then at the passing of the kiss of peace, the unbaptized would leave, and the gathered saints, the baptized would have the ritual meal all intertwined with an actual meal; much like we are doing tonight. (BTW, it would take three years of catechumate to move to the ranks of the baptized). It is good religion, mixing ritual observance, worship and thanksgiving with the necessities of being alive, eating and community… the circle of life, the immanent and the transcendent in harmony…it doesn’t get any better than this.
It is ironic, though, the passage from which we use as our institution of the Lord’s Supper. “On the night when he was betrayed He took a loaf of bread…” that part, the part that is absolutely required in our way of consecrating the Eucharist. It is ironic, because it comes from Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, a church that was pretty messy. He actually writes these lines as a conclusion to a series of suggestionshe offered to the fledgling church in Corinth that the NRSV subtitles “Abuses at the Lord’s Supper.” Most of the abuses involved people eating and drinking too much at the meal. He wrote, “For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry while another becomes drunk. What? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those with nothing? What should I say to you? Should I commend you? In this matter, I do not commend you.” Those with much took more, and those with little were left with nothing. All was not well in that Corinthian paradise.
The name of those original Eucharistic suppers, was the same as this supper tonight, this supper in memory of Jesus and His disciples’ last supper together: the Agape feast. What does agapemean? _____ Oxford defines it as “Christian love” and “selfless love.” That is pretty good, but it doesn’t quite get to the root of it.
Greek, which I do not read lest I give that impression, was a very precise language. Very precise in particular, about the word love. We have that one word, Love, to mean so many things. So when I say “I love roses” it is context that tells me this is a different shade of love to describe my love for Windy, which is different than my love of the girls, my folks, our goats, and God in Christ. In Greek, they had three words, agape, philos, and eros. Philos is basically described as “brotherly love” or more technically, as “dispassionate, virtuous love” Aristotle included love within a family, between friends, and love of things and activities. “I love roses” is love in the key of philos.
Erosis less obscure. It is the root of the word “erotic,” and it while it does not have to have a sexual connotation, it certainly does apply to “intimate love,” specific love for a specific person. Plato relates eros to a love of beauty which connects the soul to deep spiritual truths. Eros is always very organic, earthy, leading us transcendently through various states of human consciousness into deep, intimate relationship.
And then there is agape. This is the love Paul uses in 1 Corinthian’s pinnacle passage, “Love is patient, love is kind…” This is not attractive love, but is deep love, even sacrificial love. It hearkens back to the Hebrew hesed, streadfast love. This is the love of God radiating into the world, the root cause of human relationship, agape, like this feast, is the nature of the love Jesus Christ felt for his friends on this night so long ago, it is the nature of the love He felt from the Cross so long ago, agape is the nature of kingdom of God, and bringing it back home, agape is very much the nature of this feast we are celebrating in this very moment.
When I say that we here, the church, a local parish in Christ’s church, when I say that we are an outpost of God’s kingdom, an embassy of the kingdom of God, it is this that I am talking about. This, gathering around a table, older and younger, richer and poorer, all of us in various stages of kookiness, all of us rejoicing andsuffering in our lives, all of us struggling and succeeding, seeking and being sought, finding and being found… that all of this happens around a single table, that we form a discernable family in Christ, that what gathers us defines us more than what divides us… that is the way it is supposed to be; that is the kingdom that we all seek, that we all proclaim. This is agape happening. Look around; this is it happening just like it did on that fateful night two thousand years ago. This kind of love, Agape, this kind of community, it doesn’t save us from suffering, it doesn’t shield us from affliction or tragedy, pain or loss, or death, but it makes all of that bearable. That is part of Jesus Christ’s gift to us on that night long ago. This is that gift happening. This is a glimpse of how it is supposed to be. This is a glimpse of the kingdom of God. This is a glimpse of the love of God with a pulse. This is agape. AMEN.