In the name of Jesus. Amen.
“For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”
Sometimes I find it strange that when we share in communion, we say that we proclaim the Lord’s death. Communion is, at its very core, a celebration of God’s love that knows no bounds—a celebration of love that triumphs over death, in fact. The Christians of the first century, on the eve of Easter Sunday, kept vigil, as we will two days from now, but unlike us, they kept vigil all night—until at the break of dawn when as the sun was first coming over the horizon they would sing the Gloria. The feast of feasts had arrived—and communion, the sacrament of Jesus’ body and blood, would be shared once again recalling God’s mighty victory over sin, death, and hell.
But it’s the resurrection that is celebrated at that moment—the victory of the lamb who was slain, whose has begun his reign. So why is it that when St. Paul recounts to the Corinthians what Jesus handed on to him—that is, the institution of the sacrament of his body and blood—that he tells us that “for as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes,” and not that we proclaim his resurrection?
Perhaps it’s in the nature of what communion really is. We sometimes call communion the Lord’s Supper. To be sure, the meal that Jesus’ shared with his disciples that night before he left the upper room and went to Gethsemane where he was betrayed, arrested, and carried off to the high priest’s house—that meal was a celebration of the Passover meal. It was a celebration of God’s redemptive work in Egypt, which we remembered in the first lesson tonight. How God delivered the Hebrews from slavery under Pharoah by the blood of a lamb smeared on their doorposts.
In this meal, Jesus changes the nature of the Passover meal. He tells us that the bread is not merely bread, but it is his body, given for us. And the wine is not merely wine, but it’s his blood, shed for us, for the forgiveness of sins. And he tells us to do this for the remembrance of him. That is to say, Jesus changes the understanding of God’s redemptive work as one no longer about one particular—albeit significant—act of deliverance in a particular time and a particular place, but radically expands it to encompass redemption and deliverance from sin, from anything and everything that would stand in the way of the full and abundant life God first designed for us and for creation with him and everything else.
We have different names for this meal—communion, the eucharistic, the Lord’s Supper. One name that that is used, in particular for the meal where Jesus gave us this new meaning to the Passover, is the Last Supper. St. Matthew tells us in his gospel that Jesus tells the disciples, “I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” He knows his time is at hand. He knows what is about to happen. He is about to be betrayed, arrested, tried, and sentenced to death. He is about to become a criminal—a criminal on death row. And like any criminal on death row, he has a choice of his last meal. He chooses to share a meal with his closest friends, a meal rooted in love—of God’s love for his people, both in a particular time and place in history, but also in the unfolding of eternity that has no beginning or end. Jesus chooses this sacred supper as his last meal, but even then he isn’t thinking of what he wants, but what is right for the good of all things.
He hands over the bread, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body, given for you.” He is pointing to his death, but a death embraced in love for us—so that we come to believe just to what extent God will go to love us. He hands over the cup, saying, “Take and drink; this is my blood, shed for you.” Once again, he points to his death, but not merely any death, but instead a death of pain and suffering, of bloodshed, but nevertheless embraced in love for us—that we believe even the worst imaginable thing cannot separate us from God’s love for us.
And so it is that that when we share this sacrament of communion, when we share the eucharistic, when we share the Lord’s Supper, we do remember Jesus’ last meal—his meal of love, but not any love, but love that will go as far as it takes, that will go to the farthest extreme, to unite us and keep us in relationship with God. So when we say that we proclaim the Lord’s death, what we are saying, no, what we are confessing is that God’s love is love that faces death in the face without reservation, without hesitation, without reluctance. God’s love for us looks down the worst possible, the worst imaginable circumstance and says to us, “this is not the end.”
That’s why we proclaim the Lord’s death. Because in proclaiming his death, we proclaim his love—love that never dies, but rather in communion with us and the whole creation raises and refreshes us with Jesus in newness life for the sake of God’s greater glory.
Therefore, let us rise, proclaim the Lord’s death, and keep the feast—the feast of deathless love.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.